About Us

Our Mission:

The mission of Northern Prairies Land Trust is to enable private landowners in South Dakota and Nebraska to conserve lands for habitat preservation, agriculture, ranching, water resource protection and enhancement, and cultural and historical protection.


Who We Are
Northern Prairies Land Trust was established in 1999 to preserve the unique ecosystems of the Upper Grasslands.  We are a non-profit conservation organization with the overall goal of providing land preservation tools to landowners in South Dakota and Nebraska.  Since our inception, we have made great strides in securing easements on over 3000 acres, including areas famously chronicled by the explorers Lewis and Clark.  We are continually working on new easements and also use our conservation expertise to act as a referral source for other private and governmental organizations.

What We Do
NPLT works with private landowners one-on-one to provide long-term, legally sound conservation strategies to protect the natural and economic elements of their land. Our primary tool for accomplishing our mission is the perpetual conservation easement. With a conservation easement, a landowner is able to protect the unique values of certain lands for all time. NPLT also offers a menu of other tools, as outlined under the "Tools and FAQ's " heading. 

How We Do It
Even though there are common elements to every easement, such as those precluding subdivision, commercial development and other activities detrimental to soil, water or wildlife habitat, each easement is tailored to the unique character of the land and the conservation goals of its owners. In addition, NPLT works extensively with governmental and private partners to enhance the availability of current conservation programs, and to develop new and innovative solutions for the preservation of natural resources.

President’s Letter November, 2012

Dear Friends of Conservation:

            It is a busy and productive time at Northern Prairies.  The big news is that Norma and Jerry Wilson have donated a perpetual conservation easement on their 144 acre historic farm in Clay County, South Dakota.  To be known as the Prairie Bluffs Conservation Easement, the easement protects from development a rich combination of mixed native woodland, native and restored prairie, natural springs and a magnificent vista across the Missouri River valley and protects the Severson Cabin.
            The Prairie Bluffs easement assures open space in a developing area, while also protecting water sources, native grasses, wildlife habitat, and a lasting example of prairie settlement.  In addition, to donating the perpetual easement itself, the Wilson’s have made a generous endowed donation to Northern Prairies’ Stewardship Fund, assuring the means by which we will monitor and enforce the easement in the future. Most of all, the Wilson’s generous donation is another example of the conservation ethic of private landowners, which is at the heart of Northern Prairies’ mission.
            On another topic, persistent flooding of our prairie rivers underlines the importance of the Big Sioux River Conservation Easement Program, administered by Northern Prairies.  The Program protects and improves water quality in the Big Sioux watershed by creating grass buffer strips along the river shore that prevent erosion and move grazers back from the water’s edge.  These buffer strips also provide natural areas for floodwaters to spread-out, and slow the flows during flood.  In addition, because buildings are not allowed in the buffer strips, no costly structural damage occurs.  Northern Prairies believes that what began as an experimental program now justifies our dream of protected riparian corridors along the edge of all prairie rivers.
            There is a lot of action on the prairies this time of year for both humans and wildlife. On thousands of carefully selected acres, landowners will be conducting prescribed burns, mimicking a cycle Mother Nature used to allow happen. The burns rejuvenate the native grasses and forbs and provide improved forage for livestock and improved habitat for all types of wildlife. Northern Prairies Field Biologists in Nebraska and South Dakota help educate landowners about prescribed burns by co-sponsoring classes and demonstrations and assist in bringing interested landowners together to help each other.
            Finally, this is the season when Northern Prairies staff and volunteers begin the annual monitoring process.  When Northern Prairies accepts a perpetual conservation easement it undertakes to monitor and enforce those restrictions in perpetuity.  This is our commitment and we take it seriously; it is important and time-consuming, but also a joy as we visit some of the finest natural areas on the prairie.  Each property is visited, discussions are held with the current landowners, and full use is made of modern global positioning technology.
            Most of you realize that the current economic climate has presented a challenge for conservation organizations, and that applies to Northern Prairies. At the same time, we take energy and optimism from the conservation efforts of people like Norma and Jerry Wilson and many other fine stewards of our natural and working landscapes.

John H. Davidson


The Value of Partnerships
The Staff, Directors and Volunteers of Northern Prairies Land Trust truly values the many partnerships they have established while working through a large variety of projects.

There are several examples which illustrate the extensiveness of our partnerships. The South Dakota Department of Game and Fish and Parks, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have partnered with NPLT under the federally-funded Landowner Incentive Program.

The Big Sioux River Conservation Easement Program includes partners such as project sponsor East Dakota Water Development District, South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever and South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts.

Northern Prairies also teamed up with the Natural Resources Conservation Service under the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, and Nebraska Environmental Trust, to obtain an easement on the historic "Old Baldy" along the banks of the Missouri River, as well as having a Cooperative Agreement with NRCS for a conservation easement in South Dakota along the Big Sioux River.

Northern Prairies is also leading the way in developing partnerships through umbrella organizations such as the South Dakota Conservation Alliance and Nebraska Tallgrass Prairie Partnership.

Our Watertown, SD office is yet another example of partnering, with the office space being donated by the City of Watertown and Upper Big Sioux River Watershed Project (UBS). We also team up with UBS, Ducks Unlimited and Partners for Fish and Wildlife in various individual projects in northeast SD.

NPLT recently joined the Prairie Coteau Habitat Partnership and participates in prescribed prairie burns with other conservation groups under the leadership of The Nature Conservancy.