The National Wildlife Refuge System is committed to building partnerships which encourage conservation and preservation of natural and cultural resources. Partnerships with the Refuge System bring innovative approaches to solving land management and water disputes in the most environmentally protective manner.

Wetland Easement Program
A wetland easement is a legal agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a landowner, that pays the landowner to permanently protect wetlands. Wetlands covered by an easement cannot be drained, filled, leveled, or burned. When these wetlands dry up naturally, they can be farmed, grazed, or hayed.

Why Protect Wetlands? Wetlands benefit people as well as wildlife. Wetlands can control erosion and prevent flooding by holding water and reducing runoff. They also recharge sub-surface water supplies and provide hay land in dry years. Wetlands provide crucial habitat for many types of wildlife including ducks, pheasants and deer. More than half of the nation’s wetlands have been converted to other uses since the 1800’s. Protecting the remaining wetlands ensures these habitats, wildlife, and benefits will be there for future generations to enjoy.

Grassland Easement Program
A grassland easement is a legal agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a landowner, that pays the landowner to permanently keep the land in grass. Land covered by a grassland easement may not be cultivated. Mowing, haying, and grass seed harvesting are delayed until after July 15. This restriction is to help grassland nesting species, such as ducks and pheasants, complete their nesting before the grass is disturbed. Grazing is not restricted in any way.

Why Protect Grasslands? Vast grasslands once covered much of North America. Settlement, agriculture, and development have reduced prairie habitats to a patchwork of isolated grasslands. Loss of grasslands is detrimental to people as well as to wildlife. Grasslands help reduce soil erosion caused by wind and water. They also filter chemicals, thus protecting our water supplies. Vegetation, such as grass, forbs, and shrubs, help trap snow and rain. This allows a more regulated flow of precipitation to seep into the ground, recharging water supplies. Grasslands also provide season-long forage for livestock. Many wildlife species depend on grasslands for food, cover, and nesting sites. Protecting grasslands ensures that wildlife will be there for future generations to enjoy.

Partners for Fish & Wildlife (Partners Program)
The Prairie Pothole Region is legendary as North America’s foremost producer of ducks. North Dakota, the top duck producing state in the Nation, lies in the heart of this region. Wetland densities commonly reach as high as 100-150 wetlands per square mile, making it not only an important breeding area for ducks, but also a key breeding and migratory area for over 70 wetland-dependent migratory bird species.

With over 90% of North Dakota lands in private ownership, the Partners Program is one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s most important programs to restore and maintain habitat for migratory bird populations in the Central Flyway.
Priorities are aligned with those of Fish and Wildlife Service priorities and our partners, and tie directly to restoration and management of federal trust species. They are (in priority order):
  • Restore, enhance and establish habitat for endangered and threatened species. 
  • Restore, enhance and establish habitat for declining species and species of special concern. 
  • Restore, enhance and establish habitat for other migratory birds.
  • Technical Assistance through the Partners Program 
The Partners Program utilizes proven habitat practices that benefit wildlife and can be incorporated into an established agricultural operation. In most instances, the level of assistance provided by the Partners Program is first determined with checklists developed to assure that the location and extent of our work is effectively tied to program goals and priorities. The four most common types of projects implemented, include:

1. Restoration of drained wetlands - Wetlands are restored by the North Dakota Partners Program through the installation of ditch plugs or by filling shallow, excavated ditches leading out of drained wetlands. Natural re-vegetation occurs within the first year following restoration of hydrology, primarily due to the rich seed source from surrounding wetlands and the revival of viable yet dormant seed bank in the wetland soils.
2. Restoration of native vegetation on cropland - The North Dakota Partners Program provides seed and technical assistance while the landowner provides the in-kind services to plant native grasses and forbs on the same land. Upland restoration and enhancement consists mainly of seeding cropland to native, mixed-grass species such as western wheatgrass, green needlegrass, little bluestem, and blue grama.
3. Establishment of rotational grazing systems on degraded native prairie - This type of project is done to maintain adequate patch size required by a variety of grassland birds, and to restore, through timely management of grazing, the native plants that would otherwise be further reduced by the pre-existing grazing method.
4. Establishment of new wetlands - The nature of the Northern Great Plains, including numerous watersheds and grasslands, provides the Partners Program with exceptional opportunities for working with landowners to establish wetlands that enhance breeding and migration habitat for numerous wildlife species.