Our History

Our history tells us that when we stand together to protect our land and communities, we make Montana a better place.

Water is for Fighting

Several years ago, we set out to strengthen our organization by developing a deeper understanding of our history. Thus the History Project was born, an organization-wide effort that compiled documents, footage, photos, historical records, and articles that capture 50 years of organizing to protect Montana’s family farms and ranches and unique quality of life. The result of this work below documents the people, places, and campaigns that have made Northern Plains such an important part of Montana’s history.

A cow hide stretched on a wooden sign that reads: "National Sacrifice Area - The US Gov't recommends strip mining the divide north of here. We landowners are opposed. Ellen Cotton, Mrs. Dan Wilson, Jim & Ruth Benedict, Canyon Creek Cattle Co, Ruth Jordan, Charles E. Jordan, Bob & Eula Ebeling. Let future generations judge."

People and Places of Northern Plains History

This virtual photo display showcases notable members and moments that have shaped our organization and left a lasting impact on the issues we have organized around. You can also view the display in-person at our Home on the Range office in Billings.

Standing Together

Northern Plains Resource Council was formed by ranch families who were concerned about the threat industrial-scale coal mining would have on their land, livelihood, and ability to make a living from ranching.

In 1972, local ranchers and co-founders of Northern Plains, Boyd and Anne Charter, hosted members of two local rancher groups – the Bull Mountain Landowners Association and Rosebud Protective Association – at a meeting in their living room in the Bull Mountains. This meeting led to the formation of Northern Plains Resource Council. 

Throughout the 1970s, Northern Plains worked with other citizens groups and played a key role in the passage of Montana’s basic environmental protection laws including the Major Facility Siting Act, Hard Rock Mining Impact Act, Water Use Act, Strip Mining and Reclamation Act, Coal Conservation Act, Coal Severance Tax Act, as well as the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

In 1979, Northern Plains joined forces with two other citizen groups – the Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota and the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Wyoming – to form the Western Organization of Resource Councils, based in Billings, MT. Today, WORC has member groups in seven Western states, and assists those groups by coordinating work on shared issues, providing training, and conducting issue research.

Since those early days, Northern Plains has worked on a wide variety of issues that affect family agriculture, land, water, air, and our communities. Learn more about some of our greatest fights like protecting the family farm during the 1980s farm crisis, promoting clean energy solutions, negotiating our Good Neighbor Agreement with the Sibyane-Stillwater Mining Company, how we saved the Tongue River Valley from coal bed methane destruction, and how we stood up to big corporations to protect clean air in Billings.

Northern Plains is committed to remaining involved with these issues, especially as we continue to witness the effects of fossil fuel development and its devastating consequences for our climate. We will continue working to ensure that the voices of the people can be heard, and that everyday Montanans will always be able to make a difference in how we treat our land, air, water, and climate.

More than 50 years ago, Northern Plains sought to find ways to keep family ranching viable even when a coal mine moved into the neighborhood. Some of the mines are still there today, but so are the ranches thanks to our work.

Want to read the full story?

Standing Together: Protecting Land, Air, Water, and People

This 130-page, hardcover anthology tells the story of Northern Plains’ work to protect the people and places we love across Montana. In addition to a written narrative, this hardbound book features photos, cartoons, artwork, news-clippings, and poetry from a half-century of tenacious grassroots organizing. Written and curated by Teresa Erickson.

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