Our Mission

Who We Are

Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montanans to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.

Northern Plains believes people working together can make a difference.

Our Mission:

  • Organize Montanans to protect our water, land, air, and working landscapes,
  • Support a healthy, localized, and sustainable economy in farm and ranch country and in our towns,
  • Build strong grassroots leaders, always considering the next generation.

Our Vision

We are from the plains and mountains, cities and towns. We are everyday Montanans who love where we live. We stand up, shoulder-to-shoulder, to protect this place we all call home.

We believe that true prosperity begins with healthy land, water, and air. We believe that our families, farms, ranches, schools, businesses, governments, and communities thrive when we are good stewards of these resources. We believe that if we look beyond our fences, listen to one another, and keep our minds open, we will find creative solutions to secure a clean, healthful environment for all.

We are working toward a future where we live in harmony with nature, where our economy serves the people rather than the people serving the economy, where neighbors work side-by-side to build a world that lives up to our ideals of fairness, inclusion, and justice.

To create this future, we must act now. The actions we take today will determine the world that our children and grandchildren inherit. Working together, right now, we can ensure true prosperity for generations to come.

What We Do

On a fundamental level, Northern Plains is about environmental protection, economic justice, rural self-determination, democracy, and accountability for the decisions made by corporations and government entities. These principles show up throughout our work, though the issues themselves change over time to meet members’ needs.

To achieve these principles, we use a range of strategies that include:

  • Community organizing, research, and public education to help us elevate public understanding of the issues and people’s desire to be part of the solution;
  • Trainings and leadership development to help us strengthen the voices of Montanans;
  • Legislative lobbying, litigation, and agency work to help us hold public officials and corporations accountable.


We aim to build power among everyday Montanans so their voices are heard when decisions are being made that affect their lives.

Our Story

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 would lead to the formation of Northern Plains Resource Council. Later, members filed articles of incorporation with the Montana Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State filed a certificate of incorporation on September 22, 1972. In October of that year, Northern Plains met under its newly-adopted charter, and elected its first officers and directors.

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.

Northern Plains sought to find ways to keep family ranching viable even when a coal mine moved into the neighborhood. The mines are still there today, but so are the ranches. Retaining this agricultural land would not have been possible without the work of Northern Plains.

Fossil fuel development is hard on nearby farms and ranches, and the effects of fossil fuel development have devastating consequences for our climate. Northern Plains is committed to remaining involved with these issues. All the while, 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.


What our members say...

Emily Petrik and Joel Harris
“Some of our dear friends were Northern Plains staff and member leaders. For us, it was a no-brainer to become members. Northern Plains uses a truly grassroots model, more so than any other conservation group in Montana. It’s not all about lawyers or ‘experts.’ And [Northern Plains] is effective – we really get stuff done. In a world where many people feel isolated and disconnected, the way we do our work brings people together and makes us all feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Emily Petrik and Joel Harris , Billings
Deb Muth
“As a young mother, my children were experiencing health issues and I struggled to understand why, until I discovered they were related to toxins in our well water. It turned out that an out-of-date landfill was leaching into the ground water downstream, and illnesses were pandemic in our area. Cancers of all kinds… young children too! That landfill became a designated Superfund site, but the damage will still linger for lifetimes.  We know better now, about how to safely clean up toxic waste dumps! Membership in Northern Plains has helped me stand up for myself, my family, and my community and fight against special interests that would sacrifice our unique quality of life for short term profits!  I am proud to have worked with Northern Plains for the past 22 years to protect our clean watersheds, creeks and rivers, clean air quality, and our precious soil, the land we call home!”
Deb Muth
Emma Kerr-Carpenter
“My involvement with Northern Plains began when my local affiliate started a new committee to work on local issues such as city planning, zoning, and parks. I began to see that if I worked together with my friends and neighbors we could build a healthy, sustainable, inviting community that works for everyone.    I am a member of Northern Plains because there are very few other conservation groups in MT that are so grassroots. Through the incredible leadership of our members and the support of our staff we hold decision-makers accountable and organize to improve the quality of life of everyday Montanans.” 
Emma Kerr-Carpenter
Ed Gulick
“I love Northern Plains and take great pleasure in devoting my time and treasure as a member to further our collective vision. Montana is not going to become a more just, equitable and environmentally sustainable place by itself. It takes a committed group of organized citizens, working together to bring issues forward, educate the public on alternatives, and work through the various governing processes to create lasting change in our communities. Northern Plains is that organizing vehicle for me. I get to spend time with such committed and capable members and staff. And through our methodical, grassroots democratic process, we are incredibly effective, accomplishing more with investments of time and resources than anywhere else. Join us!”
Ed Gulick
Sue Beug
“I became actively involved with Northern Plains when there were rumors of expanding oil and gas development in Carbon County. I became an advocate for demanding development be done according to existing regulations and worked to increase protections where they didn’t exist. [This] has taught me how to be an effective activist for our environment and conservation.  Because of the support, knowledge and guidance provided by Northern Plains staff I have gained confidence and developed the ability to effectively speak out on issues of importance to me."
Sue Beug
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