Conserving North Bridger Bison

June 24, 2022

At a recent Gallatin Valley Land Trust Board Meeting, Matt and Sarah Skoglund of North Bridger Bison stood before board members and staff to express their thanks for helping them to complete a conservation easement on their ranch in Sedan. Their children, Otto and Greta, played in the background.

“This has been a long-time dream for our family,” Matt said, “We’ve wanted to conserve our land since we purchased it in 2018.”

Matt was speaking of the ranch he and Sarah own, known far and wide as North Bridger Bison. After four years of careful conversations and planning, Matt and Sarah placed a permanent conservation easement on their 791-acre ranch in partnership with GVLT.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Matt and Sarah to conserve their ranch and rewarding to support a local family who is producing food for our community,” said GVLT Conservation Director Brendan Weiner. “Their focus on regenerative agriculture, soil heath and water quality is apparent in the way they manage the land and the results are impressive.”

One of the most remarkable qualities of North Bridger Bison is the holistic approach by which they harvest the meat. Matt field-harvests every single bison himself and sells it exclusively direct to consumer.

“Bison are different than other livestock species and the traditional slaughter methods are incredibly stressful for the animal,” Matt said, “With field-harvesting, I simply drive out to wherever the bison are that day – no stress for the bison, and no stress in the meat. We’re proud and passionate about our process. We are not just providing meat, but food that is as ethical, humane, and environmentally friendly as it gets. It’s also super healthy and insanely delicious”

Originally from the Chicago area, the Skoglunds are first-generation ranchers in Montana. In 2008, Matt was working as a lawyer in the Sears Tower when he and Sarah decided to quit their jobs and move to Montana.  For the next 10 years, Matt worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council, eventually becoming the Director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies office in Bozeman. That was his first brush with bison, working on bison management issues in and around Yellowstone National Park. Matt enjoyed his job with NRDC, but he began dreaming of working for himself and running his own business, one rooted in a deep love for the land and conservation.

One day, while flipping through the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Matt found an article about a National Bison Association Conference in Big Sky. “That article planted the seed,” Matt said. “But I’m a kid from suburban Chicago. I had a massive insecurity that if you didn’t grow up ranching, you can’t be a rancher.”

Matt dismissed the idea of becoming a bison rancher until he read Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien. O’Brien pioneered field-harvesting bison, and that was a lightbulb moment for Matt. He later met with Roland Kroos, a holistic management consultant with lots of bison experience, and the two became fast friends.

When Matt found two parcels for sale in Sedan that had been on the market for years, Matt thought there must be a catch. He toured the parcels with his children and wife, who all immediately fell in love with the land. He then asked Roland to come out to the property and give his professional opinion on whether the land would be good for their bison ranch dream.

“Roland told me he thought the land was like a needle in a haystack given its features and price,” Matt said. “We got it under contract in 2018, and the bison arrived in January of 2019.”

Today, North Bridger Bison has about 125 bison in the herd, and they also lease land from two neighbors, which has increased the size of the ranch. Matt hasn’t stopped learning, attributing his success to their passionate costumers, bison-ranching colleagues, and the wisdom of his neighbors.

“We have incredible customers that really care about us and the ranch and we’re really grateful for them,” Matt says. “One of the neatest parts of the whole thing has been getting to know our neighbors. Our neighbors are all multi-generation cattle ranchers and they have been wonderful.”

When Matt was still in law school in 2004, he wrote his “note” (a thesis) on conservation easements.  Matt believes strongly in both public and private land conservation which led he and Sarah to pursue a conservation easement for their ranch, guaranteeing that the land will never be developed, and the wildlife will forever be protected.

“Working with GVLT was awesome,” Matt said. “I feel like GVLT is really invested in what we’re doing on the ranch and in our business. Brendan and Kristin were always so responsive. It really felt like we were a team, and we shared the exact same goal.”

“When we look out at our land, and see wildlife, or see nesting waterfowl, and know that it is protected forever, that’s an incredible feeling. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

The Skoglund Conservation Easement was funded by the Gallatin County Open Lands program and the NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative. The easement protects productive agricultural land and wildlife, including elk, moose, deer, bears, sage grouse, antelope, and all sorts of birds and waterfowl. The spectacularly beautiful land sits adjacent to Bridger Canyon Road (Hwy 86), where the public can enjoy the scenic viewsheds. It’s also located next to another conservation easement, which creates a large block of conserved land. This is GVLT’s 121st easement bringing our total conserved acres to 51,939.