Abstract This paper investigates an optimization approach to determining the placement and timing of habitat protection for the western prairie fringed orchid. This plant’s population dynamics are complex, creating a challenging optimization problem. The sensitivity of the orchid to random climate conditions is handled probabilistically. The plant’s seed, protocorm and above-ground stages are all accounted for in a case example from the Sheyenne National Grassland in North Dakota. Sensitivity of the case example model to dispersal assumptions and climate condition probabilities is demonstrated.