IJNR began modestly as an experimental, part-time project at the University of Montana’s School of Journalism. The brainchild of Frank Edward Allen, a former editor of The Wall Street Journal and then-dean of the Journalism School, the first “expedition” served 16 mid-career American journalists representing news outlets ranging from High Country News and the Missoula Independent to CNN and USA Today. The two-week journey enabled these reporters and editors to examine urgent resource-protection issues confronting forests, fisheries, farms, ranches and parklands throughout the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, including the Rocky Mountain Front, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the Flathead Valley, and Glacier National Park.
Building on its initial successes in 1995 and 1996, the UM experimental project expanded in 1997 by creating a second expedition-style program in Maine. In December of that year, IJNR became incorporated as an independent, public-interest nonprofit group led by Allen, who had left the university to serve as full-time executive director.
Since then, IJNR has helped more than 900 journalists from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and overseas to improve their knowledge about issues of resource conservation, water, energy, land use, growth, development, fisheries, forests, farming, outdoor recreation, climate destabilization and ecological sustainability. As of 2017, IJNR has conducted more than 70 expedition-style Institutes in a wide variety of settings, ranging from the Great Lakes Basin, the Chesapeake Bay and coastal Georgia to the Northern Rockies, the Four Corners region, California and the Pacific Northwest.