STORM ON THE PRAIRIE: AMERICAN PRAIRIE RESERVE TRIES TO ‘BUFFALO’ RURAL MONTANA
American Prairie Reserve Threatens Ranching in The West
Seeks To Create Largest Natural Reserve in United States
American Prairie Reserve began in 2001 as the Prairie Foundation,
created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as a “land trust partner.” The
goal of American Prairie Reserve is:
• To put together the United States’ largest natural reserve in north-central Montana
• Recreate what famous explorers Lewis and Clark might have seen in 1805
• The primary focus of the reserve is free-roaming, naturally regulated wildlife
• The total targeted area is 3.5 million acres, which is larger than the entirety of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and includes the already preserved lands of the million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the 375,000-acre Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Numerous Ranches Must Be Obtained for APR to Fulfill Their Vision
The remainder of the lands APR needs to complete their vision is made up of privately-owned ranches interspersed among millions of acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered lands. The key to amassing the desired total land is for APR to purchase the ranches and therefore obtain the BLM grazing rights attached to those properties. Read more about the practice of ranching on federally administered land here.
Impact to BLM Land
The problems with APR’s plans are with the bison themselves, as well as the way APR wants to manage them. It is important to note that no one is protesting what APR will do with their privately-owned land; the issues are what they want to do on BLM land, and the effects it would have on the environment, ranch families, and local economies.
East Coast Biologist & Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Join Forces
The reserve was the brainchild of Massachusetts resident and former WWF biologist, Curt Freese, who is listed as a founding executive director of APR. Freese recruited Silicon Valley consultant, Sean Gerrity, who became another founder of APR. Gerrity came up with the plan to buy any ranches near APR that were put on the market. In order to do this, they created a non-profit organization and started collecting donations. In 2004, they began acquiring land. Since that time, APR has made 29 land purchases and amassed over 400,000 acres of land, which includes the grazing rights on BLM parcels attached to privately owned lands.
This is not the first time something like this has been proposed. In the 1980s, a pair of East Coast professors, Frank and Deborah Popper, envisioned creating the “Buffalo Commons.” The Poppers infamously sought to rewild the majority of the Great Plains, with de-privatizing and depopulating the region as key components. They stated that their wish was to return the area to its “original pre-white state.”
APR’s Vision of Rewilding
Over two centuries after Lewis and Clark passed through the region, APR’s vision is creating great turmoil in the rural ranching communities of north-central Montana because of what they aim to do. APR’s central goal, and reason for grabbing up every bit of land they can, is to “re-wild” the area, which was identified by The Nature Conservancy as the “Northern Great Plains Steppe ecoregion” in 1999. The area is already home to a great many species of wildlife, including elk, big horn sheep, antelope, deer, coyotes, mountain lions, prairie dogs, and numerous species of birds.
Nevertheless, APR is importing “genetically pure” bison (or buffalo) in an attempt to mimic the great plains of yesteryear. The reserve is already home to about 900 of them, which are considered pure by APR since there are no domestic cattle in their lineage. The long-term goal is to build a herd of 10,000 such bison.
APR Uses Unethical Tactics
APR emphasizes that they only buy land from “willing sellers,” but finding those has sometimes proven to be a challenge. In many cases, APR has resorted to less-than ethical methods of obtaining land. In one case, a landowner decided to sell property, but not to APR. Then, upon selling the property to a third-party LLC, the seller found out that the LLC was a front for APR after all.