American Prairie Reserve

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American Prairie Reserve
American Prairie Reserve.JPG
Overlooking the Missouri River from the American Prairie Reserve
OperatorAmerican Prairie Foundation
WebsiteOfficial website

The American Prairie Reserve is a massive nature reserve in northeastern Montana being developed as a private project of the American Prairie Foundation. This independent non-profit organization is creating a wildlife conservation area that will ultimately be over 3 million contiguous acres (12,000 km2) through a combination of both private and public lands to establish a fully functioning mixed grass prairie ecosystem, complete with migration corridors and native wildlife.


Prairies are the dominant ecosystem of the Interior Plains of central North America. The main vegetation type is herbaceous plants like grasses, sedges, and other prairie plants, rather than woody vegetation like trees. Before the 1800s, bison were a keystone species for the native shortgrass prairie habitat as their grazing pressure altered the food web and landscapes in ways that improve biodiversity.[1] The bison coexisted with elk, deer, pronghorn, swift fox, black-footed ferrets, bears, wolves, and cougars.[2] Long-billed curlews are a migratory shorebirds that rely on three types of habitats on the prairie – areas with short grass, long grass and mud – for completing their breeding cycle each year. The heterogeneous or varied landscape created by the roaming bison helped the birds.[3] The Nature Conservancy determined in 1999 that the northern Great Plains were the most viable for restoring the region's habitats and conserving the existing diversity of plants and animals.[4]

Eastern Montana's population has been falling since the 1930s.[5] Land is for sale as ranchers find it difficult for family members take over their spreads.[6][7] Ranching is hard in this area with severe winter weather. Margins with cattle raising can be slim. Large spreads can be worth millions.[8]


In 2005, 16 bison from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota were released.[9] A series of plains bison deliveries were also made from Elk Island National Park including 94 head in 2010 and 72 in 2012.[10] As of January 2020, 30 ranches have been purchased from willing sellers and the organization wants to buy about 20 more.[5] As of October 2020 the Reserve manages 420,000 acres (170,000 ha) in northeastern Montana with about one-fourth owned and the remainder leased.


The majority of the opposition to the American Prairie Reserve stems from ranchers in the area that intend to continue grazing cattle.[11] In response, ranchers post signs with the message "Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve".[8] They have also formed the organization, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance of South Phillips County.[12] In 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to deny a bison grazing proposal from the American Prairie Reserve.[13] Ranchers in the region have been invited to adhere to certain wildlife-friendly standards and market cattle as “Wild Sky Beef" at a premium.[14]


The American Prairie Foundation (doing business as American Prairie Reserve) believes that, "By purchasing a relatively small number of acres from willing sellers in northeastern Montana, we hope to link together the millions of acres of public land already set aside for wildlife and visitor access in the region, thereby creating a seamless landscape reminiscent of that seen by Lewis and Clark."[15] The American Prairie Foundation developed a 7-point scale to evaluate land based on ten ecological conditions including plant diversity, grazing, fire, hydrology and predators to measure the impact of reserve management activities.[16]

Approximately ten percent of the funding comes from private foundations supporting land conservation and the remaining ninety percent comes from individuals living in 46 states and eight countries. Approximately 20% of its donors reside in the state of Montana.[17] As of December 2013, they had raised $67.3 million in cash and pledges since 2002.[18]

Major donors include Forrest Mars, Jr. and John Mars of the Mars family, Hansjoerg Wyss, and Susan Packard Orr.[19] Current board members, Erivan and Helga Haub, Gib and Susan Myers and George and Susan Matelich, are also major donors.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Saboe, Beth (September 24, 2018). "The American Prairie Reserve Revisited". Distinctly Montana Magazine. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  2. ^ Bullinger, Jake (February 21, 2020). "Montana's Grand Prairie Experiment". Bitterroot. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
  3. ^ Jazynka, Kitson (May 20, 2019). "Bison help prairie get back to nature". The Spokesman-Review. Washington Post. Retrieved January 29, 2020.
  4. ^ Ecoregional Planning in the Northern Great Plains Steppe (PDF). Conservation Gateway (Report). The Nature Conservancy. February 4, 1999.
  5. ^ a b Lotus, Jean (January 31, 2020). "Montana ranchers, conservationists lock horns over free-ranging bison". UPI. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  6. ^ Schwedelson, Paul (August 30, 2020). "As Montana farmers and ranchers age, young people face challenges entering the industry". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  7. ^ Hegyi, Nate (December 8, 2019). "Big Money Is Building A New Kind Of National Park In The Great Plains". WAMU. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Hegyi, Nate (October 22, 2019). "The Next Yellowstone: Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve". KUNC. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  9. ^ Pierce, Ben (May 28, 2015). "American Prairie Reserve: Conservation project finding success, fueling controversy in northeast Montana". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  10. ^ Proulx, Ben (February 2, 2012). "Elk Island bison head to Montana". Fort Saskatchewan Record. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  11. ^ Brown, Matthew (August 22, 2012). "For Sale: A Way of Life". The Durango Herald. Associated Press. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  12. ^ Lutey, Tom (December 20, 2009). "Ranchers wary of group's effort to create wildlife reserve bigger than Yellowstone". Billings Gazette. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  13. ^ Drake, Phil (March 1, 2019). "House resolution critical of American Prairie Reserve". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  14. ^ Kibblewhite, Courtney (September 25, 2013). "Market Your Cattle with American Prairie Reserve?". Northern AG Network. Retrieved January 29, 2020.
  15. ^ "Expanding the Reserve". 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  16. ^ " American Prairie Reserve: 2013 Fall Gathering", American Prairie Reserve, p5, 2013
  17. ^ "FAQs". 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  18. ^ "Financials". 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  19. ^ Lubove, Seth (May 21, 2013). "Bison-Loving Billionaires Rile Ranchers With Land Grab in American West". Bloomberg. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  20. ^ American Prairie Reserve, IRS Form 990, 2011 Archived 2013-10-20 at the Wayback Machine (pdf)

External links[edit]