American Prairie Reserve has purchased as huge ranch next to the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge-

The American Prairie Reserve is trying to put together a huge private wildlife reserve in NE Central Montana. This is a place where there is a lot of open space and a fair amount of public land. The C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is a million acre public parcel. This national wildlife refuge was created around Fort Peck Reservoir on the Missouri River. There is also the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument of about 370,000 acres.

It is unpopulated country (look at Google Earth!) and the general area of the High Plains has overall been losing population for many generations. To its supporters this is a wonderful place to try to recreate native prairie with most of its original wildlife in 3-million acres of private and public land. For reference, Yellowstone National Park is 2.2 million acres.

The American Prairie Reserve (APR) is trying to pick up the additional 2-million acres from voluntary purchases, donations, and piecing together scattered public lands.  They owned 60,000 acres prior to the acquisition of the South Fork Ranch. They have had some trouble with some locals with the rumor that they are trying to create a national monument and introduce predators. APR states that they are neither advocating for or against a future national monument, nor can they legally reintroduce free roaming wildife. Their long term goal is, however, to have free roaming, genetically pure (as possible) wild bison. They admit that some laws and politics must change for this to happen.  APR does have about 250 bison now in a fenced enclosure of 14,000 acres. Prairie dogs are also becoming well established on the private APR lands. In fact, deer and pronghorn, cougar, swift fox, and of course coyotes, do roam the Reserve and beyond. The Reserve is still being grazed by cattle for the time being.

They just purchased the South Ranch, making it the 13th ranch they have bought from a “willing seller.” The Reserve is located on the north side of the National Wildlife Refuge.

The Associated Press has an article on the new purchase. Grasslands reserve buys 150,000-acre Mont. ranch. By Matthew Brown. The reader can decide if the AP story’s tone is objective or favors some side of the matter. We did receive some email today suggesting a number of facts the AP could have, and the sender thinks should have presented in order to have a complete and accurate portrayal of the ranch sale.  For example, how much property tax did the South Ranch pay? This is relevant because one of the purchases’ critics said the county could not afford to lose the property tax.  Does the critic have a case or not?

Here is the complete list of questions.

“(1)  State how much property tax South Ranch paid last year, if any. It appears that a conservation easement for the entire property was sold in 2004 to Montana FWP (implying it already pays no tax). (2) Determine whether this will result in any change in net employment relative to already rapidly depopulating Valley County (3,250 Glasgow, Ft Peck 240 Nashua 340, Opheim 11 total 7,369). per capita income $16,246. Is it really a conservative ranching community? 2008 Valley County voted 56% for McCain/Palin and 43% for Obama/Biden for president  (3) Name the seller as well as the buyer — both are easy online public records  (4) Was the ranch listed by a realtor and if so for how long at what asking price  (5) Was a local rancher — or any rancher anywhere — willing to match the purchase price and refused?  (6)  Despite the ‘free market,’ shouldn’t the seller be coerced to take a lower bid if it is from another rancher?  (7) If no rancher wants to buy the ranch, should the owner be forced to hold it in perpetuity?  (8) If this was an unwilling seller, describe the mechanism the non-profit used for coercing the sale.”

Yale Environment 360 has a fine article with an interview of former Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Gerrity. He is the President of the APR. Dreaming of a Place Where the Buffalo Roam. By Hilary Rosner.

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

21 Responses to American Prairie Reserve buys a 150,000 acre Montana ranch

  1. Salle says:

    Best news I’ve seen in weeks!

  2. ProWolf in WY says:

    That would be great if American Prairie Reserve could get the whole reserve established in my lifetime. I’m sure it would be wishful thinking to have predators restored to it, but a person can dream right?

    • sleepy says:

      Would be nice to have some plains grizzlies again. I know some are dispersing out that way from the mountains.

    • Jon Way says:

      I would imagine that wolves will naturally disperse to that area if MT keeps a fair and sane wolf mgmt plan. In a Yellowstone sized area it should be a matter of time.

      Yea, grizzlies would be pretty cool too!

  3. elk275 says:

    ++Here is the complete list of questions.++

    Ralph you forgot a major item. Who owns the mineral rights. I bet that all of the fee minerals have been split from the estate and put in trust.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      Yes. That is a very important additional question. I understand it has been a thing of huge controversy in some parts of Eastern Montana.

  4. There are many areas in the intermountain west where similar programs could be applied. Buying out willing ranchers and retiring their grazing priveleges could do wonders for the environment and wildlife. The Flat Top Ranch near Carey, Idaho, where wolves get killed repeatedly, would be a great place to start.
    Garrity says there is lots of money available for these projects. Lets find out how to access it.

  5. Ralph – Thank you for sharing some of the questions that you have received since the AP story ran earlier this week.

    American Prairie Reserve purchases properties from willing sellers at fair market value, which is determined by an independent, third-party, qualified appraiser. APR is required by law to pay property taxes on all its deeded lands just like any other private landowner. These taxes are paid whether or not the property is subject to a conservation easement.

    Ranchers may choose to sell land based on a variety of personal and business reasons, such as a desire to purchase other grazing pastures or a decision to move their operation to another part of Montana. Many people are surprised to learn that 95% of the landowners who have sold land to the Reserve are still in agriculture, including through lease arrangements with APR.

    In this case, the seller has outlined the history of the ranch, the decision to sell the property, and plans for ongoing cattle operations in a letter available here:

    Readers can also find answers to questions about how we purchase properties, our economic impact, public access and more on our website:

    • Rita K. Sharpe says:

      Thank you.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      American Prairie Reserve,

      Thanks for the information. I did have letter from the seller of the ranch, but couldn’t figure out how to easily integrate it into the flow of things. Your comments helped.

  6. HAL 9000 says:

    Good news. Everybody’s always slavering over the mountains, but the prairies never get enough love, in my opinion.

  7. louise kane says:

    excellent news

  8. ProWolf in WY says:

    Sleepy, grizzlies have been dispersing, although I would be surprised if they made it that far east without human intervention. Wolves on the other hand can come from Montana or from Canada. Hal, I agree there isn’t enough love for the prairie. American Prairie Reserve, are there plans for bighorn sheep reintroductions?

    • elk275 says:

      There is already Mountain Sheep in the Missouri Breaks, in fact the largest Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in North America.

      • ProWolf in WY says:

        I had no idea. I’ve heard there is quite the substantial elk population there as well.

  9. Salle says:

    There’s certainly a need for more organizations like APR! Thank you for your work and vision.

  10. bebe says:

    The AP story was shallow reporting and clearly, caught up in the romance of the west p.r. The actual land purchased was 25,000 acres and was already protected with a conservation easement. The rest is owned by BLM and leased for grazing. The seller will keep grazing cattle there for at least 10 more years. Also, fences for bison are very bad for wildlife. they are generally too high for deer and elk to jump, especially young animals. They can be perilous for sage grouse and, unless they keep the lower end high enough off the ground, pronghorn can’t go under. APF has insulted local ranchers, suggesting that their cattle don’t belong on the prairie — from which we must surmise, they don’t believe these families who’ve lived there for generations do either. I hope the people investing in this are really looking at the facts

    • ProWolf in WY says:


    • Nancy says:

      “Also, fences for bison are very bad for wildlife. they are generally too high for deer and elk to jump, especially young animals. They can be perilous for sage grouse and, unless they keep the lower end high enough off the ground, pronghorn can’t go under”

      And how does that differ Bebe from a lot of fencelines in place across the west for cattle?

      Came across two mulie fawns this morning along a stretch of highway I travel often and they were obviously confused about where to go.

      Both sides, for miles (private property) were inclosed in sheep fencing, little squares, no chance for the young of most wild ungulates to get thru. Less than a mile from that sad situation, two cow elk lay dead along the that same highway.

      There’s nothing safe about most types of fencing when it comes to wildlife. But, the slogan ” Beef…its whats for dinner” gets most of the attention out here in the good ole west 🙂

      • SAP says:

        Re bison fence – Bebe would’ve been right 10 or 15 years ago. Take a drive along the north side of Turner’s Flying D Ranch and see for yourself — the fences have become far friendlier.

        The “fortress” approach from the early days of commercial bison ranching — very tall fence, tight wires — was misguided. Turns out the critical element is the electricity, namely high and consistent voltage. Without a good shock, even the biggest, nastiest fence could not contain bison. The electricity is the key part. With a well-designed electric fence, there’s no need for all that height and extra wires.

        The other critical element is keeping the bison “trained” with feed. A little cottonseed cake or some other supplement will help halt breakouts, or help bring the buffs home quickly if they do break out.

        I find that a lot of beef enthusiasts already “know” everything there is to “know” about bison ranching. They all “know” there’s no way to keep bison inside a fence (and for sure, we’ve never ever ever seen cattle bust out ;)). Whatever.

        Guess I also need to point out that there’s always a lot of squawking about property rights, until some “outsider” decides to buy a place and do something with the land besides build a shrine to the Church of Cow. Then, all that property rights stuff is out the window. “Oh, we meant property rights for us, not for those wierdos over there . . . “


August 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey