American Prairie Reserve promotes beef production

Dear APR

I am very disappointed to learn about the American Prairie Reserve’s promotion of beef. This images says it all. What is the American Prairie Foundation about? It would appear you are about preserving cows and cowboys. That surely is not what I thought you were doing.

Don't See Wild Sky Ranchers? Click Here To View The Newsletter On Our Website

I had high hopes for the vision when I first heard about this effort, but if you ultimately sustain ranching over the long run then I have misplaced my hopes.

I have to say this beef promotion is ultimately counter productive. It is a bunch of happy talk about how great livestock production is for the American public. Your promotional video makes it sound like livestock production is “wildlife friendly”.

Really at best, your beef producers “may” be making livestock production marginally less damaging. Marginally less damaging is not the same as “wildlife friendly” or promotion of “healthy” ecosystems.

To suggest livestock production is “wildlife friendly” is misleading. Even if you don’t shoot predators, the presence of cattle displaces native herbivores into less suitable habitat.Livestock can spread disease to native herbivores.Cows are consuming vegetation that would support native herbivores from grasshoppers and prairie dogs to bighorn and elk. The production of hay requires the dewatering of rivers, springs, etc. which harms aquatic ecosystems.That decreases the overall wildlife value of the land. It is not “friendly” just less damaging.

The fences, water developments, spread of weeds, impacts to riparian areas, development of springs, changes in fire regimes due to grazing, etc. that accompany cattle production all harm wildlife.

And there is the “grass-fed” misleading information. Just because it’s grass-fed does not make it good. Grass fed actually produces more methane than CAFO beef. While grass-fed may have no antibodies and other things associated with CAFOs it is not necessarily a good thing for the land. Grass fed cattle are still spreading weeds, compacting soils, eating forage that would support wildlife, emitting methane, and so on. But the real ecological impacts go well beyond the effects on global climate.

How about the health impacts of beef consumption? Your video promotes enjoying a “healthy steak”. Where do you get that from? There is abundant evidence that beef consumption in any quantity is unhealthy. Why do you promote consumption of food that is harming the environment, harming human health, and if all the externalies were included, costs us taxpayers all sorts of money. How about promoting how these welfare ranchers (most of them graze public lands) are sucking down tax subsidies from us taxpayers? How about promoting the negative impacts of beef production.

I get tired of so-called conservation groups doing the livestock industry’s promotion for them. How about doing a video with an honest assessment of livestock impacts? Why should we promote bison, wolves, etc. if beef is so good and “wildlife friendly”? Please explain.

The Wild Sky Beef Program just helps these guys hang on longer. That ultimately is counter productive to what I thought were the goals of the American Prairie Foundation.

Geo. Wuerthner
Author of Welfare Ranching–the subsidized destruction of the American West


  1. MJ Graham Avatar

    I wrote a piece on this “Preserve” a while back. From my research and communication with the organizers, I’ve come to understand this a project that preserves ONLY for human purposes. If nature benefits in any way, it’s purely by accident, it would seem.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      What a shame.

  2. Nancy Avatar

    “Why do you promote consumption of food that is harming the environment, harming human health, and if all the externalies were included, costs us taxpayers all sorts of money”

    Some interesting facts:

    1. skyrim Avatar

      Nancy, you seem to come up with most incredible links. I was shocked to see the 2011 graph on antibiotic use. Stunning……

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Sadly Skyrim, like psychotropic drugs, antibiotics have also found their “niche” in our very dominant but ignorant species and are being promoted big time (by the usual suspects – drug/chemical companies) these past few decades. Greed 101 $$$

        And, I’ll go out on a limb here and say the same thing is happening with all sorts of “chemical” companies cashing in big time on herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, Etc. that do little, if any good, except severely damage what’s left of natural wildlife and their habitat.

        Sorry, I digress. Like climate change, its happening and not enough of the human species, who dominate this planet, care enough to acknowledge it, most are way too busy/selfish comes to mind? to notice the obvious signs.

        1. MJ Graham Avatar

          Nancy, I concur with your take on this situation. I see nothing in the APR’s mission and other published plans that speaks of nothing more than practicing “conservation” that benefits humans, period.

  3. Kathleen Avatar


    “Our eventual goal is to sell as much beef from the Reserve area as possible.”

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    How is this going to affect the bison also? Not to mention predators. “As much beef as possible” doesn’t sound very conducive to the goals of the preserve! Such as protecting native grasslands and forbs, and the native wildlife. It appears to be a terrible conflict.

  5. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    First, I get tired of reading the label “welfare ranchers”. If anyone of you have worked on a ranch or farm, you know how hard of work it is, both physically and mentally. Typical days start at sunrise and end at sunset and you never know how long you will make a living at it. I’m sure you would call it anything but welfare. Second, it is NOT up to the ranchers to decide how much they are charged per AUM, you can blame Congress for that.

    Second, the APR is working with area ranchers to promote wildlife friendly ranching practices by providing economic incentives. Those are good things. Read the statement carefully “Our eventual goal is to sell as much beef from the Reserve “AREA” as possible. Not from the APR itself, but from the surrounding area. Providing economic incentives for ranchers to use wildlife friendly grazing practices is beneficial to wildlife and for the consumer. Grass fed beef fed without anti-biotics and other commercial food sources is a nutritional source of protein along with a small amount of fat. What do you think Indians ate for centuries, oh yea grass fed bison and those Indians were relatively quite healthy until Europeans showed up.

    It’s easy for the Author to sit at a computer and criticize the APR for allowing “SOME” cattle grazing within some of the most productive prairie land left in the US. The surrounding area is going to get grazed, it’s just a matter of how we want it done. I tip my hat to the APR.

    1. Leslie Avatar

      Gary, I agree with you from all I’ve read about APR. The APR sits in the middle of a very unfriendly-to-bison site and has been working hard to change that. I understood from their literature that they have common areas they allow ranchers to graze so these cattle ranchers can ‘rest’ some of their own grass for a season or two.

      Although I have not eaten beef for over 30 years out of my political views, I do know that we need to begin to help ranchers to change their mindset and begin to work with wildlife, predators as well as prey such as prairie dogs. If we want wildlife to inhabit large tracts of land and create wildlife corridors, that means public as well as private lands.

      Ranching and farming with wildlife can be done, but it takes a commitment and willingness to outsmart wildlife continually. I believe working in concert with others can slowly change their minds.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        Well, since you put it that way – thanks to Gary too for clarifying.

      1. Yvette Avatar

        ++ Skyrim. Not to deny the hard work and long hours of ranching, (or farming) but it isn’t like they are the only ones. I’ve many memories of hearing my dad, a carpenter and contractor, leaving in the mornings before sunrise, often around 4:00 AM, for work. He didn’t return until dusk. It was similar with my brother who was a cement finisher when he was young(very hard work) and a carpenter. Due to nearly lifelong knee problems he was suppose to never be able to do manual labor. He did it until a few years ago until his broken down body couldn’t be pushed anymore. Heck, I remember him still doing framing (a young man’s job) work back in 2006 (he was nearly 60 y/o) in day after day of triple digit weather. I must say he is the toughest SOB I’ve ever known when it comes working through pain.

        I’m sure there are some tough, hard-working ranchers out there, but I see it no differently than some other fields of work that also have no health benefits and uncertainties in employment. And yes, farmers and ranchers do get a sweet deal from the government.

        1. Nancy Avatar


          There’s a wheat farmer from Idaho that recently purchased a million dollar ranch AND a fancy 1/2 million dollar home in my valley. The majority of the ranchland (2-3 thousand acres) is sagebrush, so I would imagine they get subsidized for leaving it that way PLUS they run lease cattle on it.

          Between 1995 & 2010 (according to EWG website) their farm in Idaho, hauled in close to a million in farm subsidies. If they can invest over a million dollars in other properties, why do tax payers continue to subsidize their wealthy lifestyle?

        2. skyrim Avatar

          I have nothing but respect for tradesman. I now live part of the year in a home built by my Grandfather in 1933. My vehicles are housed in a garage that I helped to put the roof on when I was 10 years old.
          I can surely appreciate what you have witnessed in your home, in your lifetime.
          There too, in ranching and farming, is honor, but just like many things that happen when capitalism is interjected, greed surpasses (in some minds) it all.

          1. skyrim Avatar

            …above in reply to Yvette above.

      2. Elk375 Avatar

        Remember people that Montana is only 29% federal land and millions of acres that are not subject to grazing federal leases. If an person has ranch land then they have the right either to graze cattle and control the predation. Not all ranchers are welfare cases.

        There is a bigger picture here. In order for the American Prairie Foundation to succeed they are going to have to develop alliances with the adjacent landowners.
        The American Prairie Foundation has always tried to work with the locals people. They have a good program but it is going to take many years and millions of dollars to achieve their goal.

  6. Craig Avatar

    Truly unfortunate.

  7. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Some very good news about APR:

    “The Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD) and Montana Public Lands Council (MPLC), recently submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in response to a request by the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to change class of livestock from cattle to bison and to remove interior fences on Flat Creek Allotment in south Phillips County.”

  8. American Prairie Reserve Avatar

    Thank you, George, for your thoughts and concerns. Your post actually presents us with an opportunity to better communicate our goals with Wild Sky. We also appreciate everyone who has taken the time to comment on this post, and hope that the following information helps to clarify our aims.

    American Prairie Reserve’s aim of building the largest wildlife reserve in the Lower 48 remains unchanged. But you’re right that Wild Sky represents an area of innovation for APR — and it’s one that we feel our supporters will be quite proud of once we clarify the visionary intent behind the program. APR’s aims go beyond peaceful coexistence — rather, we aim to grow the next generation of conservationists on the border of our project area to the benefit of the wildlife that will call it home.

    Wild Sky is the first APR attempt to grow what we call the social carrying capacity for wildlife. More on that in a moment. First, a bit of context:

    One of the advantages of building America’s next great park is that we can incorporate the collective wisdom of lessons learned by others who built earlier parks. Across time and cultures, efforts to restore and grow wildlife populations in landscape-size ecosystems have faced sociological resistance. Opposition to what are now some of the crown jewels in America’s National Park System — e.g., Glacier and Grand Teton — has been widely chronicled. But this story plays out basically the same way around the globe in places as varied as Montana, Mozambique and Mongolia. Essentially, some of the people living in and around such areas view these parks as threatening to their economic security. And to be fair, often they are asked to bear the cost of increasing wild life populations while receiving few of the benefits. This is particularly true in settings in which mixed-use agricultural zones surround core nature reserves — and is the case with APR.

    Since wildlife move without regard to political boundaries, conservation projects must find ways to increase the tolerance for wildlife outside core nature areas, or these projects will remain islands in landscapes often hostile to biodiversity restoration. This is particularly true if restoration goals include predatory animals (again, as is the case with APR). People living in and around nature reserves have made huge emotional and economic investments in the land and their livelihoods. Naturally, they will try to protect these investments. Hence, changing this dynamic (i.e., increasing tolerance for wildlife) is fundamentally a sociological problem. A key to success is the recognition that solutions will be more acceptable and successful if neighboring people are both the beneficiaries of and participants in conservation efforts.

    That’s why we created a wildlife incentive program. This program pays area ranchers who tolerate species like cougars, sage grouse, pronghorn antelope and prairie dogs. Additional payments are offered for items like restoring degraded streams, modifying or replacing cattle fence that restricts animal movement, making use of controlled burns on their land and capturing photos of live animals. Funding for this initiative comes from our recent launch of the Wild Sky beef brand, a stand-alone, wildlife-friendly beef company. Wild Sky’s fundamental purpose is to generate profits from the sale of high-quality, grass-fed beef that are then used to provide wildlife incentive payments to participating ranchers. But these ranchers are evaluated against the Freese Scale for Grassland Biodiversity. Developed by conservation biologist Dr. Curt Freese, the Freese Scale identifies the 10 major ecological drivers for restoring and conserving biodiversity on temperate grasslands. We use this scale to maximize native prairie biodiversity, whether on APR land or that owned by our Wild Sky partners.

    We’re making great progress growing Wild Sky. We have three ranchers participating in the program, and the beef is selling in more than 50 stores across the United States with accounts growing weekly. We seek to dramatically grow this number over the next several years. We recently contracted with Wild Sky rancher Michelle Fox of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation to promote the program to others in the region. Over time, we expect Wild Sky will generate revenue sufficient to support a robust incentives program.

    By providing incentives for neighboring ranchers to tolerate increasing numbers of wildlife, including predators, we hope to create partners and advocates for conservation. Our ultimate goal is to move beyond peaceful co-existence and operate our reserve in a landscape filled with people who have a vested interest in growing wildlife numbers. Indeed, we hope this approach to tackling sociological challenges in our region offers a model for replication to other conservation projects around the world.

    We’re happy, as always, to discuss this with you or anyone else who is interested in learning more. Feel free to contact us at 406-585-4600.

    1. WM Avatar

      ++ Our ultimate goal is to move beyond peaceful co-existence and operate our reserve in a landscape filled with people who have a vested interest in growing wildlife numbers.++

      Noble goal. But it strikes me that at some point cows and predators in increasing numbers will begin to find cows an easy and maybe preferred food source. So, what happens when the Wild Sky participating producers start to loose more livestock to predators? Compensation, predator reduction, ranchers decide they no longer want to participate? What does this look like five-ten years into the future? Are the cows gone, or the predators thinned a bit, if things don’t go as planned?

      1. Mark L Avatar
        Mark L

        is either of those choices any worse than it is now? If not, how could this not be a win-win for wildlife…especially predators?

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          I agree, better than what we have now, and a lot better than no protection.

      2. MJ Graham Avatar

        Hunting of predators is part of the plan for the APR. See the post I referenced in the first comment above as to the purpose of this “Reserve”.

      3. WM Avatar

        I confess to not knowing much about APR. But, after cruising their website I am convinced there is big money like Paul Allen (Microsoft), David Packard Foundations (that would be HP), some Wall St. folks, as well as several heavy hitters from academia including various environmental fields, this looks like a pretty well thought out and funded operation. Seeking local buy in, and cooperation, which could include opening doors for markets for wildlife friendly beef (however that is ultimately defined) strikes me as a pretty good marketing plan with many dimensions.

    2. Scott Avatar

      It has every chance of working, if it is managed holistically ie Allan Savory style. The increases in habitat productivity will benefit both ranchers and wildlife. I see signs in your post that maybe it is? But you didn’t say so directly. So I would ask directly. Is it a holistic management style project? Because if it is you have my support 1,000%. If it isn’t then I think you need to really think out the management a bit deeper.

      There is an old saying, “A house divided can not stand.”

      So no matter how high you goals are, the end result will invariably be failure either for wildlife or for the ranchers, unless it is managed holistically. Without that change in paradigm and without decisions made in that context, there will always end up being internal conflict. I think you are seeing that here in these comments already.

  9. snaildarter Avatar

    I’m a little suspicious of this but I do see the economic possibility of running fewer cattle for more $$ if you can label them “wildlife friendly” and sell at a premium. I generally boycott beef but on special occasions I will eat grass fed beef if I know where it comes from and can verify how it is raised.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

George Wuerthner