American Prairie Reserve is spearheading a unique effort to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States by linking together more than 3.5-million-acres of critical habitat. The Reserve has already grown to more than 350,000 acres and is a place for modern day exploration, a living laboratory for students and scientists, and an economic opportunity for rural communities.
American Prairie Reserve is growing on the legendary Northern Plains of Montana, a pivotal landscape that helped share the development, spirit and ecological diversity of the United States. Scientists have identified this area as one of only four remaining areas in the world that are viable options for landscape-scale grassland conservation. In these rare and special places, it is still possible to re-establish natural wildlife populations and the relationships between species that make an ecosystem whole again.
Creating American Prairie Reserve, an innovative, privately funded effort, has been underway since 2001. This visionary plan calls for stitching together 3 million acres of existing public lands using approximately 500,000 acres of private land. When these fragmented public and private lands are connected, the Reserve will provide a continuous land area with an overall wildlife management focus, the largest of any kind in the lower 48 states.
At 353,104 acres and growing, the Reserve is quickly becoming a destination where naturalists, history buffs and animal lovers today and in future generations can experience the vast landscape, whether while camping or staying at the world-class, yurt-based Kestrel Camp. In addition, we expect over time that the assembly of American Prairie Reserve will significantly increase regional expenditures on recreation, education and science as well as generate income for neighbors through programs like our wildlife-friendly ranching initiative. By positively impacting local economies, we make the case for conservation.
American Prairie Reserve’s goal is to assemble a landscape spanning more than 3.5 million acres of public and private land managed for biodiversity conservation. Less than 6% of the world’s temperate grasslands are under some form of protection, making it one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, and the idea of preserving a piece of the American prairie has been studied and promoted in books and papers for well over 100 years.
Since its inception in 2001, the Reserve has made significant strides in reaching its conservation goals, including growing the Reserve to more than 350,000 acres. In addition to setting aside important wildlife habitat, American Prairie Reserve works to increase wildlife populations through science and restoration. The Reserve is home to the first bison herd on the landscape in more than 120 years and has grown the herd from 8 animals in 2005 to an estimated 700 animals in 2016. More than 50 miles of fence have been removed to ease wildlife movement and re-open migratory corridors for species like pronghorn. Other ongoing improvement projects include restoring natural water flows, rehabilitating farmland back to native plants, implementing prescribed fires, and controlling disease and expanding habitat for prairie dogs.
As part of assembling a wildlife reserve for public enjoyment, American Prairie Reserve also works to minimize our footprint on the land. Projects have included installing low-impact tent platforms in the campground, utilizing raised yurt-camps that minimize disturbance and permanence, burying power lines, and adding solar power for lighting and kitchen needs in our group camp as well as for power to our electric fence that contains the bison herd on their 31,000-acre pasture. Likewise, the Reserve has incorporated and remodeled existing ranch structures to meet the majority of our facility needs rather than build new structures.
The Reserve area formed an integral part of the culture and spirituality of several Native American tribes, and later witnessed the Lewis and Clark expedition and westward travels of American settlers and homesteaders. American Prairie Reserve incorporates compelling stories about Native Americans, early explorers, and early settlers into the visitor experience through interpretation, exhibits, and visits to historic points of interest. Working with local elders, our campground welcome signs feature greetings in the languages of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine, honoring two of the local tribes that lived and hunted in the region for thousands of years and continue to do so today.
It’s also important that the Reserve contributes to cultural activities in local communities. On the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, American Prairie Reserve has sponsored a ceremonial game and collaborated with an economic development organization to help increase the reservation’s tourism infrastructure by designing and manufacturing educational kiosks.
APR has also been committed to sharing information about the Euro-American settlement of the region in the early 20th century, most recently by developing educational materials with input from the local historical society. The Reserve’s first human history preservation project was the restoration of a one-room log schoolhouse that now includes an interactive display featuring the area’s history and involved community members and former students.
American Prairie Reserve is a financially stable and growing nonprofit with donors in 12 countries and a sister organization in Germany called “Friends of the American Serengeti.” We employ 30 full-time employees, including seven employees and their families that live and work on the Reserve year-round. In addition to contributing to local economies through wages and spending on Reserve management supplies, APR also pays all property taxes and is one of the top taxpayers in the region. The economic benefits offered to the region continue to rise each year, including more than $1.3M in the last several years for local contractors to build our world-class Kestrel Camp, remove and replace fencing.
Kestrel Camp opened in 2013 and is a safari-style yurt complex designed as a fundraising tool to draw high-potential donors and discerning eco-tourists to the Reserve. Kestrel Camp has attracted a steady stream of visitors and media attention, and the organization is seeing a strong return on investment. Tucked into the heart of the Reserve, Kestrel Camp’s five high-end yurts are designed to bring the outdoors in with unexpected amenities. The camp’s rotating regional chefs create personalized menus that are often talked about long after the trip ends. Kestrel Camp guests also have special access to the Reserve’s ongoing work to restore the landscape and wildlife, traveling in specially made touring vehicles with personal naturalists guiding the way.
American Prairie Reserve has also undertaken a less traditional approach to conservation commerce by launching a wildlife-friendly ranching initiative called Wild Sky with the Reserve’s agricultural neighbors. Wild Sky's all natural, grass-fed beef is available at markets and restaurants nationwide and the beef label promotes the production of wildlife-friendly beef by returning a portion of its profits to participating ranchers raising cattle to a set of specific conservation-oriented practices. Profits are also returned to American Prairie Reserve to fund operations. The end goal is for people in Montana's Northern Great Plains to see economic benefit from the Reserve’s presence.