In most western states, private (deeded) land is tied to an allotment of leased state and federal land that is traditionally used for grazing. By leveraging that structure and building on existing protected lands, American Prairie can buy a relatively small amount of land and still achieve landscape-scale results.
Considering the 1.1 million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) as an anchor, American Prairie is incrementally purchasing approximately 700,000 acres of private lands that will stitch together existing public lands. The result, including the CMR, is a 3.2 million-acre ecosystem: 5,000 square miles of continuous land area roughly the size of Connecticut, that is collaboratively managed for wildlife and public benefit.
Exploring the Patchwork of Ownership
With the American Prairie model, a patchwork of ownership transforms into a seamless prairie ecosystem. This approach also is an opportunity to demonstrate how private philanthropy can be used to leverage public resources—a strategy that could benefit conservation efforts around the world.
- The 1.1 million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- The Bureau of Land Management oversees 375,000 acres of public land protected within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
- The Bureau of Land Management and State of Montana manages a high density of public lands surrounding the CMR and National Monument. These lands are typically managed for multiple uses including recreation, and the majority are leased for cattle grazing.
- Private landowners manage properties in accordance with their rights. Many, like those participating in our Wild Sky program, practice conservation-minded management and share similar philosophies of welcoming wildlife.
- American Prairie connects the landscape by purchasing private land, and welcoming wildlife and people to our properties.
The American Prairie region is also bordered by the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, and Rocky Boy Communities. We are committed to honoring the history and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples in the region as well as their ongoing stewardship of and deep connections to the landscape, to learning from these communities, and to collaborating around our shared goals.
Why Northeast Montana?
The Great Plains is one of four places on the planet with the potential of landscape-scale conservation of one of the fastest disappearing and least protected biomes on Earth– temperate grasslands. The northeast region of Montana is part of the Great Plains, and has several unique characteristics that make it an ideal location for American Prairie. First, there are unusually large tracts of public land in the region, which makes the public/private land model achievable. Second, northeastern Montana holds one of the largest areas of intact prairie in the country, and intact prairie is far easier to restore than plowed land. Third, numerous scientific studies have identified this region as having some of the greatest plant and animal diversity anywhere in the Great Plains. The region is known for its diversity of prairie birds and most animal species that existed here two hundred years ago are still here, although in reduced numbers.
Progress to Date
Since 2004, we have completed 40 transactions to build our habitat base of 462,803 acres. Of that total, 126,101 acres are private lands owned by American Prairie and 336,702 acres are leased public lands (federal and state).