American Prairie is pleased to announce the acquisition of two new properties in Phillips County that are priority areas for the conservation organization’s mission and goals to preserve intact shortgrass prairie, improve habitat for wildlife, and enhance access for the public to enjoy Montana’s Great Plains.

The first property, known as the Lazy J5, totals 10,218 acres, including 9,578 deeded acres and 640 leased acres. This acquisition is located near Highway 191, approximately 30 miles southwest of Malta, and is adjacent to American Prairie’s White Rock unit, which will not only allow the expansion of that property but also American Prairie’s bison herd in the future. It is also located in a priority area of conservation of multiple grassland bird species such as mountain plover and sage grouse, and includes a Bureau of Land Management Area of Critical Environmental Concern for black tailed-prairie dogs.

According to Alison Fox, CEO of American Prairie, the organization looks forward to taking over stewardship of the land.

“Not only does the addition of this property grow our White Rock unit, it also contains a diverse landscape of native grasslands, along with several wetland features, providing outstanding habitat value,” said Fox. “Populations of mule deer, pronghorn, upland game birds, and prairie dogs all call this area home.”

The second acquisition by American Prairie is from the Schwenke family, with whom the conservation organization has had a long and collaborative working relationship. American Prairie was in the process of closing on the property, which is located along Highway 191 in Phillips County, just north of American Prairie’s Mars Vista unit, from Dusty Schwenke when he unexpectedly passed away last month. The organization was able to work with his estate and complete the transaction in accordance with Dusty’s wishes. The property totals 2,316 deeded acres.

“Dusty Schwenke has been an important partner for American Prairie for many years, including playing a key role in designing and building our extensive bison handling facility,” said Lars Anderson, Field Project Manager for American Prairie. “Our facility is one of the most innovative in the country, and Dusty helped develop and envision that.”

Anderson went on to say, “Our team greatly valued his expertise, knowledge, and spirit, and we had hoped to work with him far into the future. Along with many community members, we mourn his passing.”

Scwhenke’s property contains a high percentage of intact shortgrass prairie, includes a significant stretch of Cyprian Creek and other wetland features, and its location supports critical carnivore habitat connectivity.

Together the acquisitions total 12,534 acres and bring American Prairie’s total deeded and leased property to more than 475,000 acres.

American Prairie intends to share public access details in the future to spell out recreational uses on these new deeded acres. As it has done in the past, the organization needs to first take time to familiarize itself with the properties.