American Prairie: Creating a huge new nature reserve in Montana
The United States has national parks devoted to canyons and deserts, glaciers and geysers; even underwater coral reefs. Sixty three national parks in all.
But somehow, we skipped the American prairie. The grasslands that once stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rockies played a vital role in the lives of Native Americans, White settlers, and an endless variety of wildlife. They inspired explorers and artists…but apparently not park planners.
Two decades ago, a nonprofit organization began trying to fix that, not with a new national park but rather a huge privately-operated nature reserve, a place where - as we first reported last fall - buffalo can roam once again....
... the overall goal is about 5,000 square miles, 3.2 million acres of intact grasslands. Comparable to the size of the state of Connecticut and also comparable to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks combined....
The big chunk of land is mostly north of the Missouri River in north central Montana, one of the most remote parts of the country. It's a patchwork of privately-owned cattle ranches and land owned by the government, including a huge existing national wildlife refuge named after the famous "cowboy painter," Charles M. Russell.
Alison Fox: And that 1.1 million acres serves as the-- anchor of American Prairie's 3.2 million acre vision.
Bill Whitaker: And so you've got these big chunks of federal land. And you're buying land in between to try to piece it all together?
Alison Fox: Exactly.
So just about every time a private ranch comes up for sale inside its desired "footprint" American Prairie tries to buy it, to add another piece to its puzzle and preserve more grassland.
Bill Whitaker: How many ranches have you purchased?
Alison Fox: We have -- purchased 34 ranches.
To buy all those ranches, American Prairie has raised nearly $200 million from more than 4,000 donors, including Wall Street financiers and technology moguls. It says it will take hundreds of millions more – and decades more – to complete the patchwork.
Bill Whitaker: So this is a long game?
Alison Fox: This is a long game. And it's a long game for land acquisition. It's a probably even longer game for the restoration of habitats and species. This area was America's Serengeti, truly America's Serengeti with tens of thousands of bison, prong-horn, elk, deer, grizzly bears, wolves....