Bringing Bison and Biodiversity Back to the Prairie

A Montana-based nonprofit is moving to preserve 3.5 million acres of the Great Plains.

The American Prairie Reserve (APR), a Montana-based nonprofit, is well on its way to preserving 3.5 million acres of the Great Plains. Once complete, the reserve would become a veritable Serengeti for the States, with enough space, conservation biologists say, to restore a fully functional ecosystem and bring back resilient populations of species like bison, bighorn sheep, elk, and wolves.

The organization is working to secure 500,000 acres of private land to connect three million acres of land already in public ownership in northeastern Montana. The Prairie Reserve states that they have already acquired nearly 274,000 acres of land and a quarter of the $500 million needed for land management, purchasing costs, and permanent endowments. Approximately 250 purebred bison currently live on 60,000 acres of the reserve.

According to the USDA, Montana’s grasslands are home to about 2.5 million cattle. The Prairie Reserve’s large-scale land purchasing and importing of bison have raised objections from some local residents worried about increased competition for grazing resources. State legislators have proposed bills to address these concerns, although none have passed.

As suburbs sprawl and highways expand, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine restoring ecological balance to America’s wild lands. But the Prairie Reserve’s mission to link millions of acres for conservation, recreation, and migration provides the potential for a level of biodiversity not seen in the area for hundreds of years.