Montana’s Best Kept Secret
My love for prairies runs deep, much like the roots of the interesting plants that make up the prairie ecosystem. Growing up in the “Land of Lincoln”, it took awhile to realize that Illinois had another noble nickname: the Prairie State. But where are the prairies?
Historically, around two-thirds of Illinois was prairie. Today, it is difficult to find prairies and impossible to understand what early settlers, explorers, and Native Americans saw when the viewed endless prairies.
When I first heard about the American Prairie Reserve, my ears perked up and my mind began to dream. Maybe prairies can make a comeback. Maybe even in Illinois.
Where is the American Prairie Reserve?
The American Prairie Reserve is not in Illinois. It is located in northcentral-northeastern Montana and consists of numerous patches of land. The goal is to stitch these patches together to form a continuous, quilted prairie landscape. The ultimate size of this reserve would be over 3 million acres!
Biologists determined that a prairie would need to be about 5,000 square miles, roughly 3.2 million acres, in size in order to be a fully functioning ecosystem, complete with migration corridors and all native wildlife.
What is an Acre?
Acreage is a number that is thrown around a lot but is somewhat difficult to visualize. A single acre is 66 feet by 660 feet or 43,560 square feet. The average US home size is 2,700 square feet. So you could fit a little over 16 houses into one acre.
Illinois is about 11.5 times as large as the purposed American Prairie Reserve’s 3.2 million acres. And Montana is about 2.5 times as big as Illinois!
The American Prairie Reserve Story
In 1999 The Nature Conservancy declared the area north of Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge as a top priority for grassland conservation. In 2001, The Prairie Foundation was formed which evolved into the American Prairie Reserve.
The American Prairie Reserve is an independent non-profit organization that is focused on purchasing private lands and permanently protecting them. These lands would connect already established and protected public lands. The organization began purchasing land in 2004 and currently has 399,379 acres (307,791 acres are public lands, federal and state, leased by the Reserve).
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Bordering the American Prairie Reserve is the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. This beautiful treasure of Montana has been in the news as one of the places under review by the Trump administration.
Since the Antiquities Act of 1906, no president has revoked monument status. Numerous National Monuments have come under fire by local groups, often special interest groups. Time and time again, history has proven that the economic value has increased in areas with the monuments. Many have been “upgraded” as National Parks.
The 378,000 acres of Upper Missouri River Breaks is important for the overall vision of the American Prairie Reserve and isn’t going anywhere without a major fight.
National Parks and National Monuments are both managed by the National Park Service and have practically the same protection status.
How You Can Help Grow the Reserve
The best way to help out is to become a member of the APR. If you are looking for a vacation spot this summer, Montana should be a top consideration. Less busy than other western locations, there are numerous places to visit in Montana and the American Prairie Reserve should be on the list.
Also, consider buying a shirt to promote the Reserve.
The American Prairie Reserve is still relatively young and has a long way to go to meet its goals. If everyone can help promote this great conservation effort, in whatever way possible, it will increase the speed of which the Reserve grows.
Prairies are infinitely interesting and important. To preserve a large working ecosystem for generations to come is both noble and necessary.