Way up in Montana, witness a magnificent wild place coming back to life. The American Prarie Foundation

Bison on the run, prairie dogs popping up, eagles soaring – this is not Dances with Wolves II but the dream scene of the American Prairie Foundation . APF has one of the most inspiring and ambitious plans for restoring and preserving America’s disappearing wild open spaces.

Now five years old and with a goal of 3.6 million preserved acres (the size of Connecticut or the Serengeti Plain) APF already manages 31,000 acres of public and private land in north-central Montana. This is empty, big sky country, a rocky place of sage and juniper and grasslands, home to sheep, golden eagles, ferrets, foxes, badgers.

The land is surprisingly pristine compared to most of America’s prairie, having been mostly spared from plowing. That’s part of the reason it was selected as a potential world-class showcase of what America’s Great Plains used to be. Another factor is the area’s lagging economy. Not only is it a buyer’s market for real estate, but a prairie preserve offers hope for economic improvement through ecotourism.

APF was founded as an offshoot of the World Wildlife Fund, with a powerhouse board from all over the country and a president, Sean Gerrity, returning to his home area from Silicon Valley. They’ve been raising money to buy ranches from willing sellers, working with the Bureau of Land Management and state agencies to set aside a former patchwork of open space for a reserve that’s big enough to contain the natural roaming tendencies of the wildlife – something that wasn’t considered when parks like Yellowstone were created. Yellowstone is plenty big, but the magnificent herds observe their own instincts– not the man-made boundaries between private land and park.

By Bill Marken

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