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Montana: Preserve Larger than Yellowstone Proposed

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avatar Montana: Preserve Larger than Yellowstone Proposed
December 20, 2009 09:42PM

MALTA (Montana) — When the new West is won, will there be cowboys? In light of what her neighbors are up to, Double O Ranch owner Vicki Olson isn’t so sure.

“I guess the point that I keep hammering at is that if they succeed, that means all of us third- and fourth-generation ranchers are gone,” Olson said. She is the average Montana rancher, 56 going on 70, working a spread gouged from the pebbly soil by her grandparents 100 years ago.

Her neighbor, the nonprofit American Prairie Foundation, is methodically acquiring ranches and crafting a 3.5-million-acre wildlife reserve out of private property and adjoining federal land. The inconspicuously named Prairie Project could be the largest privately funded conservation land venture on the planet and the biggest free-roaming bison range in the United States. Yellowstone Park, at 2.21 million acres, would be a distant second.

You could watch a horse and rider traverse these treeless plains and lose sight of them only when they’re finally eclipsed by the curve of the Earth. Yet conflict here always seems to center on there not being enough room for everyone.

“If we’re completely successful, more than 90 percent of northeast Montana will still be in livestock production, be it goats, sheep or cattle,” said Sean Garrity, president of the foundation.

What Garrity and others see in this endless expanse is one of the last sustainable native grassland areas in the country, complete with 12 endemic bird species that, while not extinct, are rarely found inhabiting the same place. There are curlews and burrowing owls, sage grouse and mountain plovers. At least 180 bird species have been found here, 285 plants, 40 mammals, 15 reptiles and amphibians. The government has already made a substantial contribution to conservation in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, a 1.1-million-acre spread that stretches 125 miles from west to east....

aside: The Nature Conservancy is the largest conservation-oriented charity by assets

The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan
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