Our mission is to create and manage a prairie-based wildlife reserve that, when combined with public lands already devoted to wildlife, will protect a unique natural habitat, provide lasting economic benefits and improve public access to and enjoyment of the prairie landscape.


Black-tailed prairie dogs once numbered in the billions across the plains. Now occupying less than 2% of their former range, they find a welcome home on the Reserve. (Photo: Dave M. Shumway)

The Great Plains is a landscape that has been valued by humans for centuries from the Native Americans who inhabited it to the artists, explorers and fur trappers who described its wildlife bounty in the 1800s. Since the 19th century, a variety of efforts have been undertaken to ensure that America’s prairie landscape remains intact for future generations. Local ranchers have made a living raising livestock while maintaining the land and preserving the wildlife species that could live in harmony with ranching operations, numerous hunting groups have fought to preserve critical wildlife habitat and have pushed for legislation to ensure viable populations of game animals and conservation and science-based organizations that have worked to restore many native species of plants and animals.

In 1999, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) published Ecoregional Planning in the Northern Great Plains Steppe, which, for the first time, pinpointed specific areas of the Northern Great Plains that were most critical to restoring the region’s habitats, and the most viable for conserving the existing diversity of plants and animals. The region just north of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Montana was identified as a top priority for grassland conservation, owing to the relatively pristine condition of the land and the diversity of wildlife species in the area.

Shortly after TNC published its findings, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) decided to initiate a conservation effort in the Montana Glaciated Plains, one of the key areas identified by TNC. They determined that an independent entity, capable of focusing all of its time and resources on the preservation of Montana’s Northern Great Plains, would be the best vehicle through which to initiate a large-scale conservation effort. In June 2001, The Prairie Foundation was officially formed as an independent non-profit organization, later named American Prairie Foundation (APF) and now known simply as American Prairie Reserve (APR).

Today, APR is a freestanding Montana-based non-profit. As a registered land trust, our main focus is to purchase, hold title to, and thoughtfully manage the private land that comprises the growing Reserve for the enjoyment and benefit of the general public. The idea of preserving a unique area of the American prairie, to be enjoyed forever and by all, has been worked on diligently, and in a variety of ways, for well over one hundred years. At APR, we view our work as continuing the legacy of a long line of talented people and committed organizations. In seeking to establish a fully functioning prairie reserve, we continue to collaborate with like-minded conservation groups as well as state and federal agencies dedicated to the preservation of Montana’s wildlife.


We are focused on three main goals:

  1. To accumulate and wisely manage, based on sound science, enough private land to create and maintain a fully-functioning prairie-based wildlife reserve.
  2. To provide a variety of public access opportunities to this wildlife amenity.
  3. To ensure that the land remains productive in a way that contributes significantly to the local economy.


APR is working to acquire enough private land that, when combined with adjacent public lands already devoted to wildlife, will provide people with a unique experience reminiscent of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Thriving herds of elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, pronghorn and the majestic American bison roam these grasslands. Cottonwoods, willows and other native vegetation are regenerating along streams, creating habitat for beaver, bobcats, snakes and other wildlife. Numerous historical sites like teepee rings, buffalo jumps and homestead-era structures are being preserved for visitors’ enjoyment and education.

Public Access

The plains of eastern Montana offer one of the last remaining areas where a large landscape can be reassembled and made available for public enjoyment. By working with managers of adjacent public and private lands, the opportunity exists to provide visitors with sensational benefits: abundant wildlife, outstanding scenery and thoughtfully regulated access. We offer the public a quality outdoor experience with opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, biking, camping, bird watching and hunting. APR is working toward enabling visitors to easily experience this spectacular area.

A Working Landscape

Over the years, a variety of forces have affected rural economics in America’s Great Plains. Increased efficiencies in mechanization allow the same productivity levels to occur with far fewer people employed. When combined with other factors, this results in fewer people employed in farming and ranching, with less capital spent locally on equipment, insurance, fuel and in family-owned businesses.

While agriculture will remain dominant in the region, APR believes a prairie reserve devoted to wildlife can ultimately help diversify local economies. Expenditures on a wildlife reserve such as road maintenance, fences, overnight facilities and monitoring of wildlife also compare favorably with agriculture in total dollars spent in a community. Also, economic activity is created as visitors rent vehicles, contract with local guides and patronize restaurants, hotels and retail shops.

We don’t expect an overnight transition, but we do anticipate being a positive force in helping make the local economies more robust.