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Assembling the Land

The innovative model for building American Prairie calls for stitching together three million acres of existing public lands using private lands purchased from willing sellers. 

Unlike the creation of national parks through government action, American Prairie is connecting large swaths of fragmented public lands through the strategic purchase of private lands

Biologists have determined that a prairie would need to be around 5,000 square miles in size (roughly 3.2 million acres) in order to be a fully functioning ecosystem complete with migration corridors and all native wildlife. By building on existing protected lands, American Prairie can buy a relatively small amount of land and still achieve landscape-scale results. Using the American Prairie model, a patchwork of ownership transforms into a seamless prairie ecosystem.

When these fragmented public and private lands are connected, the prairie will provide a continuous land area collaboratively managed for wildlife and recreation, the largest of its kind in the Lower 48 states. 

Since 2004, American Prairie has completed 34 transactions to build our habitat base of 453,188 acres.

Of this total:

  • 118,371 acres are private lands owned by American Prairie
  • 334,817 acres are public lands (federal and state) leased by American Prairie

Get answers to frequently asked questions about assembling American Prairie, including how we buy land, why we work in Montana, and our future plans for management. 


Exploring the Patchwork of Ownership

  • The 1.1 million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • The Bureau of Land Management oversees 375,000 acres of public land protected within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

  • Surrounding the Wildlife Refuge and National Monument is a high density of additional public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Montana. These lands are typically managed for multiple uses including recreation, and the majority are leased for cattle grazing. 

  • Thanks to donors across Montana, the U.S., and the world, American Prairie purchases private land to connect the pieces. These parcels often come with grazing privileges on adjacent public land, opening the landscape even more to wildlife and people. In this way, American Prairie is assembling a large landscape that is a patchwork of ownership, but seamless as a prairie ecosystem. 

Current Extent of American Prairie:



Indigenous Lands

The American Prairie region is also bordered by the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, and Rocky Boy Communities. We are committed to honoring the history and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples in the region as well as their ongoing stewardship of and deep connections to the landscape, to learning from these communities, and to collaborating around our shared goals. Read more here.

Impact on Leases in the C.M.R. National Wildlife Refuge

American Prairie’s acquisitions have also resulted in the retirement of 63,777 acres of cattle grazing leases in the neighboring Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Some ranches purchased by American Prairie historically held grazing privileges on the refuge that do not transfer to new owners, meaning that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can now restore the habitat primarily for wildlife use.