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Building the Reserve

The innovative model for building American Prairie Reserve 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 Reserve 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, the Reserve can buy a relatively small amount of land and still achieve landscape-scale results. Using the American Prairie Reserve model, a patchwork of ownership transforms into a seamless prairie ecosystem.

When these fragmented public and private lands are connected, the Reserve 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 Reserve has completed 32 transactions to build our habitat base of 420,425 acres.

Of this total:

  • 105,378 acres are private lands owned by the Reserve
  • 315,047 acres are public lands (federal and state) leased by the Reserve

Get answers to frequently asked questions about building the reserve, 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 Reserve 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 Reserve is assembling a large landscape that is a patchwork of ownership, but seamless as a prairie ecosystem. 

Current Extent of American Prairie Reserve:



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

American Prairie Reserve’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 the Reserve 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.