APR shares Vision | TSLN.com

APR shares Vision

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livestock News

Recently the American Prairie Reserve purchased 14,122 acres for their wildlife preserve in northcentral Montana. APR’s Senior Land Acquisition Manager Betty Holder answered the following questions regarding the APR, its land purchases, its mission and its effect on the local ranching community. The APR is “an independent non-profit organization that has privately undertaken a project in northeastern Montana to create a wildlife conservation area of over three million contiguous acres through a combination of both private and public lands.”

How much land did APR buy in its latest acquisition? The Blue Ridge Ranch is 14,122 acres which is comprised 9,695 deeded acres and 4,427 leased acres. APR does not disclose purchase price, but a licensed appraised evaluated the property and that appraisal supported the purchase price. APR does not pay more than market price for land, nor do we engage in bidding wars. In fact, we have walked away from deals where the price went above the appraised value and those properties were purchased by local ranchers.

How does the APR perceive its effect the local communities when it takes land out of cattle production? Most APR land has not been taken out of cattle production to date but is leased to cattle ranchers. APR has helped several young cattle ranchers get a start in the business through these leases and has helped others stay in business. There are currently nearly 4,000 head of cattle being grazed on the Reserve. APR supports ranchers through the Wild Sky program. If APR had not purchased the land, it is likely another local neighboring rancher eventually would have and then simply expanded their operation. This has been happening for decades and does not result in increased population, more kids in the schools, etc. Those larger operations and mechanization are major factors in the continual loss of population in these areas and most rural agriculture areas in the country. In the seven counties where APR intends to operate here were 459,000 cattle reported in 2018. APR’s bison herd goal is less than 5 percent of that. Further, when a cattle rancher decides to sell their ranch they have decided to get out of the business. That was a personal and financial decision they made, not APR. As APR converts more land to bison grazing our operation will grow including more employment opportunities, more need for local contractors and services, and more visitors to support local communities.

Does the APR have employees living on ranches that support the communities? APR has employees, grazing lessees, or grazing lessee employees living on property we have bought that had habitable residences. They support local communities in all the same ways that other residents in the area do. APR has 11 permanent employees living in the project area and several seasonal and part-time employees. In addition, there are several seasonal scientists that live there during the field season. Most locals who have sold to APR have stayed in the area. APR has hired and brought in more employee resident households than have left the area because of selling to APR. As APR’s operations grow so will their employee numbers in the area. APR hires over 50 employees in Montana. All APR employees pay state and federal income taxes. APR shops local and has spent millions per year in local salaries, goods, and services. APR pays taxes on all their land, equipment, vehicles and on their bison. Lastly, every year APR attracts more guests that support local communities.

How much land does APR hope to own and control? American Prairie Reserve’s conservation model calls for acquiring and managing approximately 500,000 acres of private land, which will connect to roughly 3 million acres of existing public land. That existing land includes the 1.1 million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 375,000 acres of public land protected within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, and a high density of additional public lands surrounding the region managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Montana. It’s important to note that APR is not seeking to control or manage that existing public land. About 80 percent of the land included in our vision is already public, it will remain public and continue to be managed by the agencies named above. APR will only privately own about 20 percent of the land. When APR reaches their land ownership and land leased goals 86 percent of the land in the seven counties where APR plans to buy land WILL NOT be owned or leased by APR.

How many buffalo will APR own/manage and what are their plans for control? The current size of our bison herd is approximately 850 animals. Our long-term plan calls for having thousands of bison on the landscape, but we are decades away from that becoming reality. We have an extensive, peer-reviewed bison management plan: https://www.americanprairie.org/sites/default/files/APR_BisonPlan_ES_062018.pdf

One way APR controls the bison herd population is through donations to other conservation bison herds. This reflects in part APR’s desire to make a positive contribution to bison restoration efforts across the country. We have donated bison to conservation herds on the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado, as well as the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation, Blackfeet Reservation, Rosebud Sioux tribe in SD, Colorado State University, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Bronx Zoo. In 2014, two female bison calves from the APR herd became national ambassadors at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in D.C.

We don’t currently sell bison calves (nor have we in the past), but for the past three years have used a harvest as a way to help manage the population and see it as a long-term tool. Bison harvests will help maintain the health and sustainability of our bison population in a variety of ways. To mimic natural predation, hunters are only be allowed to take a specific age class of bison, generally in the range of two-years old or under, which, along with the aged and less fit, are the animals most commonly taken when predators are present in sufficient numbers.

What is the plan for if buffalo escape from the APR land? Livestock of all kinds sometimes go where they aren’t supposed to go. On occasion, a bison will get out. Similarly, we have had cattle in our bison pastures. When a bison escapes, our Reserve staff respond rapidly to get the animal back into its pasture. APR is responsible for damages or injuries caused by an escaped bison. In the 13 years we have had bison we have had no damages or injuries reported other than to fences, which APR repaired. Typically, those who live and work in rural agriculture areas understand this and are not concerned, as long as the livestock owner is responsive and deals with the situation in a reasonable amount of time, which APR does.

What is APR doing to mitigate the concerns of residents and ranchers in the local communities adjacent to APR? APR has offered numerous times to sit with folks and discuss concerns, especially with elected officials and the most vocal group United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM). While some have been willing to meet and have an honest conversation, we have been told more than once by other critics there is no need to meet. APR holds open houses, public presentations, etc. and ensures neighbors are invited and will continue to do so. We are available and willing to meet, to show people our operation, and would love an invitation to do so. Our employees make it a point to engage with neighbors and to be available to answer questions. We share the contact information of our local employees with local neighbors so they can reach us at any time.