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Don’t Like It

Written by Dennis Sun

I read a newspaper article a while back titled, “The Yellowstone of the Future.” While the title caught my eye, I realized the article came from the New York Times. I knew I probably wasn’t going to like it, and I didn’t.

You know, many years ago, our national parks were designated after much discussion, and most likely, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) wasn’t used to make those decisions. Lately, our Presidents just issue an Executive Order for monument status and call it good. Wyoming is lucky Congress passed the Antiquities Act that said only Congress could place a national park or monument on certain lands in Wyoming. This action was caused by the then-U.S. President placing that designation on land in Teton County and the uproar that followed by concerned ranchers and citizens from the area.

The newest movement to “protect” western lands is happening in the state of Montana north of the Missouri River called the American Prairie Reserve. It resembles the same method that Teton National Park was developed. At that time, John D. Rockefeller bought all the private lands in the area and gave them to the government for the proposed park. In this case, instead of using government financing, they are using private funds to purchase or lease approximately 500,000 acres of ranch lands and link them with the area’s existing three million acres of private lands. When complete, this landscape will be roughly the size of Connecticut, privately funded, endowed and managed for the benefit of wildlife and people. It is the new model for conserving large, ecologically valuable landscapes and the wildlife that depend on them, and it’s a model that does not rely on the lobbying for government action and funding. It is a hybrid, combining existing public lands with private resources and a businesslike approach to securing land, restoring wildlife and benefiting people.

I can see where the American people will fall for it, but as one reads on, you wonder just what does, “benefiting wildlife and people” really mean? The American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit, has established a for-profit company called Wild Sky for leased ranches after agreeing to modify their operations in compliance with the goals of the Reserve for not disturbing native prairie or killing prairie dogs. In return, Wild Sky will pay American Prairie Reserve a premium when they sell their cattle for slaughter. Those ranchers may also do more for higher payments, such as help restore species like mountain lions and bears. Really? Those two species are sure compatible to raising cattle, aren’t they?

We soon realize they are looking for lands for wildlife to winter on and cross as corridors between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Those who are leasing the land will soon go out of business. The Reserve will be the only buyer and will be able to establish their own land values, as livestock grazing will be impossible. And one of the Reserve’s main goals is to restore bison to those lands. We all know what great neighbors buffalo are if they aren’t managed correctly.

Those behind this effort claim the model is currently working in Africa and South America. That’s great, but let’s just use it in those countries. We’ve found out that having a ranch with families managing it properly is what turns out best for wildlife and the tax rolls to keep communities together in the West, which benefits the people.