Conservation

Where the Private Buffalo Roam and the Private Antelope Play

Restoring the herds and landscape seen by Lewis and Clark

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APRlogo
APR

“I asscended to the top of the cutt bluff this morning, from whence I had a most delightfull view of the country,” wrote famed explorer Meriwether Lewis on April 22, 1805, as the Corps of Discovery journeyed westward through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. “The whole of which except the vally formed by the Missouri is void of timber or underbrush, exposing to the first glance of the spectator immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, & Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.”

The objective of the American Prairie Reserve (APR) is to recreate an untamed landscape in Montana so that 21st century Americans can similarly be exhilarated by the sight of thousands of wild bison, elk, deer, and antelope roaming free over vast areas of unfenced, native prairie. The APR is working to create the largest wildlife park of any kind in the lower 48 statesâ€"and it’s doing it all with private money.

A quick potted history of the APR: In the late 1990s, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sought examples of various biomes that remained largely intact and could become a focus for conservation. Identifying the unplowed prairie grasslands of Eastern Montana as one such area, the WWF initiated the Prairie Reserve project in 2001. The organization’s priorities later shifted and the APR became a standalone private organization in 2004. It reintroduced bison to region in 2005 and the herd now numbers around 600 animals.

The ultimate goal is to create a 3.5 millionâ€"acre reserve, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut and one and half times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Once completed, the reserve will consist of contiguous parcels of purchased private land (500,000 acres), permanently leased Bureau of Land Management grazing land (1.5 million acres), and the adjacent Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge that already stretches along the Missouri River. So far, the APR has acquired 65,000 acres of private land and leases 270,000 acres from the government.

As the reserve grows in size over the next couple of decades, so too will its wildlife herds. As noted earlier, the region is currently home to 600 bison and perhaps 3,500 elk. Managing director Pete Geddes says that the APR plans to nurture those herds to as many as 10,000 bison and 15,000 elk. In addition, the APR aims to be a “catalyst to bring many wildlife populations, such as mule deer, white-tailed deer, big horn sheep, elk, cougars, and grassland birds, back to significantly larger populations than currently exist in the region.” In February 1805, Lewis’ partner William Clark recorded that he set out early and “Saw great numbers of Grouse feeding on the young Willows, on the Sand bars.” The APR lands now provide significant habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse, which is listed by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency as a “species of concern.”

APRBison
APR

Already some reserve lands are located along the migration route of tens of thousands of pronghorn antelope, which travel from their wintering grounds in central Montana to their fawning grounds in southern Canada each year. Assuming the reserve can get buy-in from the local residents and the approval of Montana wildlife officials, it may eventually be able to reintroduce predators like gray wolves and grizzly bears. “We scarcely see a gang of buffaloe without observing a parsel of those faithfull shepherds on their skirts in readiness to take care of the mamed & wounded,” Lewis wrote of the wolves in May 1805.

Geddes notes that growing the reserve is “as much a sociological problem as it is a biological one.” Specifically, the reserve should have “soft boundaries” unlike the hard boundaries like physical fences and waiting hunters that confine wildlife to national parks. Animals should largely be free to range across reserve boundaries without being harassed or killed by adjacent landowners. In other words, local ranchers and other residents have to be persuaded to permit wildlife on their property.

How to do this? Incentives. One big one is the APR’s new Wild Sky Beef program. The project “promotes the production of wildlife-friendly beef by returning a portion of its profits to participating ranchers raising cattle to a set of specific conservation-oriented practices.”

What sort of practices? Among other things, ranchers who sign onto the Wild Sky program must install wildlife friendly fences, where the bottom wire is at least 18 inches off the ground so that pronghorn can squeeze under it. They may not till the soil and must maintain natural hydrology (no irrigation and a high percentage of stream banks that are excluded from cattle grazing). In addition, evaluators track the number of deer, elk, pronghorn, and prairie dogs on the land.

Let’s look more closely at prairie dogs. When Lewis and Clark set out, some 3 to 5 billion black-tailed prairie dogs lived in colonies stretching over tens of millions of acres from Texas to Canada. On September 7, 1804, the Corps of Discovery succeeded in extracting a single member of this new-to-them species from its den. How? “Caught one a live by poreing a great quantity of Water in his hole,” wrote Lewis.

The rodents are important shapers of prairie ecosystems. They trim grasses near their colonies in order to see predators coming, but their mowing additionally enhances the production of fresh forage for larger herbivores. They are also at the bottom of the food chain, serving as prey for coyotes, bobcats, foxes, badgers, black-footed ferrets, golden eagles, and prairie falcons. While they are not endangered, this species occupies only about 2 percent of its former range, in part because ranchers have long considered them vermin to be exterminated.

The Wild Sky project also scores ranches on their carnivore compatibility, and ranchers get credit for accommodating their management practices to the needs of species of concern; APR priority species are pronghorn, sage grouse, bobcat, prairie dog, ferret, deer, cougar, and elk.

Depending on how high each ranch scores, the Wild Sky program pays a premium of three to eight cents per pound of beef over the standard market price. Let’s say a grass-fed steer after butchering dresses out at 700 pounds. The current price of grass-fed beef is around $300 per hundredweight, so the rancher would get $2,100 for the steer. A Wild Sky premium of eight cents would put an additional $56 per steer in the rancher’s pocket. Wild Sky is selling about $70,000 worth of beef per week, and it is so far available at 65 outlets including restaurants, distributors, and stores nationwide.

The APR has raised $75 million so far, mostly from individual donors. The total to complete the reserve will be $500 million, of which $125 million will be set aside as an endowment to finance its management. Five hundred million dollars is no small sum, but Geddes points out that universities and other charities raise that amount all the time.

Geddes paints a vivid picture of the sort of wildlife and landscape experience visitors can expect within couple of decades: After a several-days-long float trip down through the Missouri Breaks, visitors could debark to hike between rustic cabins dotted through the reserve. (Take your bear spray.) Or they could take a Land Rover tour to a luxurious Serengeti-style safari campâ€"bison steak dinners under the stars includedâ€"to experience circle-of-life moments such as watching a pack of wolves take down a bison calf. (The reserve already hosts the premium Kestrel Camp.)

Ambitious private conservation aims to achieve what political landscape management has failed to do: conjure back into existence for the 21st century the “immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, & Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture” that Lewis and Clark witnessed 200 years ago.

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  1. “I asscended to the top of the cutt bluff this morning, from whence I had a most delightfull view of the country,” wrote famed explorer Meriwether Lewis…

    Bill Clark hated the butt jokes Lewis was always making.

    1. The real miracle of the expedition is that they two didn’t end up murdering each other.

    2. He had no sense of humor.

  2. use private money to recreate an untamed landscape on 3.5 million acres in Montana so that 21st century Americans can similarly be exhilarated by the sight of thousands of wild bison, elk, deer, and antelope roaming free over vast areas of unfenced, native prairie.

    With all due respect, isn’t it more cost-effective to create CGI for an even greater exhilarating sight?

    1. I’m more interested to know when a group of scientists somewhere genetically designs a bunch of dinosaurs (artificial ones, granted).

      1. As a soon-to-be lawyer, I would need to avoid that park.

        1. Just stay out of the bathrooms. And remain perfectly still.

          1. May I recommend some excellent plot armor as well?

            1. You only need that for the original. The new one has no plot to speak of.

    2. It would be even easier for the federal government to simply return the mismanaged BIA land back to the Indians – help consolidate it over time – and let the Indians restore their culture rather than while away their time drunk on a crappy reservation.

      But of course that can’t possibly satisfy the need of NewAge whites that they can scientifically create a better Indian horse culture – and then figure out a way to rent-seek the federal land (private money my butt)

    3. It’s curious how the conservationists and environmentalists differ on wildlife preserves. APR specifies that it’s doing it for “lasting economic benefits” and to “improve public access to and enjoyment of the prairie landscape.” It’s almost objectivist in its aims; Ron often sounds like an objectivist when he covers topics like this.

      Contrast that with the left-environmentalist take, which is not that we should preserve “nature” for the sake of humanity, but in many cases in spite of humanity.

      1. “Contrast that with the left-environmentalist take, which is not that we should preserve “nature” for the sake of humanity, but in many cases in spite of humanity.”

        That’s not entirely true. There’s always the unstated, but clearly detectable condition of preserving nature for the truly deserving portions of humanity. As longs at the great unwashed masses are kept away of course.

        1. So if I work as a (federal) ranger the environmentalists will pass over my yurt when the night of green vengeance arrives?

    4. I would rather they put them in the state of Connecticut.

  3. After a several-days-long float trip down through the Missouri Breaks, visitors could debark to hike between rustic cabins dotted through the reserve. (Take your bear spray.) Or they could take a Land Rover tour to a luxurious Serengeti-style safari camp?bison steak dinners under the stars included?to experience circle-of-life moments such as watching a pack of wolves take down a bison calf.

    I’m not hearing too much about where the designated free speech zones will be in these mythical private national parks of the future.

    1. Collocated with the free weapons zones, no doubt.

    2. Confederate banners will be prohibited in those zones regardless, obviously.

    3. And what steps will be taken to ensure that the ethnicity of the visitors reflects the population?

  4. I’m glad to see this. I love the National Park system, but I wish more of it was operated, or at least acquired by, groups like this.

    But I think they are going to have a hard time keeping it fenceless. Maybe you can pay enough of a premium for ranchers to tolerate the loss of some cattle to wolves, but once the family dog disappears…

    1. A typical barbed wire fence is no barrier for wolves, you’d have to put up chain link or something, which isn’t going to happen. For this to succeed, the trust would have to repay the losses for predators they reintroduced. Especially if it’s private property, they’re liable for the losses they cause. Some wolves would get shot, no doubt, but that’s just part of the cost of doing what they’re attempting. A large deer, elk and bison population could support a healthy predator population, and as long as the predators remained fearful of man, they’d do alright I imagine. I wish them luck. If I was a rancher, I’d probably support their effort, as long as they didn’t negatively impact my property rights. I imagine at some point, they’d need to employ hunters to control numbers if the predator population didn’t manage it well enough. Better to eat some bison than watch PETA scream and yell about starving buffalo. It would be fun to watch if you could loose a pack of wolves on a PETA protest, just tell them, it’s the wolves’ nature to prey on the helpless, and watch them suddenly become interested in using violence to save their own asses…just daydreaming there.

      1. I don’t know enough about animal behavior. If the prey species mostly stay within the territory of the preserve, and so long as the predator populations don’t grow too large for the territory, will the predators mostly stay in the preserve as well? It doesn’t seem like they would have a reason to roam as long as there is enough space and food for them.

        It seems like some population control would be necessary, which I have absolutely no problem with.

        1. Wild Game’s primary purpose is its own propagation. Cattle and other farm animal’s primary purpose is to be food. One is easier to hunt and kill than the other, and predators don’t care about their place in the ‘natural’ food chain they will choose the easier option.

          1. Sure. But the predators have to spread out enough to find the farm animals. My question is, will they be likely to do that if there are enough prey animals already in their territory?

            1. Animals move to where they can most easily thrive. The wolves would move to the rancher land to hunt farm animals. The only ones that would move to harder to survive area would be the ones run out of the easy hunting ground for various reasons (most likely overpopulation of wolves if the ranchers didn’t hunt them).

            2. Yes, they will spread out. With wolves their population goes up when prey is readily available. In time prey is reduced and packs start warring, eventually the losers leave the area. There was a documentary about this a while back per wolf packs in Yellowstone.

              Wolves will travel hundreds of miles. They tracked a collared male from Idaho who roamed through Oregon down into northern California. Haven’t seen anything on him lately, but he had happy feet.

      2. A grizzly bear isn’t going to be stopped by anything short of a massive stone wall. I’ve seen the wreckage of a sedan torn open like a tin can by a black bear spelunking for half a candy bar buried in the back seat. Grizzlies are three or four times the size of a black bear.

        The idea of reintroducing grizzlies into ranching country (assuming that this is mostly ranching country now) seems like a hard sell if I’m grazing cattle nearby.

        1. Grizzlies are already moving out of the mountains onto the flats in Montana without any help At this point they are a couple hundred miles west of this proposed project.

          A large Grizzly is roughly twice the size of a large black bear.

      3. I thought we were in agreement that wolves that live on your property but kill the neighbor’s livestock were like germs: naturally occurring, doing what they do, nobody’s fault.

      4. Why do pronghorns need to crawl under a standard barbed wire fence ?

        1. Because the pronghorn drill sergeant told them to get their moving-like-pond-water ass under that obstacle!!!!

        2. They won’t jump fences like deer or elk. I’ve seen it while hunting antelope, they try to shimmy under fences.

          1. Bullshit.

        3. When you have 270 degree 8 power vision and can run sustained at 60 mph, why the heck would you need to be smart to survive*?

          *Did not look up those “facts”. I may be off by a bit. Still, they can see everywhere and can easily outrun any potential predator (save copper encased lead going 2700+ fps).

      5. The problem here in regards to ranchers next to this proposal is not so much predators, rather a disease called brucellosis. It is carried by elk and bison in high numbers, but doesn’t affect them. In cattle it causes abortions of calves. When it gets into cattle herds it results in strict quarantines over time.

        That is the elephant in the room in this whole proposal. Montana will not let them relocate bison on the private lands without it being fenced and a barb wire fence woopln’t keep bison in or out. They have relocated some bison on tribal lands, but they are fenced in on tracts of several thousand acres, not millions. Tribal members raise cattle as well.

        I’ve driven through this country dozens of times over the decades and this idea may fly in 50 years when demographic trends finish depopulating this country. If you’ve ever been to Circle, Montana. you’d know what I mean. In 1990, according to my road atlas it was 800 people, the last time I was there I’d bet it’s half that. There were 2100 souls in the county then, it’s safe to guess a lot less now. Circle is the county seat and the county is 2600 sqare miles. The young people are going or already gone and the old folks are dying off. Until that is done, there won’t be a Buffalo Commons as proponents call it.

        Even if it does happen, they will still have to keep the bison off of neighboring private property and that will be more expensive than the backers think.

    2. The premium would have to be a hell of a lot more than a few cents over premium to successfully convince ranchers to allow wolves. At $56 a head, they’d have to sell 40 of them just to break even for every head they lost to a wolf.

      That’s not a good bargain.

      1. They may end up paying for each head lost at a set rate. As long as the ranchers didn’t lose the animal they were trying to breed, the rancher would come out ahead as they don’t have to feed or give medical care to the animal. This of course would require a lot of negotiation on the parts of both groups, and the preservationist would end up with the raw end of the deal because there the ones asking.

        1. There are already programs in place that pay ranchers for wolf killed stock, both cattle and sheep (which wolves tend to kill more often).

    3. “but once the family dog disappears…”

      Or the two year old child. A lot of environmentalists consistently ignore the inconvenient truth that the carnivores that humans have decimated in human dominated areas will opportunistically prey on children and pets.

      There is no such thing as a “safe” predator.

  5. experience circle-of-life moments such as watching a pack of wolves take down a bison calf

    TRIGGER WARNING NEEDED!

  6. How did the French prove a clean title for the Louisiana Purchase? The native tribes should have filed mechanics liens for centuries of maintenance. It always bugged me until my bitter end. Clark had no such compunction.

  7. So wealthy people buy huge tracks of land, put them in trusts that never die, thus circumventing the rule against perpetuities, and takes them completely out of productive use. Forgive me if I don’t find this prospect exciting. If national parks bug you, you should ask yourself why. And if the reason is more than just “the government always mismanages the land and fucks the whole thing up, then why is this any better?

    I am all for private ownership and free use of land. The problem arises from the eternal nature of trusts and foundations. If you want buy half of Montana and turn it into a buffalo reserve, good for you. The reserve, however should go to your heirs to do with as they choose not go to a trust that never dies and forever ensures no one else gets a crack at using the land.

    1. This.

      It is, at the very least, odd that the rule against perpetuities wouldn’t apply to conservation easements and trusts.

      Why do only some uses get to be protected in perpetuity while others don’t?

    2. Legal question for you John. Can the trusts be altered in the future, in any way ?

      1. Yes but it is hard. The members of the board running it have to decide to do it. And since the restrictions on use are often written in the trusts constitution, it often takes a lot of legal wrangling to do it. It took decades to break up the Barnes collection for example.

        The common law always rejected restraints on alienation. The idea was you could do what you liked with your land when you owned it. But when you sold it or died and left it to your heirs, they got it free and clear. Just because I once owned this land, didn’t give me the right to tell future owners what they could and could not do with it. And that was a very smart rule that this sort of thing effectively ends.

        1. I’d bet thanks because 3/4 of the procured land thus far is federal property.

          I wonder if the private land will have all of those same restrictions.

        2. Cool. Thanks.

    3. Indeed. Neither should it be exempt from property taxes that other property owners are forced to pay.

    4. It seems to me it wouldn’t be that hard to circumvent your idea of killing the “preserve” just by transferring the property rights to a new like minded “heir” or group before the current one is dead. Then there’s always a conservation minded owner or group preventing your dream of creating a new bunch of Montana plains strip malls, subsidized housing and titty bars, no?
      Don’t you consider the intended use of the land by the current owners a right as well? Why couldn’t they pass it on in perpetuity? 150 years from now, if there is some dire need for a different use, the people alive then will figure out how to meet it. Relax and let the buffalo roam dude. 🙂

      1. It wouldn’t circumvent it at all. Those people would be free to do what they liked. If they in fact wanted to keep it as is, good for them. But they would be free to sell it too. IF they have the money or the will to forgo selling it, that is their right. It is their property.

        The problem is not the use. The problem is that the land is being prohibited from being used in certain ways effectively forever. Your plan isn’t circumventing my rule at all. And eventually if the land is valuable enough or some future heir needs the money enough, someone else will buy it and the use will change.

        The point is whatever happens to the land it should happen because of the choice of someone living who owns it at the time not the choice of someone long dead who bought it and decided to forever take it off the market.

        1. Okay, that makes sense. But isn’t that what would happen anyways? I mean, if the dead guy creates a trust, and enough powerful interests want to kill it in the future, wouldn’t they run roughshod over the law just like they do now? They’d pay off some senators/representatives/judges and make the change. Nothing is really permanent except death, and entropy…

    5. Define productive use? The National Parks produce an experience that is extremely valuable to me.

      The National Parks wouldn’t exist in a minarchist government, but I think that, in general, they are a very good idea. I’d prefer to see them operated essentially as private entities with a view towards maximizing access to the general public, but they are pretty much at the absolute bottom of the list of things I find objectionable about our government. There are even some classical liberal justifications for their existence. The biggest problem that I do have with the parks is how they were created (eminent domain rears its ugly head again). I also think it’s more appropriate for the states to control them if any level of government is going to do so.

      The whole point is that there are places in the world that should be preserved in perpetuity because they are irreplaceable and unique. If enough resources can be pooled to make that happen without using force, then I see that as a very good thing.

      1. I don’t have to define it. You miss the point. The point is I can only own property while I am alive and own it. I can’t own it from the grave and restrict its use after I am dead or have sold it.

        This thing is a direct assault on property rights. It effectively makes this land unavailable to future owners. This land should belong to someone and when they die it should go free and clear to whomever they want to leave it to. If that person or persons want to leave it as it is, good for them. If they, however, want to do something else, they should be able to do so. It should not be forever owned by a trust or corporation whose charter documents prevent its sale or use for any other purposes.

        This is a terrible thing that is effectively taking away property rights.

        1. Is it the size of the land in question you object to, or the entire concept? Would you have a problem with a similar arrangement for Monticello, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, etc?

          1. I object to the entire concept. The examples you give are nothing but zoning restrictions, which last I looked Libertarians objected to. It is funny how they find the very same sort of restrictions okay just as long as it is a corporation doing it not a government. I don’t see the difference. In fact, this is worse. Whatever you think of government restrictions, I at least get a vote on them and thus have through the political process the ability to change them. I have no such influence over a private foundation.

            1. I wasn’t talking about zoning, I was talking about a trust owning a building or structure of some sort.

              That might answer my other question, which is, do you object to corporations owning land? I don’t really see a difference. Corporate ownership can last in perpetuity, subject to the corporation staying in business, of course. But the trust also has to manage its endowment and funds properly or else it may go bankrupt. Is there some extra protection for a trust that a corporation doesn’t have?

              I see your concerns but I don’t really share them. Of course there are hypothetical scenarios that seem pretty bad (what if all the available land gets bought up and no one can ever buy their own land again?) but I think as a practical matter there isn’t much risk here. We may just have to agree to disagree on this.

              1. I am all for property rights and free use of land. I just think your rights necessarily end when you sell the property or when you die. If I can create an entity that out lives me that forever keeps anyone from having free and clear title, I am infringing on the rights of future generations to use the land as they see fit. I don’t really see what is disagreeable about that.

          2. I definitely see the concept of something that can’t be negotiated with being a problem. A human can be offered something of enough value that they will trade (maybe more land), or at least it’s a possibility. A rule saying something can’t be traded can never be offered enough value to cause a trade. It screws with the free exchange of goods when one person can cordon off a piece of land so that a negotiation can’t even be proposed.

            Find a successor that believes the same, go for it. The possibility of negotiation is there. But not infinite rules that can only be stopped with violence. This is probably my justified loss of liberty that makes me a libertarian and not a anarchist.

            1. I definitely see the concept of something that can’t be negotiated with being a problem.

              So if there was at least the legal possibility of selling the land for other uses, but maybe only with the vote of some board, would that ease your concerns? I think that’s reasonable. In practice I doubt there would be much difference but it leaves open the possibility.

              If I’m setting up a preserve like this, I want to do so in a way that provides as much security as possible for the future. The whole goal is to create something that can be enjoyed by future generations. This seems like a reasonable way of doing so that still allows the land to be sold if some extraordinary need arises.

              1. That would definitely ease my concerns. I don’t care if the land never sees another use. I just care if it is possible for it to do so without private or government force.

                1. Agreed. The objection makes more sense to me when framed as an issue of non-negotiability than when framed as issue of perpetual use or being taken “out of productive use”.

      2. The whole point is that there are places in the world that should be preserved in perpetuity because they are irreplaceable and unique.

        That is your personal opinion and an appeal to emotion (e.g. nostalgia and/or sentimentalism). Others might disagree. Why is your conclusion objectively better than someone else’s? Unique and irreplaceable things are altered or disappear all the time; I’m sure the forests of the Jurassic period were magnificent!

        Also, “preserved in perpetuity” seems to suggest even fighting against the elements and natural forces that act to alter (erosion, drought, maturation, etc.) or even obliterate (volcanic eruption, tsunami, etc.) such sites. Unless you want to fight nature, those sites are ultimately going to change to one extent or another, and some, so much, that they ultimately disappear altogether (i.e. become completely unrecognizable from their current state).

        However, if by “preserved in perpetuity”, you mean “against human ‘destruction'”, you are accepting that natural (not man-made) changes are okay. If one is acceptable, why not the other? Why is it objectively a bad thing, aside from your sense of aesthetics, for unique sites to be used, even altered, by whomever “homesteads” them first (a la The Ethics of Liberty) and as they see fit?

        1. It’s not objective, it is subjective. The point is that if enough people with those subjective opinions can pool the resources to buy land and preserve it from human modification, they should be able to. I marvel at what human ingenuity can do. I love cities and architecture and other human endeavors. But I also marvel at what forms without human intervention. I value that (subjectively) and I want to see it preserved. I see non-human change as a part of that same process and I appreciate it for what it is, so I would not want to try and freeze a landscape in time. I suppose if others want to try, they can.

          And yes, it is an appeal to emotion. I’m both a reasoning and emoting being. Appeal to emotion is very powerful and has its place.

          1. … The point is that if enough people with those subjective opinions can pool the resources to buy land and preserve it from human modification, they should be able to.

            Sure. Incorporate, start a private business, buy the land, and preserve it. Recognize, however, that eventually, the business will change hands, or go out of business, or the owners may change their minds about how to use the land, or get an offer to buy that they can’t refuse, etcetera, and that no previous owner may legitimately dictate what subsequent owners do with the land.

    6. They would be in productive use. Not everything has to be a factory to be productive.

  8. There is something these kind of stories always fail to explain; why is restoration necessarily a good thing?

    The fact is, ecologies evolve. Some species thrive while some fail. Even the landscape changes (without human intervention, even) with waterways changing course or naturally disappearing, and erosion and other geological processes changing the shape and contour of the land which has an impact on the animals there as their habitat changes. In some places, grasslands give way to new growth forests (predominately pines and other fast growing trees) which ultimately mature into old growth forests (predominately hardwoods), again altering habitats. And et ceteras.

    Who are we to say which state is the “optimum” or objectively “best” state for a given habitat area?

    1. That is an excellent question and something Bailey doesn’t consider. There is a very famous case called the Pevyhouse Case. There a mining company owned the mineral rights to the Peavyhouse farm. They came in and tore the hell out of the farm mining the minerals under it, which they had a right to do as owner of the mineral rights. They also owed, the Pevyhouse family damages to the surface of the land. What damages? Do they have to restore the land to what it was or just pay the Peveyhouse family for the value of the land and do nothing? In many cases restoring hte land costs more than the market value of the land, as it did in the Pevyhouse case. So what does the mining company owe? And why should it owe restoration if restoration makes no economic sense?

      1. That should probably be spelled out in the contract, but in general I would say full restoration, if that is what the landowners want. Because the only people that can really define the extent of the damages are the people who own it. It’s about the value to the property owners.

        1. Sure. And no mining company would ever sign a contract that says they have to restore the land. And it was spelled out in the contract. But that is not the question. The question is should the land owner be held to such a contract even though he wasn’t party to it? The previous owner signed it when he sold the mineral rights.

          From a strict contract perspective, the answer is easy. And that is how the court in Pevyhouse ruled. And people didn’t like it and it lead to laws requiring the land be restored, regardless of cost. And that goes to the heart of See.Moore’s question. Why is “restoring” or “leaving it as it is” necessarily better. And the answer is that it isn’t. It just depends on what you value.

          1. The question is should the land owner be held to such a contract even though he wasn’t party to it? The previous owner signed it when he sold the mineral rights.

            A strict contract perspective would tell you that the new owner was indeed obligated by the previous owner’s contract. The new owner didn’t buy the mineral rights because the old owner by that time didn’t have the mineral rights to sell. The property’s deed came with certain easements and a lack of certain rights regarding the property. If he was unaware of this, the previous owner possibly committed fraud in not telling him and/or the new owner should have done a proper title search before purchase, assuming he didn’t.

            1. That is how the court ruled. He never bought the right to have his land restored regardless of cost.

              1. Did he buy the land not knowing he lacked mineral rights and that they were in fact owned by an entity actively seeking to enforce those mineral rights? If that information was withheld, he may have grossly overpaid.

    2. Of course it’s subjective. But I think there is value in having places that are minimally impacted by human activity. I find such places to be extremely beautiful and interesting. Of course, there is a balance to be struck between that desire and the impact on the surrounding communities. But if I can get enough like-minded people together to give it a try, we should be allowed to so.

      1. … But I think there is value in having places that are minimally impacted by human activity. I find such places to be extremely beautiful and interesting.

        I agree and have no problem with paying a landowner for access to hike, hunt, camp, etcetera on his/her/their property. However, I recognize and respect that, if it is not my land, I have no legitimate say in how it is managed or used, regardless of how much value I might place in visiting the site.

        … But if I can get enough like-minded people together to give it a try, we should be allowed to so.

        Sure, incorporate and establish a private business to conserve/preserve a site. Hell, I’ll even make a point of supporting you by paying for access, at least once, for a backpacking trip. But, recognize that it’s only good for so long as (a.) the business stays afloat or (b.) until the BoD decides to divest the property or develope it for other purposes.

        The proper nature of property rights is that the ownership will eventually change hands and no previous owner may legitimately dictate how subsequent owner(s) use the property.

        1. The proper nature of property rights is that the ownership will eventually change hands and no previous owner may legitimately dictate how subsequent owner(s) use the property.

          That’s not really true. Easements are an essential part of a rational property rights system. When you buy a deed to some land, you are buying the ownership agreement to that parcel, which may or may not include certain easements afforded to neighboring property owners or interested parties. An easement is property in it’s own right.

          1. Easements are an essential part of a rational property rights system. When you buy a deed to some land, you are buying the ownership agreement to that parcel, which may or may not include certain easements afforded to neighboring property owners or interested parties. An easement is property in it’s own right.

            Properly understood, property rights grant the owner(s) exclusive access/control over their property. It does not matter if it is land or an automobile or a painting or cash. The only legitimate easements are those granted by negotiation and/or contract with the legitimate property owner(s). What is in practice or is legal is not necessarily proper.

            1. Properly understood, easements are property and property is predicated on contractual agreements. Let’s suppose a farm owner sold the mineral rights to his land to some mining company. Then he sells the land to some other farmer. The new farmer had no deed or claim to the mineral rights which he did not acquire by contract. The mining company had exclusive control of the mineral rights.

              The only legitimate easements are those granted by negotiation and/or contract with the legitimate property owner(s). What is in practice or is legal is not necessarily proper.

              Yes and the previous owner, as property owner, sold his mineral rights to the mining company. By doing this, the former owner agreed to an easement to allow the mining company to access it’s property underground.

              What is in practice or is legal is not necessarily proper.

              Being the case that easements are a fundamental piece of property rights as having arisen out of common law, easements are proper. The important thing is that those easements don’t cease to be valid when the property changes hands, because easements too are property, they became a facet of the legal character of the property itself. Any other way would be irrational and the system would collapse as people would no longer have access to their property because some guy bought up all the land around them.

  9. “Assuming the reserve can get buy-in from the local residents and the approval of Montana wildlife officials, it may eventually be able to reintroduce predators like gray wolves and grizzly bears. ‘We scarcely see a gang of buffaloe without observing a parsel of those faithfull shepherds on their skirts in readiness to take care of the mamed & wounded,’ Lewis wrote of the wolves in May 1805.”

    There’s that legendary Clarkian gallows humor again.

  10. If I get the math right, 3 million acres would be the property of the feds–‘leased’ to this project, and 500,000 acres would be privately owned.

    Not seeing a whole lot here besides semantics.

    1. A: One big problem is that private folks cannot buy BLM land and most of the private ranchers lease that land to run cattle now. In this case, the private land is purchased and the BLM leases go with the purchased land (largely because they are contiguous). Instead of raising cattle, the APR raises bison, antelope, etc.

      1. That’s because the BLM land is not their land. This is NOT federal land. The feds are merely the totally corrupt trustee for land taken from Indian tribes with unkept promises that the tribes would receive royalties from that land.

        Now the idea is that the BLM will lease the land to a bunch of white city folk (with hedge fund and real estate speculator backers)? Who will run a bison tourist prairie? And the BLM will then fail to, once again, deliver anything to the ACTUAL owners of that land (who are still – let me repeat – the Indian tribes who gave up that land – which was a bison prairie when they possessed it – so the BLM could manage it)

        This is a complete fucking scam. The only thing worse would be if the scammers decide to hire a few Indians at minimum wage to perform a few circus acts for the tourists.

        Just get rid of the BLM middleman and all the rent-seeking BS. Revert the lands back to the tribes. If the Indians want to run a tourist prairie, then fine so be it. If they want to restore their culture in the process, then even better.

        1. Bureau of Stolen Land Management

          1. Yeah. My sister in law is now on the tribal council for one of the big tribes. Before that, she worked for the BIA.
            The tribal governments are in, what’s the proper word? collusion? with the federal government. It’s the average tribal landowner who gets screwed. There is also alot of wealth distribution to tribal members who don’t actually own any land. Plus the revenues from the stupidity tax, also known as gambling.

    2. The lands BLM holds out west aren’t always contiguous.

      You’ve got chunks of BLM land surrounded by a whole lot of private owned land, or sometimes connected by narrow strips of BLM land.

      They are buying the in-between parcels to link up the separate pieces of BLM land, and make those narrow strips wider.

  11. While it’s a noble goal, this seems to be creating precisely the sort of situation that the Rule Against Perpetuities is intended to prevent, namely tying up large tracts of lands in a state permanently unavailable for purchase and development.

    Much like a lot of the game playing that goes on in copyright law, it’s using the fact that the corporate personhood creates a fictional legal person who is effectively immortal to game a law that was designed to be attached to human lifespans.

    1. You nailed it stormy. Good for you for seeing the problem where so many others cannot seem to do it.

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  13. This could work, but probably will do the opposite of what they want. Back in the Day of L &C, the herds of bison, elk and antelope were not only massive, they were constantly moving in a way which maintained the grasses. High impact grazing followed by a year or more of no grazing. The animals had the instinct to migrate, which these animals no longer have.

    Unless they combine these animals into herds of at least 500 head (preferably herds of over 2,000) and keep them moving as herds, they will just graze as most people graze their cattle, staying in a general area, and grazing selectively, re-grazing plants during the growing season and not giving enough rest from grazing.

    The ONLY way this project is going to work is to train enough people to herd these animals in a planned way to give the land the proper ratio of grazing to rest. Then herd them for several years so they develop a migratory pattern which would maintain these grasslands in the proper way.

    http://naturalcattlehandling.com

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