This NPR story has some of the same themes as other topics we’ve been discussing about private lands conservation. What I like about this story is that it puts a different twist on many of the topics we discuss with regard to US government lands.
A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.
But the reserve is facing fierce opposition from many locals because to build it, the organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Those private properties are then stitched together with vast tracts of neighboring public lands to create one giant, rewilded prairie. The organization has purchased close to 30 properties so far, but it needs at least 50 more….
But the project’s efforts have garnered a lot of positive attention from those living outside northeastern Montana because, once it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
(1) What I missed in this article was an understanding of the concerns of the ranchers. It’s odd that the article focused on the Bible when more pragmatic answers are likely out there. Here are a few of my guesses for rancher resistance.
- reintroduction of critters that eat animals they care for and depend on for their livelihood. (personal economics losses)
- losing social capital from their already small community (friends, fellow volunteers, neighbors to borrow or help with things).
- losing economic capital from their already small community (taxes, donations, etc.)
I’m quite curious as to what kind of convos are going on in these communities about those concerns. Conceivably the new owners have a plan for being good neighbors, paying for eaten livestock and so on. What makes a good wildland neighbor? If it’s important for rich people to be good neighbors, how about Uncle Sam?
(2) Another interesting aside in the story was bringing up where the owners got the money.
Do college profs get to determine the “appropriate goodness” of other people? And why interview a professor from Stanford about a story in Montana?
Some see hypocrisy in this kind of money, including Rob Reich, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University.
“The structure of global capitalism, which they had a role upholding, is partly responsible for the degradation of the environment,” Reich says.
If we go back to federal lands, Uncle Sam got it by dispossessing Native Americans. To circle back to the New Testament, seems like stone-casting (John 8:7) has become a national sport. I don’t think that that’s a good thing.
I also thought it was interesting that Garrity questioned the idea that producers of resources carry more responsibility than users:
But Gerrity says the reserve can’t afford to be that picky because almost all of his donors, big and small, are driving the climate crisis.
“The person who puts the gas in their car, or uses the coal in their house to heat, or the person who gets on a nonessential jet trip to take a vacation or go to a wedding or something like that, is the person actually creating the business and encouraging the oil companies to keep on doing what they’re doing,” Gerrity says.
(3) The owners buy only from willing sellers, so is this just another western “making a living” transition, along with ski areas, population growth (in some places), gas wells, wind and solar farms, and so on?