The New West: A Quiet Revolution is Sweeping Across the West, Forging a New Approach to Conservation in the 21st Century

The American Prairie Reserve (APR) has made national headlines for aspiring to build a bison reserve on private and public lands near Montana’s legendary Missouri Breaks. The ultimate goal is to create an interwoven fabric of three million acres where most of the original prairie species that existed at the time of Lewis and Clark again enjoy a home in a U.S. version of the Serengeti.

The innovative initiative Laura Huggins of the APR oversees is called Wild Sky beef. Its goal is to promote wildlife-friendly ranching and it follows a for-profit, market-driven model. Not only are ranchers paid more for their cows, but they are rewarded for providing proof if bears, cougars, or other animals pass through their pastures. Scientists with APR install remote, motion-sensing cameras and if the animals are documented on their land, ranchers are paid a bonus. Produce a picture of a black bear: collect $300; a cougar: $200. If grizzlies or wolves arrive in the area, the non-lethal visual bounty will rise even higher. A rancher can make an extra $12,000 a year for having a pack of wolves. With payments such as this, wolves become worth more alive than dead. If ranchers can find a way for wolves to co-exist with their cattle, they could come out much further ahead.

Wild Sky is one piece of a quiet revolution marking a sharp contrast to the war of words and ideology raging in many corners of the West. This revolution incorporates market principles. Still, even among some environmentalists, there remains, ironically, an inexplicable, deep-seated antagonism toward private property owners, especially those who have large tracts.

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