Monday, December 21, 2009

Ranchers wary of group’s effort to create wildlife reserve bigger than Yellowstone

When the new West is won, will there be cowboys? In light of what her neighbors are up to, Double O Ranch owner Vicki Olson isn’t so sure. “I guess the point that I keep hammering at is that if they succeed, that means all of us third- and fourth-generation ranchers are gone,” Olson said. She is the average Montana rancher, 56 going on 70, working a spread gouged from the pebbly soil by her grandparents 100 years ago. Her neighbor, the nonprofit American Prairie Foundation, is methodically acquiring ranches and crafting a 3.5-million-acre wildlife reserve out of private property and adjoining federal land. The inconspicuously named Prairie Project could be the largest privately funded conservation land venture on the planet and the biggest free-roaming bison range in the United States. Yellowstone Park, at 2.21 million acres, would be a distant second. You could watch a horse and rider traverse these treeless plains and lose sight of them only when they’re finally eclipsed by the curve of the Earth. Yet conflict here always seems to center on there not being enough room for more

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