The American Prairie (AP) is attempting to form the largest nature park in the U.S. by buying up massive amounts of land in Montana. The group states that its mission is to create "a refuge for people and wildlife preserved forever as part of America's heritage."
AP has successfully purchased over 450,000 acres since 2004 but aims to acquire 3.2 million for its American Prairie Reserve project. When completed, the park will be roughly the size of Connecticut and 25% larger than Yellowstone.
The Montana acreage primarily consists of land once used for farming and grazing. The region's economy heavily depends on its $4.72 billion agricultural industry, and ranchers are concerned that the group will buy up too much privately-owned land and sabotage production.
During a Fox News Digital interview, AP's vice president and chief external relations officer, Pete Geddes, stated the organization is "engaged in private philanthropy and voluntary exchange by buying ranches from people who would like to sell that to us."
With the help of billionaire donors, AP has raised tens of millions of dollars since its inception. Its donors include well-known financiers and retail moguls.
Geddes stated AP selected the area because of its decreasing population, saying that "perhaps there's greater potential for less conflict over conservation in this part of the world."
United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM) is made up of local ranchers who are against the plan set in motion by AP. UPOM's policy director, Chuck Denowh, explained that the donors helping purchase the land are concerned only about having a tax-deductible charitable donation and not the consequences on agricultural production.
Denowh expressed concern about where the donations are coming from and that "for the future of food security of this country, we need to take a close look at that."
AP originally made headlines over its bison grazing plan in Montana. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to grant AP its request to have bison roam on 60,000 acres previously reserved for cattle grazing.
UPOM expressed concern that the large bison population could spread disease to ranchers' cattle.
Montana's attorney general, Austin Knudsen, told Fox News Digital that allowing bison on the land would be illegal. "This is federal land that is specifically – by the Taylor Grazing Act, by federal law – set aside for livestock grazing. Bison are not livestock, even under federal law," he stated.
Another group, Montana Stockgrower Association, also spoke out against AP. President Jim Steinbeisser stated, "Ranchers have worked diligently for over a century caring for the public land livestock graze. Ranchers are held to the highest standards by federal land agencies in the areas of range management, range monitoring, range improvements, and processes within the BLM's grazing regulations, yet when concerns were raised regarding these areas in comments and protests, BLM did not acknowledge these concerns."
With farmers and ranchers being pushed out of the state, it remains to be seen the impact this could have on America's food supply.