Newspaper article International New York Times

The Yellowstone of the Future

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Yellowstone of the Future

Article excerpt

At a reserve in Montana, you can see the West nearly as Lewis and Clark witnessed it some 200 years ago.

Perhaps, like me, you were among the tens of millions who visited one of our national parks this year. If you did, you most likely shared my appreciation for the foresight of previous generations to set aside treasures like Yellowstone. This legacy of conservation has long served as a point of pride for our country, and rightly so.

The federal government's creation and protection of vast, iconic places largely came to a halt in the mid-1950s. But there is a new model for conserving large, ecologically valuable landscapes and the wildlife that depends on them -- one that does not rely on lobbying for government action and funding. It is a hybrid, combining existing public lands with private resources and a businesslike approach to securing land, restoring wildlife and benefiting people.

It is being applied in places like Mozambique, for example, where the philanthropist Greg Carr is working to rebuild Gorongosa National Park and the communities that surround it through a public- private partnership between the Mozambique government and the Gorongosa Restoration Project; and in South America at Conservacion Patagonica, founded by the conservationists Kris and the late Doug Tompkins, which is purchasing land to create new national parks for the people of Argentina and Chile.

Here in the United States, on Montana's northern Great Plains, American Prairie Reserve is using this model to build our nation's first large-scale 21st-century park. Rather than seeking government financing, we are raising private funds to purchase approximately 500,000 acres in order to link them with the area's existing three million acres of public lands. When complete, this landscape will be roughly the size of Connecticut, privately funded, endowed and managed for the benefit of wildlife and people.

Those who use this model will identify ecosystems in need of conservation and engage private individuals or organizations that leverage public resources to carve out protected areas. The grasslands of northeast Montana are a priority for conservation because of their extraordinary biodiversity and large percentage (almost 90 percent) of intact native prairie. It is one of the few landscapes left that bears some semblance to what Lewis and Clark witnessed about 200 years ago when they passed through.

The success of private-public conservation projects depends on incorporating private lands. These lands, especially in the American West, are critical because they are at low elevations and surround rivers and streams -- key travel corridors for wildlife. Many of the West's existing protected areas were chosen for their geologic and scenic values, rather than their ability to support wildlife.

Yellowstone, for example, is a high plateau covered with snow much of the year. …

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