American Prairie Reserve: A School Call To Action


Written by Joe Meyer; Executive Director of Laudato Si’ Project

In addition to teaching environmental science at Marquette High School in Milwaukee, WI, I also co-moderate a homeroom there called Environmental Science/Outdoors (ESO). This homeroom was initiated by student interest and currently has around 50 students involved. ESO students work to initiate environmental projects at the school, stewardship projects at local natural areas, and recreational outings.

Last year, I saw a movie on Netflix titled American SerengetiThis video speaks of the vast amount of wildlife that Lewis and Clark saw on their journey westward, especially on the Missouri River in Montana. The video went on to speak about the most ambitious conservation project in US history currently happening in Montana- The American Prairie Reserve.

The American Prairie Reserve is a project by a private non-profit organization that hopes to create the largest contiguous natural area in the continental United States totally 3.5 million acres and encompassing 5000 square miles. What makes this project feasible is that over 2 million of those acres are already open to the public and management by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. The American Prairie Reserve hopes to acquire the private lands in between so as to stitch together the whole system. The reserve size would be larger than any National Park in the lower 48 but would be maintained as a public/private partnership not a National Park, while remaining entirely open to the public.


Our ESO Homeroom student leaders decided that doing a fundraising campaign would be a great way for students to participate in this epic project. The goal was to purchase at least 1 acre of land through their “Adopt-an-Acre” program. This would mean that at $1000 would need to be raised in less than 2 weeks.

We began the campaign by showing the National Geographic Trailer video Imagine American Prairie Reserve 

We then discussed the project goals in terms of wildlife populations. A reserve of this size will be able to contain animal populations not seen since Lewis and Clark first explored the area. The American Prairie Reserve has begun its bison reintroduction at is currently at 700-800 head. Its ambitious goal of 10,000 bison will likely be reached in the next decade or so. Elk are another large mammal that calls the reserve home. They hope to have 40,000 elk in the coming years. many of these species: bison, grizzly Bear, wolf…had been extirpated from the area by hunting and ranching for nearly 100 years. But it is not just bison, elk, mule deer, or antelope that live in the prairie; it is a biodiverse system containing hundreds of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

ESO homeroom students were challenged with the “Adopt and Acre” program and an incentive donation by faculty to double anything students raised up to $1000. After the nearly  2 week period, student totals were almost $500 which meant a total donation of $1500- purchasing 1.5 acres of land on the American Prairie Reserve. many of the students hope to visit the American Prairie Reserve in their lifetime and see this amazing project of American conservation.


“I asscended to the top of the cutt bluff this morning, from whence I had a most delightfull view of the country, the whole of which except the vally formed by the Missouri is void of timber or underbrush, exposing to the first glance of the spectator immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.”       – Meriwether Lewis (1805)

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