Farmland is a controversial topic in both the United States and around the world. There are groups who are on the side of protecting it, while there are others who argue that it is an environmental disaster. In Montana, a billionaire-funded conservation group is quietly buying up thousands of acres of farmland in the state. Some people think it is a good thing, while others are starting to make some noise against it. This is why.
Eco Group Funded By Billionaires Buying Up Montana Farmland
Thanks to generous donations by various well-known billionaires, an eco group called The American Prairie (AP) Conservation Project has bought more than 450,000 acres of farmland in Montana. Few people know about the project, and fewer know how much farmland they have already purchased. AP’s goal is to bring together 3.2 million acres of private and public lands to create the largest “fully functional” ecosystem in the continental United States. This is not a new project, either. AP began its work two decades ago. They’ve been buying land since 2004. Much of that land used to belong to farmers and ranchers. (1)
AP’s vice president Pete Gebbes says that this is all about wildlife and ecosystem conservation. They are aiming to create an expanse of land dedicated to conservation that will be larger than Yellowstone. He says nothing is with malicious intent, rather, they are simply trying to restore the area’s natural ecosystem. (2)
“We’re not asking the federal government to create anything, we’re not asking the federal government for any money,” he added. “Instead, we’re engaged in private philanthropy and voluntary exchange by buying ranches from people who would like to sell that to us.”
Where Is The Money Coming From?
In recent years the American Prairie Foundation has raised tens of millions of dollars. Most of this money has come from a list of extraordinarily wealthy and generous donors. These people include John Mars of the Mars candy company, daughter of the Hewlett-Packard Co Susan Packard Orr, Swiss financier Hansjoerg Wyss, the late German retail mogul Erivan Haub, as well as many other big names from both Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
“It’s an area that doesn’t have a lot of people in it and has been depopulating for a long, long time,” Geddes said. “So, the thinking was, perhaps there’s greater potential for less conflict over conservation in this part of the world.”
The Argument Against
Naturally, it seems like conservation is an incredible goal to have. After all, we do know that with its monocultures, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and vast usage of water, farmland does not always have the best environmental impact. However, critics of AP say that the foundation is removing many key lands from production. This negatively impacts the privately owned land surrounding it, as well as agricultural production. Many Montana ranchers, farmers, and landowners are concerned about the billionaire money, especially foreign billionaire money, coming in buying out people from their land.
“It’s really concerning that we have such an amount of foreign money coming into AP to buy up our ag land,” said Chuck Denowh, the policy director at the United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM), a group made up of local ranchers opposed to AP’s plans.”For the future of food security of this country, we need to take a close look at that.”
The local people, he says, have looked after the land and conserved it for decades. He also says the region is almost entirely dependent on the agriculture industry. As that goes away, so does work, jobs, and therefore, people.
Many many decades ago, these areas of Montana and the American Prairies were filled with roaming Bison. One of AP’s goals is to restore the Bison population in the area. Their plan is to release wild Bison onto the land to roam and graze. UPOM, however, is concerned that these animals could infect the cattle populations with brucellosis. This is a highly infectious disease common in bison and elk. If it spreads to cattle, it could be devastating and costly for ranchers. Ultimately if a farmer or rancher chooses to sell their land, that’s their business. As each side argues their own points, we will have to wait and see how it plays out.
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