Montana Big Open Inc.
A tax exempt charity under section 501(c)(3)
102 Geneva, Hamilton, MT 59840
Welcome to The Big Open Project - the largest private prairie recovery effort ever undertaken. When established, The Big Open will have restored the spectacular wildlife witnessed two hundred years ago by Lewis and Clark. We hope that you will agree that this restoration effort holds great promise for the region’s environmental future, as well as the social and economic future of its human residents.
In the 1880’s, Montana photographer L. A. Huffman first called the open, unfenced range in eastern Montana “The Big Open”. There, he photographed, and greatly lamented, the decline of America’s last wild bison, then making their final stand in Montana.
Today, The Big Open refers generally to the vast region in Montana consisting of over nine million acres of dry, mixed grass prairie with an extremely low and declining human population. The Big Open is the largest restorable land mass in the lower 48 states. It is about 10% of Montana, extending roughly from the Wild and Scenic Upper Missouri River corridor to the Terry Badlands, and from the Milk River to the Yellowstone River.
BIG OPEN (MT)
|U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service||4,000||1,600|
In 2004, NPCN identified a particularly promising portion of the Big Open, characterized by a high percentage of intact native grasslands and significant presence of many rare, threatened or endangered prairie species, as one of the ten most valuable areas in the northern plains for large scale prairie restoration. NPCN refers to this two million acre region south of the Missouri as the Big Open to distinguish it from other focus areas.
The entire region encompasses many subregions, several of which are large enough to be considered separate focal areas by the NPCN. These include the Upper Missouri National Monument, the Northern Glaciated Plains, the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, the UL Bend Wilderness, the Terry Badlands, and the Big Dry Country north of the Yellowstone River.
Central to the mission of The Big Open Project is the return of wild bison to their original habitat on the high plains of Montana. This proposal was the first ever to suggest that native prairie and wild bison could be restored on a large scale in North America. Now, after more than fifteen years of work by advocates, the region is recognized as an area of national and global significance.
More than 85% of the land within the Big Open has never been turned by a plow, and the area is relatively empty of human infrastructure and population. It is a vast landscape, with remote wild lands at its center.
The restoration project has four broad objectives:
1. Ecological Protection
Preservation of existing wildlands and waterways, and protection of the remaining open space from subdivision and other forms of commercial, industrial and residential development.
2. Recovery On A Vast Scale
Establishment of wildlife corridors linking the remaining blocks of native grassland. Restoration of all native species, including wild bison, elk, bighorn and pronghorn, and elimination of all exotic species, to the extent possible.
3. Human Integration
Integrate the human population into the natural system by introducing nondestructive interactions inspired by the aboriginal land use patterns. Current residents will actively participate in the recovery and management process.
4. Economic Sustainability
Creation of new, cooperative land use patterns within the ecologically restored area to allow a wildlife-based economy, including hunting, recreation and eco-tourism, to prosper.
Progress towards the vision
Through the efforts of partner organizations, The Big Open is already taking shape. The Central Montana Wildlands Association is working to preserve the wilderness core of The Big Open. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has purchased elk habitat that is now the home of the largest elk herd in the United States. These projects are supported by other national and international conservation groups.
To learn more, to get involved, or give financial help to the Big Open Project, contact:
Montana Big Open Inc
Hamilton, MT 59840
or by telephone at 1-406-363-5067.