This year I mark 50 years tending to animals and working alongside clients at our semi-rural veterinary establishment near Laurel. I am grateful for the lifetime opportunity of becoming a veterinarian and for the chance to live, have a business, and raise our family in this remarkable state.
The time has gone fast and I’ve witnessed some profound changes. Agriculture has changed dramatically. Consolidation and industrialization has resulted in larger operations with fewer families on the land.
In my practice area, all the dairies have now disappeared along with most of the smaller farmer-feedlots. Many outlying rural communities are shrinking. Some rural businesses, including local veterinarians, are now struggling to hang on. The average age of farmers and ranchers is increasing and fewer young people return to the land.
I have experienced firsthand what increased industrialization and commodification of agriculture has done for our family farms and ranches. Glossy brochures produced by real estate developers show many Montana ranchlands now priced more for scenic and recreational value than for livestock productive potential.
Along comes the American Prairie Reserve. I see this conservation organization as a part of the solution to some of the economic problems I just mentioned.
Montana economist Dr. Larry Swanson has called APR’s vision a potential game changer and said "progress in achieving this vision will place the entire region on a new and more promising path for future economic health and community development."
APR is creating unique new opportunities by sharing their lands with wildlife enthusiasts and hunters. They are also working with neighboring area ranchers to incentivize wildlife friendly livestock practices through their Wild Sky Ranching program.
These actions result in increased visitation, recreation and mutual human understanding. All this ultimately benefits our entire region.
In addition to the work APR can do to help the region, an essential part of the solution involves each one of us. We all must eat and healthy agriculture requires intentional “cultivation” on the part of both consumers and producers. Responsible consumers should be encouraged to learn where quality food comes from and how it is produced. They need to know value and be willing to pay a fair price.
We must all strive to understand the components of a healthy regenerative landscape. We have to share our world with many other living things. As both consumers and producers, we must work together for the future of our earth and the varied life it possesses.
APR strives to compliment our agricultural heritage, not replace it. They are working hard to both preserve and restore rangeland and to enhance wildlife habitat. They are promoting understanding and respect for our land by constructing and using outdoor infrastructure such as campgrounds and visitor education centers.
Diversity is healthy, whether we are referring to economics or natural processes. Diversity is essential for both our personal health and the well-being of our communities.
I welcome the American Prairie Reserve to Montana. I also welcome people from across our country and around the world to come visit and experience our prairie landscape. To both enjoy and to learn from the prairie.
APR will always be a small island in a vast sea of what will become an ever-improving modern agriculture system. We can learn from each other. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.