My name is Leah LaTray. I am from the Winifred community. Both sides of my family have been ranchers here in Montana since before Montana was a state. I’d like to share a few thoughts about the American Prairie Reserve’s impact on the local people along the Missouri River Breaks.
This is a huge subject. I feel that I owe my time to the communities here to be a voice…to speak out in a wee desperate voice that we too matter. It’s hard not to feel defeated before we ever take a step against the huge money that the APR is throwing at this. I visit with people about it and there is a universal feeling that we are being freight trained and that we can’t stop it. Honestly, the situation reminds me of the white man taking advantage and ‘freight training’ the Indians here back in the day. ….with the APR being the white man and the ranchers the indigenous people. Here is big back east and international money with fancy words and fancy lawyers laying claim to this land that we are so intimately in love with and have been for generations at this point. Blame Lewis and Clark for the settlers being here. Blame the trappers and the mountain men…and the Texans with their long horns. Blame Will James and Charlie Russel. They were cowboys.
The APR may have good intentions, however, their methods are what piss people off so much. So what are their methods and what is their point?….first of all, they bought into approximately 18 BLM allotments (and BIG ones) of public ground. OK. Those allotments already have many many measures protecting the habitat. There are biologists who are hired full time by the BLM and Fish and Game and the State. Those biologists and BLM field office people are hired to specifically maintain the vast reaches of BLM land (which the APR is claiming to be saving). So who is the Prairie Reserve saving the BLM ground from? Who? This is also ground that has been used by cattlemen since the settlers came to this country and is needed for the future of the Montana ranch economy. There has been much thought put into rotational and seasonal grazing, water sources and the coexistence of the cattlemen, the wildlife and the recreationalists (mostly hunters)The APR is inviting more people to the Missouri River Breaks than there ever have been before!!! ….since the mosquitoes are murderous in most of the APR allotments…the people renting Yurts better be double tough. Their campaign worldwide to draw attention to this gem that we’ve been preserving for generations, and swooping in here and declaring that they are going to take out, to tear down our infrastructure including homestead relics, does not neighbor well nor does it get a very good reaction from the very few of us ranchers (relative to the big overpopulated world) that live here and make a living here.
There is no need for the Prairie Reserve here.
The BLM, the Friends of the Missouri River Breaks, the Missouri River Breaks National Monument and the CMR National Wildlife Refuge, and the ranchers got this!!! The APR is simply a special interest group who has no place here. We have it handled and the APR needs to back off and stop trying to annihilate us with their slow insidious patient promise that they will take us out. This should clarify why I hung the Save the Cowboy STOP American Prairie Reserve banner over my Hay for Sale sign on the Winifred highway (and I only wish I had more roadside frontage).
I have ridden horseback all over Two Crow gathering yearlings. The first time I was out there was about 2011 when Prewitt Cattle Company ‘owned’ it. I say ‘owned’ because the Two Crow is mostly BLM…..but cattlemen have had the right to do business there since settlers came here. I also rode some of the pastures this past summer again gathering yearlings…bred heifers. The APR (tragically) ‘owns’ Two Crow now and has it leased back to Gene Klammert. People don’t see cowboys at dawn just before the sun rises and the murderous mosquitoes and gnats rise with it. They don’t hear us as we trot our horse off down a coulee to move yearlings out to a different pasture. They don’t see the next generations of cowboys being made on the old kids horse who has traveled a million miles in the Breaks already and who knows more about cows than the kid. Moments like these are the past and our future. I can’t tell you how my heart swells for the love of the country and the cowboys and the cattle and the way of life so ingrained in me.
So who cares if the cowboys disappear? I do. Why is it cowboys that disappear over this APR takeover? The Missouri River Breaks is cowboy country. You have to be horseback to gather cattle in the breaks. Those few cowboys who are in love with their using horses and the cattle and the country have millions of dollars in economic viability and sustainable economic future ahead of them when they gather 1500 bred heifers off the Two Crow. Those heifers were purchased first of all from ranchers across the entire state of Montana. Let’s say as calves they were $800 each x 1500 head = $1,200,000 every single year! This is just the purchase price let alone the veterinarian that A.I.’d the heifers, the feed CHS Cooperative!, the truckers, Fleet supply! The bankers! The money the cowboys doing day work get paid is a drop in the bucket to the economy around those heifers. When they are gathered up, shipped and sold those heifers are worth $1800 each x 1500 head = $2.7 million…..every…..single….year…..back into the state economy. So the 10 cowboys who tread lightly on the Two Crow have $3.9 million in future economic viability and hope for the small communities that people consider relics. They don’t really have a clue.
I recently gathered bred heifers on the PN Ranch…..the APR has it leased back to Lance and Nicole Johnson….if you want to talk about the future of cowboys! Lance and Nicole have 2 beautiful hard working daughters who I guarantee will be ranchers. The cowboy who is hired by them has 3 little kids…!!! The historic house that the APR is toting to be preserved on the PN was lived in my cowboys too. I spent my childhood playing in the irrigation ditches next to that house because my Mom and Dad (a cowgirl and an Indian!) visited the people who lived there.
The APR has purchased the private land and the adjacent BLM allotments. They have leased some of those places back to ranchers because they don’t have the BLM leases in place yet to have the right to run buffalo year around, tear interior fences, and eliminate ranchers.
Let’s focus on Save the Cowboy…..Stop The American Prairie Reserve! What do those banners mean anyway? They mean ….yes….the past, our heritage, the homestead settlers, the old families who have been here for generations and whose knowledge has been passed down….but they also mean THE FUTURE!!! We are not a dieing breed. We are tough because it’s tough country…..we love the land, our horses, our dogs, our cattle, our community and HAVE to take care of the land because it is our future….what have we done so wrong to the land like the Prairie Reserve is claiming? Why does the landscape look the same as when Lewis and Clark came through? It does because the ranching community has taken care of it for generations and the economy supported by those ranches is huge. I used Two Crow and the PN as examples. Multiply those economics by the numbers threatened to be made idle by the APR and a few recreational possibilities with a handful of buffalo. Seriously. This is cowboy country….save us please!! Long live cowboys, ranchers and the communities they support.