Is Eastern Montana “An Empty Aquarium?”


Dear Editor,

 “Think of it like an empty aquarium,” says Sean Gerrity, President of the American Prairie Reserve, in the summer 2013 issue of Bloomberg Pursuits Magazine. This comment made in regards to the population of Phillips County, Montana. Personally, I find that very offensive and rude. According to the Miriam-Webster online dictionary empty means a) containing nothing; b) not occupied or inhabited; c) unfrequented; d) null; e) lacking reality, substance, meaning or value; f) having no purpose or result; or g) marked by the absence of human life, activity, or comfort.

In essence, Mr Gerrity believes that the estimated 4,281 residents of Phillips County are of no value, no purpose, and quite frankly don’t even exist. I strongly disagree. The teachers that educate our children, the doctors and nurses that heal our wounds, the elected officials that serve our community and the businesses that serve our needs would most likely disagree with Mr. Gerrity. I am certain that every Phillips County volunteer whether it be a firefighter, an EMT, a member of the weed board, fair board, economic development board, cooperative board, historical society board, livestock association, or any other volunteer organization believes that the hours they commit to their position have value and serve the greater good of our community. The time they commit is not empty!

Need I remind you, Mr Gerrity that the agriculture community of this county feeds approximately 2.8 million people annually. That is not nothing!!!! It is also estimated that same community creates $250,000,000 of economic impact to the region and the nation every year. Agriculture is the economic engine of this community, something most residents understand. But since you are not a resident of Phillips County, it would make sense that you don’t understand.

Mr. Gerrity, the first amendment of the U. S. Constitution guarantees every one of us the freedom of speech. So yes, you have every right to say and think of us as an empty aquarium. However, that also gives me the right to tell you that I think you are full of the green stuff that comes out of the back end of a male bovine or bison, for that matter.


Perri Jacobs

Proud Phillips County Resident


If you want a taste of the deep-pocketed international effort battling local ranchers who are fighting for survival here in Montana, simply take a look at this new report by Bloomberg News.

Reporter Seth Lubove gives us a look at the Wall Street billionaires actively buying up ranches in Northcentral and Northeastern Montana, moving the people off, and the bison on. 

Here’s an excerpt of this piece focused on the American Prairie Foundation and the near $60 million already raised:

The organization’s donor roll reads like a who’s who of the ultrarich: billionaire candy heirs Forrest Mars Jr. and his brother, John (combined net worth: $44 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index); German retail baron Erivan Haub ($4.9 billion); the foundation of Swiss medical device mogul Hansjoerg Wyss ($12.4 billion); and Susan Packard Orr, daughter of the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and chairwoman of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, which has assets of $5.6 billion.

What motivates many of the Prairie Reserve’s most ardent supporters is the chance to get in on the ground floor of something as lasting and majestic as a national park. George Matelich, a managing director of New York-based private-equity firm Kelso & Co., joined the cause and then the board after hearing Gerrity speak at a 2006 fundraising dinner at auction house Sotheby’s (BID) headquarters in New York.

Billionaire hedge-fund manager Louis Moore Bacon has spent more than $400 million on 200,000-plus acres of land in the U.S., including the 172,000-acre former Forbes family ranch in Colorado in 2007. Bacon is preserving much of the land — which includes three 14,000-foot (4,300-meter) peaks — in its native condition and donated 167,000 acres to the federal government for conservation easements.

Local rancher Linda Poole had some great remarks as she opened up the piece, noting that the land is “not pristine; it’s restored. It doesn’t need to be saved from ranchers; it was already saved by ranchers.”  

Prior articles on this topic. 

The Billionaires Battling Ranchers in Montana


Friday, May 31, 2013 6:38 PM

I can understand why anyone, such as Perri Jacobs, would be offended and upset if my comment about “an empty aquarium” was in regards to people. The quote, however, was taken out of context. When I stated it, I was referring to wildlife. We at APR are indeed excited about filling up our lands (not anyone else’s) with more deer, pronghorn, elk, grassland birds, foxes, prairie dogs etc. As anyone can see on our website, this is what our project is about.

Unfortunately, this reporter had an agenda to advance. In journalism school they teach people to produce work that is “fair, accurate and complete.” This particular reporter apparently subscribes to the strategy of drawing attention to himself by make as many people as angry and upset as possible. All of us at APR, including the staff, board of directors and some donors-and I am sure some of our neighbors-were disappointed and frustrated with how he shaped this story. We did not seek this fellow out to write this story. Reporters do whatever they want and often they work hard to create as much controversy and drama as they possibly can. That is how much of the news works.

All of us at APR respect the people of Phillips, Valley, Blaine and other counties in the area in which we are working. We work hard to be good neighbors, respect other’s property rights, make our lands open to and able to be enjoyed by the public for hunting, wildlife viewing and general recreation. We assume North Eastern MT will be primarily geared towards agriculture for another hundred years and most likely more. We are convinced we can, overtime, integrate into the local society once people realize their greatest fears about us are not coming true, that we are not out to take anyones land, that we keep good fences and are highly motivated to not negatively impact our neighbors, and that we very much believe we can add to, not detract from, the diversity of the local economy.

I hope anyone with questions about our project will come visit us and let us tour you around our operation. Each time this has occurred relationships have improved. Give me or any of the four families who work for APR, and who live and work in Phillips County, a call and we will be glad to find a way to show you around and help answer questions about what we are doing.

Thanks to Northern Ag Network for the opportunity to post a comment.

Sean Gerrity

Mike Ereaux

Monday, June 03, 2013 11:20 PM

I cannot keep count on the number of times that APR has had to re-explain statements that one of their employees, directors, or CEO has stated publicly. I do not keep a running record of these re-explainations. Over the years it has been several. It seems that we common folks have a hard time understanding the public spins APR uses in order to get more donations and their cry of being “taken out of context” is getting old. Bottom line is credibility and APR’s is on very shaky ground. I do however keep track on the number of acres that APR owns or controls. Currently this figure is at 274,000 acres. Roughly 8% of their final goal. If you are not aware of their land acquisition goal, it is roughly 5000 square miles. That figure can be broken down into 500,000 private acres + 3 to 3.5 million acres of federal and state lands. Recently, APR has embarked on a aggressive campaign gathering 300 million dollars to help achieve that goal. The willing buyer willing seller concept has been used to justify their acquisitions. It sounds simple but money has a way of distorting clear minds. I wish these willing sellers would have looked into Montana Ranch Program instead. That is something worth putting on your gravestone. To entice big money, APR has built a new yurt village, that has air conditioning, indoor plumbing, electricity and a helicopter pad. I have heard that this is for the clientele that have donated a fair amount of money. Don’t worry though there are yurts that are available for the common folks. Just have to rough it a little more and drive instead of fly. I believe their is a buffalo proof fence(electrified) that surronds the reserve. It was subsidized by BLM,so we ranchers are not the only ones who get handouts. Ranchers at least provide food for the world and to stay in business by having to make a profit and not rely on donations. On occasion, buffalo have gotten through these fences and onto neighbors property. They have been captured and returned. Point being, no fence is buffalo proof or wildlife proof for that matter. Both will go where they want. Currently the number of bison is small, but I believe the number of escapees will increase as the number of bison increase. It is true they lease ground out to private individuals to graze. These leases will decrease over time as the numbers of bison increase, something has to be removed, and I am sure it won’t be the bison But not to worry as APR has taken credit for the increase in beef numbers in our region and is considering promoting wildlife friendly beef as a way to keep us in business. Yes, APR has 4 families on their payroll. I wonder if those jobs will be passed on from generation to generation like ranch/farms are. Perry did a good job calling a spade a spade, and in my book I’ll take her word over Mr Garrity’s anytime. Last thought, time and time again I have read and have been told APR like organizations just want to help save and preserve the grasslands and wildlife for public use now and into the future. Have they ever thought its what is/has been done for years already. The American people can and have used this area for hunting, fishing, recreation etc.and have gotten food and stewardship in return. I’d say that is a pretty good return on investment.

Michael Fred Ereaux

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