Back from the Collapse


Back from the Collapse

American Prairie and the Restoration of Great Plains Wildlife

Curtis H. Freese

380 pages
16 photographs, 14 illustrations, 3 tables, index


July 2023


$26.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Back from the Collapse is a clarion call for restoring one of North America’s most underappreciated and overlooked ecosystems: the grasslands of the Great Plains. This region has been called America’s Serengeti in recognition of its historically extraordinary abundance of wildlife. Since Euro-American colonization, however, populations of at least twenty-four species of Great Plains wildlife have collapsed—from pallid sturgeon and burrowing owls to all major mammals, including bison and grizzly bears. In response to this incalculable loss, Curtis H. Freese and other conservationists founded American Prairie, a nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting the region’s native wildlife by establishing a 3.2-million-acre reserve on the plains of eastern Montana, one of the most intact and highest-priority areas for biodiversity conservation in the Great Plains.

In Back from the Collapse Freese explores the evolutionary history of the region’s ecosystem over millions of years, as it transitioned from subtropical forests to the edge of an ice sheet to today’s prairies. He details the eventual species collapse and American Prairie’s work to restore the habitat and wildlife, efforts described by National Geographic as “one of the most ambitious conservation projects in American history.”

Author Bio

Curtis H. Freese, an ecologist, is cofounder of American Prairie and founding managing director of World Wildlife Fund’s Northern Great Plains Program. He formerly ran the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Latin America program and was World Wildlife Fund’s vice president for conservation programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He is the author or editor of four books, including American Bison: Status Survey and Conservation Guidelines.


“Grasslands are crucial to Earth’s biological diversity. North America once had a bounteous share. No one is better qualified to tell the story of such prairie ecosystems—the disruption of their dynamics, the collapse of their wildlife populations, and the vital possibility of saving and restoring them—than Curt Freese. This is an important, fascinating book.”—David Quammen, author of The Tangled Tree and Breathless

“Curt Freese brings our nation’s ecologically rich but too-long-overlooked grasslands into sharp focus. He delivers a well-researched and approachably written account of the collapse of Great Plains wildlife populations and a challenge to readers—to envision the role that large protected areas can play in biodiversity conservation, especially in the face of climate change.”—Alison Piper Fox, chief executive officer of American Prairie    

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Maps
List of Tables
Part 1: History
Chapter 1: How It Started
Chapter 2: From Sea, Ice, and Forest Emerges a Prairie
Chapter 3: From the End of One Faunal Collapse to the Dawn of Another
Chapter 4: From Euro-American Settlement to Today
Part 2: Wildlife Collapses and Recoveries
Chapter 5: American Beaver and River Otter
Chapter 6: Ungulates
Chapter 7: Carnivores
Chapter 8: Rocky Mountain Locust
Chapter 9: Black-tailed Prairie Dog and Black-footed Ferret
Chapter 10: Pallid Sturgeon and Other Fish Stories
Chapter 11: Grassland Birds
Part 3: Conclusion
Chapter 12: Where We’ve Been and Where We Need to Go

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