An Entreprenurial Approach
President’s Message from Sean Gerrity
In March, I spoke at Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West about American Prairie Reserve’s entrepreneurial approach to large-scale conservation. It was gratifying to see so many people, including young students, eager to discover how we are achieving conservation success through private contributions. The ensuing discussion focused on how the Reserve’s sure and steady growth is a powerful example of how a mission driven, non-governmental effort can result in one of the most ambitious conservation projects ever undertaken in American history.
Not Just Acres – Reserve Staff Grows
We’re excited to welcome two new staff members to our Reserve team, James Barnett (Reserve Supervisor) and Lars Anderson (Reserve Assistant). Both James and Lars will live full-time on the Reserve and greatly increase our capacity for restoration, bison and public access projects. We are also happy to bring two new families to the local area.
Your Gift – Doubled!
Thanks in part to a generous $50,000 matching grant from The John and Kelly Hartman Foundation, year-end fundraising in 2012 was a record-setting success. The Hartman Foundation has been a supporter since 2005, helping us expand our outreach to Montanans and annual donors of all levels. Your generous gifts over the holidays helped us not only meet, but exceed, the Foundation’s match, which doubled or even tripled the impact of $1–$1,000 gifts. Thank you to everyone who helped us achieve this ambitious goal!
Kids & Nature - By The Numbers
76 - Percent of youth ages 6-12 that participate in outdoor recreation to “be with family and friends.”
44 - Percent of campers that cite their father as the person that introduced them to camping.
8 - Age at which children can identify 25% more Pokémon video game characters than wildlife species.
6 - Hours spent a day in front of an electronic screen by an average American child.
1 - Ranking of “teenager” in a list of words least associated with “camping.”
Like a Needle in a Haystack
This spring, APR staff members and biologist Kyran Kunkel set out to expand our bison tracking efforts with an additional GPS collar. With more than 14,000 acres to roam, the Reserve’s bison population moves widely across the land. GPS collars are one way that we track these movements, and the information helps us make management decisions, like needed fence improvements.
A Gift That Doesn’t Need Wrapping
Last Christmas, Idaho residents Tom and Janet Rahl were inspired by National Geographic’s American Serengeti to make an unexpected gift to their kids and grandkids – a $1,000 donation to help build American Prairie Reserve.
A Moment in Time
The harsh winter of 2011 was catastrophic to pronghorn in the Reserve region. The Montana Game & Fish Department estimates that populations suffered up to 70 percent losses. Last month, Reserve Foreman Dennis Lingohr was surprised and encouraged by an increase in sightings of this uniquely North American mammal. As Dennis tells it, “I jumped out of my 4-wheeled office and snapped these images. You just never know what might greet you on the prairie.”
Interview: Why Are Some Species Rare In Nature?
In our last newsletter, we shared a new book from World Wildlife Fund Lead Scientist Eric Dinerstein, The Kingdom of Rarities. Eric, who also serves on APR’s National Council, has traveled the world to learn about and conserve rare species, including animals that call the prairie home. In this interview, APR President Sean Gerrity asks Eric why some species are naturally, or become, rare and how your efforts to build American Prairie Reserve can help. Read the full interview.
Are Invasive Plants Hurting The Prairie? Your Questions Answered
Q: We see invasive species like Kudzu or the Emerald Ash Borer in southern and midwest areas; are there species that are hurting the prairie? – from Sarah on Facebook
“A Must See in 2013″ - What We’re Reading
The Missouri River Breaks region has been named a Top Destination for 2013 by National Geographic Traveler. A related article, now online, appeared in the Jan. 2013 issue of the magazine and includes the APR bison herd as one of region’s attractions. The Montana Quarterly also celebrated the Northern Plains in a photo essay written by Scott McMillion with stunning photographs by Montana’s Tony Bynum. Both articles will feed your adventurous spirit and inspire you to plan a 2013 trip to the Reserve area, even if it’s only as an armchair traveler.
American Prairie Reserve welcomes several new staff members this year to complement our growth as an organization and in our land holdings. Our upcoming newsletter (don’t forget to sign up to receive them in your inbox!) will introduce you to James Barnett and Lars Anderson, who now live full-time on the Reserve with their families. In addition, we’re excited for you to meet our new Bozeman-based staff, Becky Hurlburt and Rachel Regan.
Becky Hurlburt, Operations and Human Resources Assistant
As the Operations and Human Resources Assistant, Becky is a “Jill-of-all-trades” and serves as a central hub for projects related to technology, logistics, and personnel support. Becky grew up in Billings, Montana, and earned degrees in Business Administration and Spanish from Northwestern College and Montana State University-Billings, respectively. When asked what she is looking forward to about working at APR, Becky said that, in addition to spending time on the prairie, she is excited to learn from our Senior Management Team. In her free time, you can find her climbing and skiing.
Rachel Regan, Development Assistant
Rachel provides much-appreciated support to our fundraising efforts. From coordinating event materials to database management, she will help us reach organizational goals more efficiently than ever before. Rachel is originally from Alabama and brings a love of wildlife and environmental education with her to APR, thanks in part to degrees in Aquaculture (MS) and Biology (BS) and work as an interpretive ranger intern. She can’t wait to try fly fishing on the Missouri River this summer as part of a visit to the Reserve, and both Rachel and her husband Shawn enjoy hiking, snorkeling and birdwatching.
Thank you for your continued support and enabling us to attract and hire new members of the APR team. We are enthusiastic about the future of the Reserve and are grateful to be in a position to not only continue work toward our mission but also to contribute to local economies through employment opportunities.
As a follow up to the review of The Kingdom of Rarities in our December 2012 Newsletter, APR President Sean Gerrity interviewed author and WWF Lead Scientist Eric Dinerstein about rarity on the plains. From black-footed ferrets and cougars to bison and Mountain plovers, we learned that rare prairie species occur naturally and as a result of human influence. Despite the many challenges that these animals face, Eric, who also serves on American Prairie Reserve’s Scientific Advisory Council, is hopeful about the future of rare species both at home and overseas.
Sean Gerrity: The term “rare” can have many interpretations. What defines a rare species?
Eric Dinerstein: We normally think of a rare species as one with a narrow geographic range, having a low population density, or both. There are many species that once had wide ranges like black-footed ferrets or greater sage grouse, but are highly restricted today. Then there are species that were once widespread and common, like bison, that have lost much of their natural abundance due to human activities. Some species, in the APR, have always been rare, such as top predators like mountain lions.
Sean Gerrity: At APR, we often talk about native habitat, not just associated species, as being “rare” and endangered. Because grasslands were overlooked in formal protection efforts like the National Park Service, the vast majority of the nation’s prairies have been converted to commercial and residential uses. How does this play into plant and wildlife rarity?
Eric Dinerstein: What makes the APR a rare habitat is that so much of it is unplowed prairie. About 15 years ago, before the dream of the APR emerged, my colleagues and I in the WWF Science program looked for the largest tracts of untilled land as a prime criterion for considering conservation priority and sites suitable for large-scale restoration. The current location of the APR was part of the bulls-eye. So much of the original prairie has suffered from sod-busting that you can see why the National Park Service had little to choose from. So the APR conserves a rare habitat indeed, even if it lacks formal designation as a reserve.
Sean Gerrity: Obviously some animals were not always rare like they are today. The point you make in the book about rhinos being “ecosystem engineers” that are functionally extinct could easily apply to bison. For the prairie, what has the removal of bison meant for the ecosystem as a whole?
Eric Dinerstein: Wherever we had giant browsing and grazing mammals, they exerted strong effects on the physical structure and composition of the habitats they occupy. As I show in my book, this natural phenomenon is clear to see even when such populations are at low densities—far below what that ecosystem can support. So imagine the effects vast herds of bison must have had on the APR and surrounding areas back when bison roamed widely and in great numbers. I’ll bet the prairie looked much different today if you looked close up: more wallows, more bare spots, unevenly grazed areas, mineral-rich soils where bison carcasses may have accumulated. And of course the large numbers of bison would have attracted some formidable predators and large numbers of scavengers. It was a different world, but if we can picture it, maybe we can recreate it, at least in part.
Sean Gerrity: As you know, the American Prairie Reserve region is also home to hundreds of species of grassland birds, including more rare species like the Mountain plover and Sprague’s pipit. How can there be rarity in the midst of such abundance?
Eric Dinerstein: You have posed one of the fundamental questions of community ecology—the science of how species interact in nature. This pattern is even more pronounced in the tropical rainforest where you have a few very common species in an area and then a long list of singletons. The commonness of rarity is a simple fact of nature. So knowing this is the case globally, the APR needs to do its bit to conserve the rarities found there or that really prefer some of the micro-habitats the reserve offers—like close-cropped grassland for breeding mountain plovers, unmowed, dead grass layers for breeding Sprague’s pipit, and lots of occupied prairie dog towns for black-footed ferrets.
Sean Gerrity: A common theme woven throughout the book is the importance of scale when it comes to protected areas. From jaguars in the Amazon to the maned wolf of the Cerrado, we must be creative in how we put together enough habitat for these animals to roam and for natural processes to take place. What role does/can American Prairie Reserve play – especially looking at animals like cougars and pronghorn?
Eric Dinerstein: We call these most magnificent creatures area-dependent or area-sensitive species, just a biologist’s way of saying you need whopping big areas if you want to maintain healthy populations over the long term. Cougars need a lot of prey to breed effectively, so you need a lot of large prey and therefore a lot of land. And you are correct; this is the same wildlife management issue in the APR as in the rest of the world where there are large mammals. So some of the strategies invented and tested on the APR could help our conservation work elsewhere.
Sean Gerrity: Lastly, despite focusing on a topic that many would find disheartening, you seem optimistic about the future of many of the world’s rarities, like the return of tigers to Cambodia’s eastern plains. After all that you’ve seen, what gives you hope?
Eric Dinerstein: The sheer resilience of nature. It never ceases to amaze me how fast wildlife and habitats recover when we take our foot off the neck of nature. Also, in all my travels in poor countries, I have never once heard anyone say, “I would like to live next to a degraded environment.” We all love nature, or most of us do, we just quibble about how much and where it should be restored. I am certain that we will be astonished how so many iconic places in the world will improve if we set our minds to better protecting the species and habitats in that region.
BirdNote, a 2 minute bird-focused radio show, featured American Prairie Reserve this week with a new piece entitled “Ecosystem Engineers on America’s Serengeti.” Listen for the sounds of common – and not so common – prairie creatures, including American bison, the burrowing owl, Chestnut-collared Longspur and black-tailed prairie dog. Can you think of more species that could be considered ecosystem engineers?
While you’re there, listen to clips on other feathered inhabitants of the prairie: Northern Goshawk, Montana Grassland Birds, Shorebirds – Not on the Shore, Tracking Burrowing Owls, and Sage-Grouse Lek and Grasslands.
National Geographic Traveler recently highlighted north-central Montana by naming the Missouri River Breaks region one of the top 20 Best Trips for 2013.
The Breaks are perhaps most famous for their ties to the Lewis & Clark expedition, which made its way up the Missouri River in the early 1800s. The region continues to offer modern day adventurers a unique journey and striking landscapes, whether by canoe, on foot or driving safari.
Just north of the river is where the area’s steep cliffs and timbered hills transition into grassland, home to American Prairie Reserve and our growing herd of bison. Like a glimpse into the past, the Reserve is working to create a seamless landscape with a full-complement of wildlife and ecosystem processes, similar to what Lewis and Clark would might have seen on their travels. One day, we hope that visitors to this historic region of the nation will be able to experience nature on a grand scale – from the river to the rolling plains.
In the meantime, the Breaks and the Reserve are free and open to the public. Grab a tent, saddle up your horses or pack your life jackets – we’d love to see you! If you’d like to join a guided trip, check out current offerings in the Visit section of the website. There’s something for everyone, from birders, paddlers and history buffs to those looking for a volunteer vacation.