Innovation & Optimism: Fall 2013 Newsletter

Our Shared Values
President’s Message from Sean Gerrity

Like you, American Prairie Reserve believes that a set of core values is important. In fact, we have six organizational values that our Board and staff aspire to embody every day. You can read about them in the About section of our website. One of these, Innovation and Optimism, has been front and center the last few months.

Introducing two new programs... »

This summer we launched Wild Sky Beef, an independent beef label offering a premium to neighboring ranchers who raise their cattle to a set of wildlife-friendly practices. The first and only “Wildlife Friendly” beef in county, the programs seeks to create partnerships benefiting local ranchers while advancing APR’s goals. We hope to demonstrate that conservation can contribute to their economic bottom line.

This fall we launched a new land management tool, the Freese Scale. This was developed by biologist Dr. Curtis Freese and several of his colleagues. The scale offers a common language for our Reserve team as they work with a growing number of collaborators interested in helping us restore APR lands from a commodity focus towards one suitable for native biodiversity.

As the project evolves, we’ll continue to find new and interesting ways to advance our mission. I invite you to frequently check our progress, visit the project, and share your ideas with us.


Lewis and Clark Inspire Explorer’s Club Expedition

A group of eleven members of the Explorer’s Club traveled down the Missouri River through the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument for four days and three nights, followed by a three day visit to Grouse Camp to learn first hand about the Reserve. Alan Nichols, President of the Explorer’s Club, was on the trip as was Robert Maroni, the club treasurer.

The trip was an official Flag Expedition, a great honor. Of the club’s 202 flags, only 63 remain in existence circulating around the globe. Retired flags have traveled to the moon and  with ocean explorer James Cameron into the Mariana Trench. A special committee approves requests for trips to be sanctioned as “Flag Expeditions” based on their scientific exploration merit. The focus of this trip was to catalog as many of the plants from the Lewis and Clark journals as possible. Learn more about the Club and Flag  Expeditions on their website,

Black-footed Ferrets: By The Numbers

In October, the nearby Fort Belknap Reservation became home to black-footed ferrets as part of an effort to restore the endangered species. Many thanks to the biologists, officials, tribes and partners, including World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, for their continued efforts to reestablish this crucial prairie creature across the region.

1,000 –  Acres of the prairie dog town where ferrets were released.
32 – Black-footed ferrets reintroduced on the Fort Belknap Reservation.
90 – Percent of black-footed ferret diet comprised of prairie dogs.
96 –  Percent of prairie dog habitat that’s been lost since European settlement.
500 –  Black-footed ferrets estimated to now live in the wild.

America’s First Wildlife-Friendly Beef Program

When you ask Managing Director Pete Geddes about the decision to start a wildlife-friendly beef program, it boils down to two things. “People love great tasting beef,” he starts. “And with that, we can build a constituency for conservation.”

Wild Sky Beef officially launched this fall as a separate business owned by American Prairie Reserve. The program, directed by Montana rancher Derek Kampfe, operates on both ends of the food supply chain. First, using established sources for natural grass fed Angus beef, Wild Sky sells high quality meat to grocery stores and chefs across the country.

Back in Montana, Wild Sky uses the profits to fund efforts to build the Reserve and to provide an economic incentive for nearby ranchers to implement wildlife-friendly practices.

How does the program work? »
Ranchers can choose from a menu of practices, such as protecting prairie dogs, and premiums increase as more of the menu items are put into effect.

Eventually, Wild Sky will be able to purchase and sell beef from the Reserve region as interested ranchers transition their herds to Wild Sky Beef qualities, like being hormone and antibiotic free.

In the eyes of American Prairie Reserve President Sean Gerrity, Wild Sky means more than just revenue. “When people think about what we’re doing out here they often think of bison, not beef. But the Reserve shares many of the same conservation interests as our neighbors, and something unifying like wildlife-friendly beef makes sense for all of us.”

Engaging Children, Acres at a Time

Donor John Seel connects family members to the prairie ecosystem by ‘adopting’ acres of American Prairie Reserve in their name.

A resident of China, John Seel has worked in Asia for almost 20 years and witnessed the region’s rapid economic growth – as well as the negative impact it has had on the environment. As a result, he has been eager to teach his two children about the importance of protecting the planet.

After reading about APR two years ago, he was impressed by the project’s ambition to restore a significant portion of the American prairie and wanted to interest his children in the project. Since then, he has made annual contributions to APR at the Prairie Explorer level in the name of his children and their three cousins.

These contributions mean that each of the five children has ‘adopted’ an acre of the Reserve through the Adopt -a-Prairie-Acre Program and received certificates of adoption to celebrate their involvement. All of the children have been intrigued by the project and happy to be involved in it. John looks forward to continuing to support the Reserve and plans to visit someday.


A Moment in Time

Gib Myers, Vice Chair of American Prairie Reserve’s Board of Directors, visited the Reserve this fall and captured a truly “Big Sky” photo from the air. Along the river bottom and up and over the cliffs of the Missouri Breaks, this image showcases an inspiring and nearly seamless landscape.


Measuring Success: A New Approach to Science

On a cool September morning, Reserve Supervisors Damien Austin and James Barnett start their day like they have done a hundred times before – venturing out across the prairie, alternating between looking down and up as folks often do in rattlesnake (and prairie dog burrow) country.

Today, however, they are joined by a gathering of enthusiastic scientists with specialties ranging from wildlife and bison to fire and streams. Each member of the group quietly saunters through the sagebrush with a unique eye for the ecosystem below, above, and in front of them.

As the group comes together at the edge of a coulee, a clipboard appears and, one-by-one, the participants share what they have observed. Today is an exercise in speaking a common language – science.

Helping organize science and restoration priorities... »

Since the Reserve’s inception more than a decade ago, the research and restoration that have occurred on the land has been well executed. Some projects, like the ongoing bison reintroduction, have measurable outcomes related to population size and genetics goals.

Other areas like prairie dog town expansion and restoring streams and habitat are subject to factors like consistent funding, time commitments, and finding interested researchers. At 274,000 acres and growing, the Reserve can be an intimidating laboratory for data collection.

To help organize APR’s science and restoration priorities and build a new framework for working with collaborators, conservation biologist Dr. Curt Freese worked with colleagues Dr. Sam Fuhlendorf of Oklahoma State University and Dr. Kyran Kunkel of University of Montana to develop a new scale for grassland restoration. The idea is straightforward – land managers like APR who are focused on maximizing native biodiversity will rate their property based on ten ecological concepts (see below). Combined, the concepts comprise a fully functioning prairie ecosystem.

Each year, our Reserve staff, in conjunction with a variety of partners and experts, will rate the Reserve’s proper-ties using the Freese Scale. Traveling by foot, horseback and vehicles, this hardy group of specialists will agree on a score for each of our management units. These ratings will be recorded and retained for annual comparisons. Armed with this information, our managers can then decide what approaches in management could lead us to an improved score for each of the units and communicate these needs to  our partners.

On this fall morning, the group is giving the scale its first field test. Lively discussion, clarification, and negotiation echo across this part of the Sun Prairie unit as marks are made on the clipboard. One thing is evident as the hikers continue across the prairie: the Freese Scale presents endless opportunities to improve and preserve the biodiversity of American Prairie Reserve.

This new common language will not only align us with like-minded organizations and agencies, but it will also enable us to better demonstrate our successes to donors like you. In time, we hope that the scale will be applied to grasslands around the world.


What does history have to do with it? Your Questions Answered

Q:  The Reserve wants to restore wildlife populations to numbers that haven’t been seen in a hundred years or more. How do you know what was there?

Read the answer... »
A: This is the question that my predecessor, Michelle Berry, grappled with for ten weeks last summer, and I have been working on for the past seven as part of an internship through Stanford University and the Bill Lane Center for the American West. It is a tricky one, because there were no concrete records kept to monitor wildlife from 10,000 years ago to 200 years ago—the point at which populations suddenly dropped off due mostly to European settlement.

There is no exact way to determine exactly what populations were like, but from reading the accounts of Lewis and Clark, fur trappers, and talking to historians, environmentalists, ranchers, and interested parties today, we can at least produce a reliable estimate. By compiling a wide range of stories, we’ve gotten an idea for the base range of important species on the Reserve like elk, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and grizzlies. The stories were more than the facts they presented us with—they were rich tales of the abundance of wildlife that was once on the reserve, and how far we’ve come since then. – Katie Kramon, 2013 Stanford Intern

Editor’s Note: We look forward to sharing this research with you in an upcoming report.

The End of (Good) Darkness?
What We’re Reading

Released this summer, Paul Bogard’s The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light is an exploration of the environmental, emotional and cultural impacts of the night sky. From the light pollution of Las Vegas and the life of night-shift workers to the dark night of the desert, Bogard travels around the world to uncover what it is about darkness that is both intriguing and necessary in the world today. You’ll find yourself craving the solitude of the Milky Way and questioning what we can do to conserve this rare natural resource above us.


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