The Power of People & Nature: Winter 2014 Newsletter


Looking Back, Forward & Up
President’s Message from Sean Gerrity

It seems that each year the pace of work increases, and we’re now seeing year-round activity on American Prairie Reserve. In the first few months of 2014, we’ve been building momentum by growing the APR team, working with our international bison partners, and launching a new collaboration here in Montana that will bring outdoor enthusiasts from around the world to explore the prairie ecosystem.

A new partnership... »

Trained by Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), volunteers are already hiking through the snow-covered prairie to conduct wildlife surveys. Around eighty bison calves from Canada’s Elk Island National Park will soon take their first steps on their new home, and nearly 100 calves born on the Reserve this year will join them. By summer, visitors will discover new interpretive experiences like geocaching, and we’ll be removing several more miles of fence.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in the last few years. While we still have much work to do, promising glimpses of the Reserve’s future are everywhere. Animals traverse a landscape with fewer obstacles, and we continue to assemble habitat and expand opportunities for public enjoyment. I know 2014 will yield exciting new opportunities, and they wouldn’t be possible without you.


Find Your Path to the Prairie
Planning a Trip to the Reserve in 2014

This year American Prairie Reserve offers more visitor experiences than ever before. Throughout the snowy days of winter, we’ve been working on new interpretive signs, facility upgrades, and the first season of geocaching, a GPS-based scavenger hunt.

Join the 2015 Volunteer Safari... »
Visitors often tell us they appreciate the remoteness and quiet of a trip to the prairie, and there’s no better spot to enjoy it all than Buffalo Camp. For $10/night, you’ll find four low-impact tent pads, seven camper sites, fire pits, picnic tables, and vault toilets. We’re also installing an information kiosk and nearby trailhead this spring. Be sure to say hello to Reserve Assistants Lars and Ellen Anderson as they improve the camper experience. If you’re interested in serving as a Camp Host this season, we’d love to hear from you!

From August 1-5, participants in the annual Volunteer Safari will work with staff on land management projects while enjoying  a stay at Grouse Camp (pictured above). Don’t miss a behind-the-scenes look and hands-on experience that connects visitors to the prairie ecosystem, new friends, and the Reserve’s conservation vision. To plan your trip and request a map, check out the Visit section of the website. 

Landmark: By The Numbers

In February we launched a citizen science program called Landmark. Thanks to a new partnership with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, Landmark uses the power of outdoor enthusiasts to collect data. Read more below.

0 –  Cost for researchers, land managers, schools, & the public to access data collected through the Landmark program.

6 – States represented by the first crew of six volunteers, including NJ, MD, WI, PA, CA, and IL.

8 – Average miles traveled each day by a volunteer on foot, snowshoe, skis, or on a mountain bike.

12 –  Months of the year that Landmark crews are actively collecting data.

40 –  Remote camera traps throughout the study area monitored by Landmark crews.

20,000 –  Estimated miles traveled by volunteers over three years, nearly one circumnavigation of the earth.

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Update: APR & the Economy

American Prairie Reserve is in the business of landscape scale conservation, but one of our goals is to ensure that the land remains productive in ways that clearly contribute measurable and sustainable benefits to the local economy. Since 2002, we have added $24.2 million to the region, including land purchases, Reserve management, employee wages, taxes and fees, and visitation.

Does the Reserve pay taxes? »

In 2013, APR directly contributed a total of $2.4 million to the local economy, and the last two years provided $1.3 million worth of contracting work for visitor facilities, fence work, and housing.

As we add property to the Reserve, our property taxes also increase. In 2013, more than $48,000 in taxes were paid to Phillips, Blaine, and Valley Counties, and we’re now in the top 20 taxpayers in Phillips County.

We will continue to grow this upward trend and increase efforts to support neighbors through purchasing local goods and services whenever possible.  You can help by stopping for gas, food, lodging, and supplies in the communities surrounding the Reserve. Join us in making the case for conservation by increasing the economic impact of the prairie.


Stop the Car!

A visitor story from Victoria Weston

Retirement makes you think about what’s important, and for me, supporting American Prairie Reserve hits the top of my list.  As a young girl, I listened to the Lone Ranger on the radio and became fascinated by the American West. After purchasing a home in Bozeman, I wanted to share my Montana experience with my sister Liz and invited her out for a visit in 2007.

The notion of an organization rekindling the spirit of the “great American Prairie” was so enthralling that I couldn’t resist a visit. As we navigated the rough washboard roads leading into American Prairie Reserve, Liz suddenly yelled, “Stop the car! There are baby foxes along the road.” We parked and turned off the engine, watching the kits peek out at us from a grassy ditch.  We were so taken by them we stayed for 30 minutes until they were brave enough to hop out of the ditch and run home.

A life altering experience... »
 As we continued down the road, the incredible scale of the Reserve became apparent.  Stopping at the Prairie Union Schoolhouse, we wandered in and imagined what the students’ lives might have been like. As the day went on, we drove through prairie dog towns, stopped at small streams, and were captured by how the topography had been shaped by ice-age glaciers.  By late afternoon, we decided to hit pavement and head for home, navigating by the sun (like pioneers!) to find our way west.

Our time on APR was more than a road-trip. It was a life altering experience that left me with total appreciation for the project. The Reserve has grown a great deal since 2007 – new land acquisitions have broadened its horizons and directional signs point the way down winding roads. I’m honored to be a part of this project and look forward to contributing and volunteering with American Prairie Reserve in the years ahead. 

Plains Spadefoot Toad

A Moment in Time

You won’t spot the Plains spadefoot toad out on American Prairie Reserve this time of year. This well-adapted amphibian uses the bony, shovel-like ends of its hind feet to dig a winter hideout before the snow flies. There are many grassland creatures that survive winter without migrating to sunny regions, and we featured five of them in a recent blog post featured on the National Geographic homepage. Find out which species outsmart winter, and see all of our recent blog posts.


LANDMARK: Adventure Science Comes to American Prairie Reserve

When you ask Gregg Treinish why he’s excited about Landmark, the answer comes easily. “It’s real information. It’s science that’s not sitting on a shelf waiting to be published years from now.” Sitting alongside APR President Sean Gerrity in our conference room, Gregg looks at wildlife photos on the office walls. “It will advance both of our missions by including the outdoor community in discovery and decisions.”

Sean nods in agreement. As members of National Geographic’s Explorers Program, both Sean and Gregg are in the habit of thinking big and navigating uncharted terrain.

In 2011, Gregg founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), which pairs outdoor enthusiasts with conservation projects needing data from remote environments. Two years and 2,500 athletes later, Gregg and Sean met at a National Geographic event. The combination of ASC’s expertise with American Prairie Reserve’s need for long-term wildlife data led to Landmark, a multi-year adventure scientist initiative that will harness the power of volunteers.


Through Landmark, each crew of six volunteers traverse transects in the 31,000-acre Sun Prairie region for a month or more, year-round. Crewmembers check camera traps and track wildlife populations like elk, pronghorn, deer, and big cats. They are also on the lookout for sage grouse and snakes.

The cameras installed on perimeter fences will teach us how animals interact with and navigate the prairie. Over time, wildlife observations, population estimates and accompanying GPS points will provide us with data and information crucial to the Reserve’s management decisions.

Every day, what we do… it’s new... »

Rob Pudner is a bearded ice climber from New Jersey, now living in Montana. He’s finishing up his time on the Reserve after a month volunteering with Landmark. In his role as an adventure scientist on the Northern Plains, he was surprised to find a place with such intricacy, sprawling with nature instead of houses.

“You need to spend some time here. If you look at it from the car, if you look at pictures of it in a book or on the Internet, you won’t understand it. You have to be out there in the field, you have to see the varied topography of the land; you have to see how the scale is just so grand and how it’s also so fine. Every day, what we do… it’s new. There’s always something to learn out here.”

Colleen, Amanda, Tony, Tomás, Cayley and Rob are the first of many crews that will be surprised, puzzled, excited, and challenged by the landscape of American Prairie Reserve. The Landmark project will help us see the prairie through a different lens, and the data will be open access for everyone that wants to explore this ecosystem on-screen and in-person.

Data, photos, crew profiles, and updates will soon be available on American Prairie Reserve’s Landmark webpage. Know anyone interested in joining a crew? Apply at



Bison Across the Border: Your Questions Answered

We asked our Facebook community for questions about moving bison from Canada’s Elk Island National Park for the third time this spring. Reserve Supervisor Damien Austin responds: 

Q:  How many will be relocated? – Doug   |   Do you pay customs fees? – Ron

See the Answer »
We transferred 73 bison after disease testing, vaccinations, and quarantine up at Elk Island in Alberta. The male to female ratio is nearly even. The total cost of relocating the bison, including the cost of the animals themselves as well as transportation, permits, and veterinarians, is about $100,000. Custom fees account for $1,000 of the expense. 

By how much does the herd grow every year naturally? – Pat

See the Answer »
Bison normally breed at 2 years old, and 85% of female APR bison aged 2+ have a calf each year. In 2014, we expect about 100 calves to be born to our 130 females (some are too young). Ten calves were born last year to one-year-old bison from Elk Island, and we theorize that an increase of fat and nutrients in their diet led to early estrus. (see below)

How do forage choices of new bison compare to veteran APR bison? – Shayan

See the Answer »
In this case, forage choices are determined by geography and climate; different plants are available on APR versus Elk Island. Sedges, which are low in protein and high in salt, make up the majority of a bison’s diet at the park. Upon arrival on the Reserve, the diet of Elk Island animals shifts to grass and forbs, which are high in protein, nutrients and carbs. We have not observed a difference in choices between veteran bison and new Elk Island animals grazing on the Reserve together.

Visions and Voices: Montana’s One-Room Schoolhouses
What We’re Reading

imagesCharlotte Caldwell’s remarkable anthology of Montana’s one room schoolhouses is much more about the people who learned and worked in them than about the buildings themselves. Not only were the schoolhouses a place of learning, they were also social centers of many communities. Each page reveals a first-hand account from one of the school’s students or teachers and reminds us of a culture that endured great hardships with optimism and ingenuity. APR’s own Prairie Union School is featured with a telling of how it came to rest at its current location.  If you enjoy heartwarming and fascinating tales of people from across Montana, this is the book for you.


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