June/July Newsletter: Happy Trails and Stargazing with Kids

June/July 2012

A Message from the President

Sean Gerrity

In June, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel with Dr. Edward O. Wilson, a member of our Scientific Advisory Council, at the Aspen Environment Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Enthusiasm for American Prairie Reserve’s vision was palpable at the conference, which was co-sponsored by National Geographic, and I was delighted to meet many people who were interested in visiting the Reserve or joining us as volunteers. As we continue to raise awareness of the project through venues like the Aspen Environment Forum, you can play an important role by sharing your enthusiasm for American Prairie Reserve with friends and family. We’re making a lot of exciting progress this summer and I hope you’ll consider passing our newsletters along to others who might be inspired by our vision.

Your Donations at Work: New Interpretive Signs on the Reserve

Thanks to your contributions, American Prairie Reserve continues to evolve into a more visitor-friendly destination with the addition of interpretive signs. In July, we installed our first sign near the prairie dog town on Box Elder Crossing, just a short drive from the restored Prairie Union School. The sign features illustrations, facts and photos about black-tailed prairie dogs and their subterranean life cycle as well as some of the town’s other species. Future signs will follow a similar format, peeling back the layers of prairie ecology to tell the stories of the landscape and its inhabitants. We hope that the signs enrich the experience of visitors of all ages and our appreciation goes out to supporters who have helped make this project possible.

Mars Ambassador Program Returns to Build Second Trail

Mars Incorporated’s Ambassador Program returned for a second outing on American Prairie Reserve in June, bringing a new group of international volunteers to the prairie. The Ambassador Program, which focuses on corporate responsibility through global volunteer initiatives, drew eight participants who were selected for the program through a global application process in which they described their reasons for wanting to work on American Prairie Reserve. This year’s volunteers came from countries including The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Brazil and Belgium, as well as the United States.

Where is the new trail? »
On their way to the Reserve, the group spent time touring local historical sites at Fort Benton and visiting the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument before beginning work on a new 1-mile trail adjacent to Buffalo Camp. The trail extends west from the campground, taking hikers near an active prairie dog town. Only half of the trail is currently complete and the remaining half mile will be built by future volunteer groups.

While gathered around the campfire at Yurt Camp, the American volunteers initiated their international colleagues into the tasty American tradition of toasted s’mores and the entire group enjoyed learning about the prairie and its wildlife throughout their stay. We’re excited to continue our partnership with the Mars Ambassador Program and look forward to welcoming hikers to the new trail this summer.

Science Update: Protecting Prairie Dogs from Sylvatic Plague

In June, 400 acres of prairie dog colonies on American Prairie Reserve were dusted for sylvatic plague, a disease lethal to both prairie dogs and the endangered black-footed ferret. Sylvatic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is transmitted by infected fleas to mammalian hosts. Using a dust insecticide to eliminate plague-transmitting fleas, World Wildlife Fund’s Kristy Bly and Jessica Alexander worked with a Montana Conservation Corps crew to treat 17,503 prairie dog burrows.

Prairie Dogs, A Keystone Species »
This effort is a critical step in protecting and enhancing prairie dog habitat on American Prairie Reserve, where sylvatic plague is the primary threat to prairie dog health. Prairie dogs are a keystone species and many other animals rely on them for prey and habitat, including black-footed ferrets and burrowing owls, making the protection of prairie dog colonies essential to the overall health of Reserve ecosystems.

Other ongoing field work WWF is conducting includes prairie dog colony mapping and burrowing owl surveys, collecting measurements of colony size and monitoring prairie dog activity. The results of these surveys will be reported in the next newsletter.

Wildlife Species: Woodhouse’s Toad

Known for its chilling, scream-like cry, the Woodhouse’s Toad measures about four inches in length and is colored in shades of grey, brown or olive with pale mottling. A distinctive white or yellow line runs down the toad’s back, and it has prominent cranial crests and a slightly pointed snout. The Woodhouse’s Toad breeds in ponds and slow moving streams, preferring shallow water with a muddy bottom. On American Prairie Reserve, the toads are usually found near Box Elder Creek, although recent anecdotal evidence indicates that populations are expanding their range into the area surrounding Yurt Camp.

Sights to See: Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge

Located just seven miles east of Malta in the Milk River Valley, the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936 to provide habitat for migratory birds. The Refuge is home to a variety of bird species, making it an enjoyable attraction for birders drawn to the Reserve and its surrounding landscape. The Refuge attracts migrating waterfowl and shorebirds by the thousands and provides breeding and nesting habitat for ducks, geese, grassland songbirds and nesting water birds. Many species of state and federal concern can be seen at the Refuge. The area is equally important to diverse wildlife, including white-tailed deer, pronghorn, sharp-tailed grouse and coyotes. Because many of the bird species in the Bowdoin Refuge can also be seen on the Reserve, a visit to both locations creates a well-rounded picture of the region’s avian abundance.

What We’re Reading Now…

A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky by Michael Driscoll & Meredith Hamilton

Hiking and wildlife viewing are only the start of the fun on American Prairie Reserve. At night the sky comes alive with sweeping views of the stars, making the Reserve an ideal destination for stargazers and amateur astronomers. Families planning a trip to the Reserve this summer should consider bringing along this accessible book, which introduces children to the sights of the night sky and provides colorful illustrations that deepen a child’s stargazing experience. Throughout the book, the authors provide stories drawn from science and history, while educational activities provide ideas and discussion starters for families to share around the campfire.

By the Numbers: Bighorn Sheep

95 Estimated percent of decline in North American bighorn sheep populations since the late 19th century.
30 Average weight in pounds of a pair of bighorn sheep horns.
20 Miles per hour a bighorn sheep can charge.
15 Typical base circumference in inches of one horn.

Correction: In the April/May newsletter, we ran an article on long-billed curlew migration studies in the Reserve area. Although preliminary assessments were made to determine the extent of long-billed curlew nesting sites on Reserve lands, the Reserve was not selected as a site for the study and APR is not an official partner in this project.


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