Summer 2013 Newsletter

Crossing Centuries on Foot
President’s Message from Sean Gerrity

I am fortunate that almost every month I am able to steal away on my own to explore areas of the APR on foot. In just a few hours exploring a small portion of the Sun Prairie region, I managed to walk through several million years of geologic and human history. On a small, bare ridge of bentonite, I saw eight-inch fossil of a baculite, a sea animal from the late Cretaceous period. A little further out on the sagebrush prairie lay a lichen-covered, Volkswagen Beetle-sized glacial erratic; a boulder left behind by the Wisconsin glacier roughly eleven thousand years ago.

A half mile further... »
A half mile further, I came upon a smooth stone that had been carefully cleaved; its edge flaked into a knife or scraping tool. I tried to imagine the Native American hunter, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years ago, ultimately discarding it in favor of better material. A sudden motion beneath a nearby shrub soon caught my attention. Glancing under it, I discovered a nest of tiny vesper sparrow chicks, bringing me full circle from prehistoric life to the prairie’s newest inhabitants. This story will continue centuries into the future, and each time we visit the prairie, we become a part of it. I hope you will have the opportunity to find out what stories the prairie can tell you this summer.

Mars Ambassadors Return to Help APR

Eight employees of Mars, Inc. visited the Reserve this summer as participants in the Mars Ambassador Program, which APR has been fortunate to host for three years. Representing the US, Europe and India, the hardy and enthusiastic volunteers took on restoration projects that opened up views and created wider paths for wildlife movement, including hiking eight miles to remove fence in a remote location and clearing an old building site of debris. Thank you!

Name This Newsletter

This newsletter wouldn’t be possible without supporters like you – and we need your help to name it! Using the landscape and its creatures as your guides, we are looking for a name that embodies the American Prairie Reserve project. You could focus on living things like plants or animals or the adventure of exploring the outdoors. Consider sights, smells, and sounds. Please submit your ideas to

The Night Sky: By The Numbers

3,000 – Stars you can see with a naked eye on a clear, dark night.
150 – Years it would take to drive to the sun in your car.
88 – Official constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union.
20 – Millions of meteoroids that enter Earth’s atmosphere every day.
19 – Quadrillions of miles you can see on a dark night.
16 – Certified International Dark Sky Parks & Reserves. Learn more:

National Geographic Society Showcases the Prairie

We are excited to announce that National Geographic has partnered with us on two new projects, a visitor map and short video. The video will soon be featured on our website, and we hope you’ll share it with family and friends. To get your free copy of the map, complete with information on roads, local communities and wildlife, contact us by phone or e-mail with your request. We also hosted our third National Geographic Student Expedition group this summer.

Read what trip leader Erika Skogg reports about the trip. »
“The highlight of the Expedition is always our stay on the American Prairie Reserve. The students are thrown into a conservation state of mind right away, which is generally a new way of thinking for them. They also experience living in yurts, tents and waking up to bison grazing right outside their front door, and the bison herd always seems to stay near Grouse Camp offering a great opportunity for the photography and wildlife students. Every time we leave the prairie into Yellowstone the group of students really miss all the wide open space and late night bonfires together watching the stars gather overhead on the prairie.”

A Resounding “Yes”

Biologist Beth Madden Explains Why She Joined the Prairie Legacy Society

For me, the decision of which conservation group to include in my estate planning was an easy one. As a wildlife biologist who has specialized in prairie birds and their habitat, I am acutely aware that the only chance of saving these imperiled species is in stemming the tide of prairie loss. Native grasslands were tragically left out of our conservation movement and only a few tiny remnants are protected today.

I was admittedly skeptical when I first learned of the plans for the APR more than a decade ago could a non-profit organization actually achieve a project of this size and complexity? The answer has been a resounding yes and I am continually impressed with the success and quality of their efforts. The protection of our remaining prairies and prairie wildlife in North America is paramount, and the American Prairie Reserve is playing a vital role.

A Moment in Time

Photographers have been taking advantage of the Reserve’s remote and quiet location for many years, including Rob Mutch, who visited again this spring: “Of the several thousand photos I took in my two weeks at the APR, this photo is one of the most expressive of the shortgrass prairie ecosystem. It shows several of its major components including the growing bison herd, the sagebrush, the wide open topography of flats, gullies, and coulees and the clear summer skies. Using my jeep as a mobile blind I photographed the bison for several hours and the approaching spring storm systems overhead cast interesting cloud patterns on the landscape making for more dynamic photos.”


At Ease Under a Warm Summer Sun

A Visitor Story by Tom and Pat Azlin

American Prairie Reserve is one of my most favorite places on the planet, and I deeply thank all who have contributed to its growing success. My husband Tom and I first visited APR in 2009 when there were only 64 bison and, with only a modest sized grazing area, they were easy to find. As their area expanded, I donated a GPS location collar for the lead female so that the herd could be located easily on a computer. It worked well and I was able to complete several studies on herd movement in relation to local weather, all from my home in Virginia.

Tom and I returned to the APR in May 2013. We spent two days with World Wildlife Fund biologist Dennis Jorgensen and were stunned by the advances and expansion on the Reserve. In a one-day expedition, we identified 30 different species of birds and were awed by the vast and changing landscape of the APR prairie – and we saw only a small portion of the total acreage.

The biggest change we noted was… »

The biggest change we noted was the size of the bison herd and the territory that groups could cover in a short amount of time. We checked the collar location before heading out but, on arriving, the herd may have moved to the other side of the range and, due to the herd size, was clustered in smaller groups at some distance from each other. And the most distinguished bulls were elsewhere, eating the fresh, green grass that grew after last fall’s prescribed burn.

The days on the APR could not have been more memorable, with the abundance of natural flora and fauna living at ease under a warm, summer sun. You readers made this happen by demonstrating your enthusiasm for natural life through your contributions. I’m proud of you and very thankful. I’m sure the birds and bison are thankful, too.

UPDATE: Wildlife-Friendly Fencing

This summer we’re moving full steam ahead on wildlife-friendly fencing efforts under the direction of Reserve Supervisor Damien Austin. More than 10 miles of fence have been made wildlife-friendly, 7 miles are now in progress, and 6 additional miles will be completed by the end of the summer season. Liz Juers, APR’s GIS & Mapping Intern, has been in the field tracking fence removal and modification efforts, and we look forward to sharing the results with you. As we reported in the Spring issue, these changes will also enable the bison herd to expand their range to 31,000 acres. We’ll definitely need those GPS collars.

Volunteers – Let’s Safari!

Join us for the third annual Fall Volunteer Work Safari, September 12-16. Volunteers play a large role in infrastructure removal and restoration, which improves habitat and visitor experiences on the Reserve. The Work Safari is a fun, challenging and rewarding five-day adventure that gives participants the chance to work with incredible people while surrounded by inspiring scenery. To learn more, contact

Where Do Birds Go? Your Questions Answered

Q: There are lots of birds on the Reserve. Where do they go in winter? Do some birds stay on the prairie?

Read the answer... »
A: Bird migration corridors, or flyways, link APR to habitats across the Western hemisphere: Swainson’s Hawks travel 8,000 miles from the Glaciated Plains to Argentina, Long-billed Curlews leave Big Sky Country for the Gulf Coast and California, and Sandhill Cranes move through the region on their long trek between Alaska and Northern Canada to Mexico and Texas. Alternatively, Sage Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse live on the prairie year-round thanks to a windswept winter landscape and shrub-filled diets. The Rough-legged Hawk is unique in that it shows up only for snowy months, easily hunting its prey against a white backdrop.


Beyond The Typical Bird Book – What We’re Reading

The bookshelves on the Reserve are packed tight with reference books, from plants to geology. We’ve recently become enthralled with The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Unlike standard field guides that teach us the “who” and “where” of birds on the prairie, this book delves into the fascinating world of “why” and “how” birds sing, migrate, court their mates, raise young, and live their lives. Be sure to pick up a copy if you love a good story as much as you enjoy the illustrations and identification tips of similar publications.


This entry was posted in Newsletter. Bookmark the permalink.