The Landmark program, a multi-year partnership with Adventure Scientists, will soon end its second year on the Reserve, and volunteers continue to pour in from across the globe to help us collect important wildlife information. This spring, crews monitored Greater Sage Grouse on 19 leks, counting nearly 500 sage grouse on the Reserve! This baseline data will allow us to better track populations and the results of our efforts over time, especially since sage grouse have experienced significant declines across the American West.
The volunteers also began walking wildlife monitoring transects on Sun Prairie North, our 22,000-acre property acquired last year, to gather baseline data. In addition to finding new prairie dog towns, crews encountered new populations of pronghorn, a species that struggled in recent years. To the south in the Sun Prairie region, we have now confirmed through Landmark’s remote camera trap efforts that elk (along with pronghorn and deer) cross our wildlife-friendly bison fence just as readily as they maneuver standard fencing in the region — while at the same time restraining the growing bison herd.
Perhaps most excitedly, we incorporated Landmark adventure scientists into the Reserve’s Wild Sky beef program this year, deploying them to set camera traps on one of the local ranches that receive incentives for wildlife-friendly practices. The camera traps help monitor the abundance of predators and ungulates, and in return, ranchers receive compensation for having the animals on their properties.
Success came fast. After only about a month of “trapping,” we obtained a photo of a mountain lion. Then a few weeks later, we “trapped” a black bear. As far as we know, this is the first documented evidence of bears in the project area. It is also the first program we know of in the country paying ranchers for images of predators. Such proactive and positive experiences with predators offer a significant departure from past approaches, and we hope it will lead to the restoration of large predators on American Prairie Reserve.