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 Adventure Scientists, 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 volunteers traverses 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 important species like sage grouse.
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.
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, Tomas, 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.