For all the beauty of the prairie landscape, wildlife bring the entire ecosystem to life. A rolling grassland and awe-inspiring sky are sights to behold, but when you add the call of songbirds, the grunts of grazing bison, or a herd of passing elk, the world seems whole.
Few people are able to witness the prairie and its inhabitants like photographer Dennis Lingohr does. Fortunately for us, Dennis has been dedicated to sharing images of these animals with the world for the better part of 40 years.
Born and raised in North Dakota, Dennis moved to Wenatchee, Washington and joined the Marine Corps in 1967, serving four years active duty and four years as a reserve. He was sent to Vietnam just days after his 20th birthday and bought his first 35mm camera in Da Nang.
When he returned stateside, he earned a bachelor’s degree in range management from Washington State University. Soon after graduation, his first permanent job landed him in Malta, Montana as a range management specialist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
After a 30-year career with the BLM, Dennis retired in 2007 and began working with American Prairie Reserve as a Reserve Technician – what he described as "an absolute dream job."
“I don’t think I ever finished a day’s work with American Prairie Reserve when I couldn’t turn around and see what the heck I’d done,” he remembers. “I was helping to make the country open like it used to be.”
He brought his camera with him wherever he went, traversing huge expanses of prairie in a workday as he learned more and more about the land and wildlife. His experience at the BLM and his time with American Prairie gave him a unique knowledge of the landscape, which he proudly still remembers.
“I could get around even in the dark to this day, navigating the back roads and two tracks,” he asserts. “And I could still get stuck if I tried hard enough.”
That knowledge — combined with his passion for wildlife, his stoic patience, and his unique photographic vision — helped to produce a prolific catalog of prairie wildlife photography. From bison, elk, and bighorn sheep to songbirds, waterfowl, grouse, insects, and reptiles, Dennis captures the diversity of prairie wildlife in photographs that give us an intimate view of this special world. Even if that means he ends up in a precarious position to get the shot.
“In all those years, I think there was only a couple times I was worried about being charged by a bison, which is a credit to them,” he remembers with reverence that seamlessly leads to his characteristic sense of humor. “I love to get down on the ground and see the world from an animal’s viewpoint. I’ve taken a lot of photos of reptiles, and I’m always asking myself when I’m laying on my stomach face-to-face with a rattlesnake, ‘Did I remember to take the wide angle lens off and put the zoom on?’”
Dennis’ love of the prairie is contagious, and he takes equal joy in sharing it with American Prairie visitors.
“I really enjoy seeing and hearing their enthusiasm for what they’re looking at,” he says of guests. “You can see and hear and smell the changes of the season when you’re on the ground, and you can see people feel that.”
When asked why this work is so important, why anyone should care about the species he has dedicated so much time to capturing in photos, he answers without hesitation.
“Because we’ve lost so much and altered this ecosystem so much. We need to live and let live. My wish is that through the work I do, someday my grandkids and their kids will be able to visit the prairie and see the animals old man Lingohr cared so much about.”