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Research and Reports

Discover more about programs and studies conducted on American Prairie and in the region.

 

THE FREESE SCALE FOR GRASSLAND BIODIVERSITY 

To help guide our actions over time, we have developed the Freese Scale for Grassland Biodiversity, which evaluates prairie lands based on ten ecological conditions that have been most affected by human activities on lands in the American Prairie region. The seven-point scale tracks the effects of different management decisions on ecosystem processes, such as grazing patterns, hydrology and fire. In addition to creating a common language between American Prairie and our science partners, the Freese Scale provides our managers with a tool to measure our progress as we transition lands from a primary focus on agricultural production to a focus on biodiversity.

 

BISON AND GRAZING

Bison Versus Cattle: Are They Ecologically Synonymous? - Authored by Michel T. Kohl , Paul R. Krausman , Kyran Kunkel , and David M. Williams.

Proceedings of the IVth International Wildlife Management Congress - Edited by James W. Cain III and Jason P. Marshal.

The Ecological Future of the North American Bison: Conceiving Long-Term, Large-Scale Conservation of Wildlife. - Authored by Eric W. Sanderson, Kent H. Redford, Bill Weber, Keith Aune, Dick Baldes, Joel Berger, Dave Carter, Charles Curtin, James Derr, Steve Dobrott, Eva Fearn, Craig Fleener, Steve Forrest, Craig Gerlach, C. Cormack Gates, John E. Gross, Peter Gogan, Shaun Grassel, Jodi A. Hilty, Marv Jensen, Kyran Kunkel,  Duane Lammers, Rurik List, Karen Minkowski, Tom Olson, Chris Pague, Paul B. Robertson, and Bob Stephenson.

Plant community responses to bison reintroduction on the Northern Great Plains, United States: a test of the keystone species concept - Authored by Nicholas A. McMillian, Kyran E. Kunkel, Donald L. Hagan, and David S. Jachowski.

  • Nic McMillan, a graduate researcher from Clemson University, was interviewed when finishing up his second summer of data collection on American Prairie. Based out of the Enrico Education & Science Center, Nic has been studying the impacts of bison grazing on prairie plant communities. He's also comparing his findings to data collected on nearby lands grazed by cattle and also in places where cows have been removed for many years. Learn more about his work and how it can apply to bison conservation across the country.

Assessing Large Herbivore Management Strategies in the Northern Great Plains Using Rangeland Health Metrics - Authored by Nic A. McMillan, Donald L. Hagan, Kyran E. Kunkel, David S. Jachowski

  • A study investigating the response of five vegetative components of rangeland health to three large grazer management strategies on individual sites within public and private rangelands in northeastern Montana: Bureau of Land Management allotments that continuously maintained rotational cattle (Bos taurus) grazing, US Fish and Wildlife Service designated wilderness areas where cattle were removed, and lands managed by the American Prairie where cattle were removed and bison (Bison bison) were reintroduced. 

Reintroduction of plains bison to the American Prairie Reserve in Montana, USA - Authored by Sze Wing Yu, Kyran Kunkel, Damien Austin, Scott Heidebrink & David S. Jachowski

  • The Montana Glaciated Plains has been identified as a global priority for conserving grassland biodiversity due to the relative intactness of native habitats and diversity of flora and fauna (APR, 2018). This region comprises of sagebrush steppe and mixed grass prairie with intermittent streams that flow into the Missouri River. Here, the nonprofit American Prairie is attempting to establish a 1,416,399 ha reserve for large-scale conservation. American Prairie has reintroduced bison since 2005 and to date have 866 bison and 169,818 ha. 

 

 

ANNUAL BISON REPORTS

We are pleased to provide you with the annual bison reports from American Prairie. The American Prairie bison population, reintroduced in 2005 after a one hundred and forty year absence from this area of the Glaciated Plains, is healthy and growing steadily. It is an exciting challenge to continue to provide an expanding habitat base for this increasing bison population. Due to the eventual herd size, lack of cattle genes and overall treatment as a conservation herd for the public’s enjoyment, this herd is emerging as one of the most important bison populations in North America.

American Prairie Bison Report (2016–2017)
American Prairie Bison Report (2015)
American Prairie Bison Report (2014)

 

CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION

Climate Change Report (2016)

  • Climate change will be a major driver of land management decisions in the Great Plains of North America. This is a function of: (1) how to manage land to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and (2) how to adapt to the effects that a changing climate will have on agriculture and biodiversity. The effects of a changing climate (warmer and drier) in the Great Plains is already emerging and is expected to intensify under most climate change scenarios. American Prairie will continue to rapidly increase the acres of grasslands restored and conserved through its various approaches to land management. With each acre added, American Prairie will restore and conserve more of the region’s biodiversity, increase the ecosystem’s capacity to adapt to climate change, and ensure that more carbon is permanently sequestered in the soils of the region’s vast grasslands.

 

WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY FENCING

Species and demographic responses to wildlife-friendly fencing on ungulate crossing success and behavior - Authored by Josiane Segar, Aidan Keane

 

BIOBLITZ RESULTS

American Prairie BioBlitz Report (2011)

  • On June 23-25, 2011, the American Prairie held their first BioBlitz. In just 24 hours a list of 550 species was created by approximately 70 scientists, college students, citizen scientists, and volunteers. The number of documented species was only limited by the number of taxonomic experts we could get to join this project in such a remote location. The species list will serve as a benchmark of the biodiversity in the early years on the prairie.

 

GRASSLAND BIRD SURVEYS

Bird Surveys Report (2009)

  • A study funded by World Wildlife Fund and conducted by Wild Things Unlimited surveyed the number of different species types, the number of individuals within each species and species distribution throughout the area’s grasslands, sagebrush communities, prairie dog towns and wetlands in 2005, 2009, and 2013. A total of 159 species were observed on American Prairie lands in 2013 (up from 132 in 2009), including 14 species not seen in previous years. Breeding bird surveys will resume in 2016 with Clemson University.  

 

STREAM & RIPARIAN RESTORATION

Riparian Restoration Summary

  • In Spring 2007, American Prairie, World Wildlife Fund, Oxbow Inc. and Hoitsma Ecological restored a half-mile segment of Box Elder Creek that has been farmed as an alfalfa field at least 70 years prior. Supported by a grant from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks’ Future Fisheries Fund, the restoration project involved digging a new channel that reconnects Box Elder’s 27-square mile watershed to Telegraph Creek. A Montana Conservation Corps group supported the project by installing 1,500 plants along the channel. The same year, three dams were removed on Telegraph Creek to help restore natural flows and connectivity. Read more about stream restoration. 

 

BIRDS & GRAZING

WCS Birds and Grazing Report (2009)

  • Starting in 2009, the Wildlife Conservation Society surveyed sites with different grazing practices to better understand the relationships between grazing, habitat structure, and habitat use by grassland birds. The study included American Prairie lands as well as sites on private ranches and lands owned by The Nature Conservancy and Nature Conservancy Canada.

Grassland bird diversity and abundance in the presence of native and non-native grazers (2021) - Authored by Andy J. Boyce, Hila Shamon, Kyran E. Kunkel, and William J. McShea

  • North American grassland bird species, many endemic to the prairie ecosystem, are in decline. Until now, the impact of increasing bison reintroductions as well as cattle and bison grazing on rangelands was largely unknown. New research shows both cattle and bison grazing are viable options for conserving grassland birds in the prairie landscape. Bison were grazed at low stocking rates year-round with no rotation among pastures, suggesting that bison grazing can maintain bird diversity and achieve the benefits of large herbivore grazing without the intensive management of pasture rotation as needed in cattle. Despite controversy, year-round bison grazing does not have negative impacts on grassland bird communities and provides additional benefits, above and beyond cattle grazing, for the ecosystem as a whole.

 

PRAIRIE FISH MONITORING

American Prairie Fish Surveys Report (2012)

  • Fish surveys were conducted in the Telegraph Creek basin in 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2012. Water levels varied widely during these times and dam removals also occurred in 2007. The latest report from Kayhan Ostovar of Rocky Mountain College examines how the removal of fish barriers and the new connectivity to Fort Peck Reservoir, which is stocked with nonnative fishes, may have impacted the distribution and species composition of the Telegraph Creek.

 

BEAVER POPULATIONS

Beavers of the American Prairie Restoration Area

  • In 2005, World Wildlife Fund’s Northern Great Plains Program examined historic occupation by beaver in the project areas, assessed the hydrological and biological impacts of beaver activity in prairie streams, and summarized beaver restoration techniques in similar environments. The report suggests that the presence of beaver in the region would provide significant benefits to riparian corridors, water levels, and related animals.

 

PRONGHORN MIGRATION

Read the 2018 academic study and see maps.

  • In 2012, graduate researcher Andrew Jakes led a study that was conducted by World Wildlife Fund, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, University of Calgary, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. The study focused on the ecological impact of human activities such as oil and gas development, roadway building, windmill development and other activities that lead to the fragmentation of pronghorn habitat on the Northern Great Plains. Read more. 

Fencing for Conservation, Chapter 15: The Influence of Land Use and Fences on Habitat Effectiveness, Movements and Distribution of Pronghorn in the Grasslands of North America. Authored by C. Cormack Gates, Paul Jones, Michael Suitor, Andrew Jakes, Mark S. Boyce, Kyran Kunkel, and Kevin Wilson. 

Multi-scale habitat assessment of pronghorn migration routes - Authored by Andrew F. Jakes, Nicholas J. DeCesare, Paul F. Jones, C. Cormack Gates, Scott J. Story, Sarah K. Olimb, Kyran E. Kunkel, Mark Hebblewhite

  • A study of the habitat selection of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) during seasonal migration; an important period in an animal’s annual cycle associated with broad-scale movements. We further decompose our understanding of migration habitat itself as the product of both broad- and fine-scale behavioral decisions and take a multi-scale approach to assess pronghorn spring and fall migration across the transboundary Northern Sagebrush Steppe region.

 

BIG CATS

Read the 2012 report about cougars in north central Montana

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Fort Belknap Reservation, the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit and the World Wildlife Fund, conducted a research project to better understand mountain lion ecology on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. More than a dozen mountain lions were fitted with GPS in the nearby Bears Paw Mountains, Little Rocky Mountains, and the refuge. Findings indicate that the region’s cougar population is not sustainable over the long term. Read more about cougars. 

 

SWIFT FOX

In 2010, World Wildlife Fund conducted a survey for foxes on and around American Prairie and found none. It was recommended that we reintroduce foxes to the area. Learn about our current efforts.

 

GRADUATE RESEARCH