National Geographic Emerging Explorer Gregg Treinish founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, a nonprofit organization connecting outdoor adventurers with scientists in need of data from the field. He also organizes his own expeditions, contributing to research on wildlife-human interaction, fragmented habitats, and threatened species. In that spirit, his blog posts appear both here on Explorers Journal and in Beyond the Edge, the National Geographic Adventure blog.
From Marco Polo to Lewis and Clark, wide open grasslands have long inspired adventurous spirits, and voyages of discovery. However, very few of these vast landscapes still exist unaltered. Only the steppes of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Patagonia and the Northern Great Plains of America have never been plowed and shelter remnants of their original biodiversity.
Beginning in January 2014 my organization Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) along with American Prairie Reserve (APR) are partnering on an adventure-science wildlife study on the prairies of northeastern Montana.
Since 2001 APR has been working to create the largest protected wildlife area in the Continental United States. National Geographic has called the Reserve “one of the most ambitious conservation projects in American history.” When complete the area will be larger than Yellowstone National Park and contain many of the species present when Lewis and Clark first crossed the plains, including the nation’s largest herd of free-roaming bison.
Currently the Reserve covers 270,000 acres and is used by more than 60 mammal species and 250 species of birds either as a home range or a migration corridor. Among the diversity of animals that call APR home are many of North America’s native and iconic species including bison, pronghorn, sage grouse, prairie dog, bald eagle and mountain lion.
The new project, titled Landmark, is a multi-year adventure-science initiative to collect a broad set of wildlife data. The information will help inform APR management decisions on the Reserve. Landmark is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in one of the most exciting American conservation projects since the founding of the National Parks. To help cover the rugged terrain of the Reserve we need motivated adventurers with excellent outdoor skills, interest or experience in field science, and the desire to spend time under the big sky in one of the most wild and remote parts of the U.S.
ASC Program Director, Mike Kautz, wrote of his recent trip to the Reserve:
“I walked steadily to stay warm. I wished again that I had grown a beard, or packed a facemask, the wind rasped like sandpaper on any exposed skin. When I stopped to take a GPS coordinate and photo of a coyote track or antelope fenceline crossing the silence was striking. Standing on the winter prairie illustrated how rare it is now to experience the complete absence of human-made sounds. I could not hear even distant jets, motors, traffic roar, dogs, lawn mowers or cell phone alerts. Even the mountains of southwestern Montana where I spend much of my time are noisy by comparison.”
“Cresting a hill I caught a flash of movement ahead. A pronghorn leapt from a grass bed and began an easy lope. Suddenly an entire patch of the prairie flinched and leapt to follow. A herd of eight pronghorn stretched behind the leader in a line. They moved with the wind, heading north in a straight arrow. They cruised easily at 30 or 40 mph putting a quick mile between themselves and my silhouette on the horizon. You could have balanced a wine glass on their backs as their legs churned beneath them. Once they were out of sight I followed their tracks back to their beds. The grassy hollows were still warm and the snow had not yet turned to ice. I recorded the sighting in an all-weather notebook and took a GPS location.”
“The prairie is a landscape that reminds you to pay attention, of the need to look closely. From afar the grasslands look uniform. From up close you see that they are as complex as a deep forest. From afar the coats of deer and pronghorn camouflage them perfectly. Only with close looking can you pick out the twitch of an ear or the dark outlines of the eyes.”
You can participate in one of the largest conservation efforts in American history! Join Landmark and use your skills and passion to protect one of the last remaining sanctuaries of its kind in the world. Crews will consist of six-person teams of adventurers and have the opportunity to spend a month exploring one of the most uncharted sections of the American Great Plains.
During this time they will traverse the Reserve on foot, skis, snowshoes and mountain bikes and participate in projects ranging from setting wildlife transects, maintaining camera traps, mapping prairie dog colonies and identifying sage grouse leks. A month of service on the Reserve is an opportunity to pursue adventure in an iconic American landscape with a group of like-minded people.
Not sure you can do it? All it takes is a passion to make a difference, backcountry travel skills and a commitment to adventure. ASC will help with the data collection skills by providing on-site training in non-invasive wildlife tracking, GPS use, camera trapping and scientific wildlife observations. Apply to join Landmark today and read more about the project on ASC’s blog.