Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saving the Prairie

I am honored to be on the National Council of the American Prairie Foundation (APF), which is dedicated to preserving the American prairie in central Montana, between the town of Malta in the north and the Missouri River to the south. Its goal is creation of a prairie-based wildlife preserve that will benefit not only wildlife but also local economies and will enable visitors to experience the wild prairie in all its beauty and diversity. In early October, people associated with the Foundation were able to visit the latest property added to the protected prairie, the first piece of APF land that fronts on the Missouri River.
We traveled there by jet boat, as that's the easiest way to get there, as this area is sparsely settled, with narrow, rutted dirt roads. As I stepped ashore onto this old homestead, with its deteriorating buildings and empty corrals, I felt a wonderful sense of possibility for the future of this place. Volunteers would clean it up, wildlife would wander down to the water to drink, people would come to enjoy the riverfront.
The native shortgrass prairie is an impressive and actually quite varied landscape with hills, creeks, prairie dog towns, and miles and miles of wildflower-strewn grassland. Abundant wildlife such as pronghorn, elk, and coyotes live there, and APF has acquired a herd of pure American bison, with no cattle genes mixed in, as there are in many bison herds.
After visiting the new property, we enjoyed a picnic in the nearby Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, where impressive bull elk were courting the elk cows as they grazed among old cottonwood trees along the river. We are hopeful that all these lands--the wildlife refuges, parks, ranches with conservation easements, and other protected properties will become linked together to create an "American Serengeti," a wildlife preserve that protects not only the wildlife but also honors the human history of the area with restored buildings such as a one-room schoolhouse, a homestead cabin, and ranch buildings.

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