Writing and Photography by Dove Henry
ASC Landmark Crew Member
During the drive to the reserve from Bozeman, Montana, I divide my attention between the unfamiliar terrain outside my window and the atlas on my lap. Something about the western topography is harsh to my northeastern perception. My eyes are used to the Catskills, where old mountains have been worn into rolling hills and mixed deciduous forest covers most of the land, endowing the scenery with an indistinct softness. The Montana landscape is dominated by hard lines and sharp angles. The peaks are jagged, rising abruptly from plains so vast and invariable they are almost startling.
My only experience of the prairie before coming to American Prairie Reserve was from behind a window, on the way to someplace else. I watched it go by as a golden blur when driving across the country. I have seen it on numerous occasions through the tiny window of a plane, from which it appears similarly void of detail.
Big cats are magnificent, powerful creatures, with incredible stealth and hunting prowess. Their populations are in decline worldwide, caused by habitat loss and conflict with humans.
"More humans populate the planet than ever before, encroaching further and further into previously natural areas," according to the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. "When human and big cat populations collide, the big cats typically lose."
The more we know about these magnificent, powerful animals, the better served the conservation community will be to protect them. Here are a few of the big cats ASC has captured on camera traps and tracked, informing our research partners from Utah to Costa Rica.
Writing and Media by Dove Henry
ASC Landmark Crew Member
Click above to hear the elk
During the third week of September—the peak of the elk rut in Montana—the Landmark crew made a trip to the Slippery Ann elk viewing area in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge. Herds of elk cows grazed and wandered in the grassy clearing, guarded by large bulls. Beyond them, the towering cottonwood trees bordering that stretch of the Missouri River had just begun to yellow, their trunks like columns. I decided to return after sunset to capture an audio recording of the bulls bugling.
Story and Paintings by Emilie Lee
ASC Partner Artist
It’s 5 a.m., and I’m crammed in the back of a car with six strangers, rattling down a dirt road as we race to beat the sunrise. Sleep has overtaken me by the time we reach our destination, but I snap out of it when we step into the chilly air. The night sky is lifting, and a pale light illuminates the endless expanse of rolling grasslands that greet me.
It’s my first morning on the American Prairie Reserve, and I feel disoriented, but Elaine and Tim—the pair of Landmark wildlife researchers I’m following—consult their GPS and strike out with confidence, striding through the prickly sage brush and cactus. I hustle to keep up, as we have three miles to go, and we can’t be late for the big performance. As we hike, I notice patterns in the grass, a twisting rhythm that brings to mind flowing water. Further on, I see the abstract beauty of a singular cloud taking shape in the morning light and try to sear the vision in my memory.
I am an artist, not a scientist, and I’m observing my surroundings in terms of color, line and form. I’m aware that my scientist companions have a different perspective, so I wrack my brain for questions. What is this plant? What bird makes that call? Why is the land shaped like this? Why are there cactus growing here?
I’m hungry for information on my first prairie hike, and my hope is that this time spent shadowing the ASC Landmark crew will give me new insight into the land I will be painting.
Suddenly I become painfully aware of the unstoppable march of time as the sun, a molten red orb, rises with surprising speed from behind the perfectly flat horizon. We pause for a few seconds to witness this singular moment that marks the day’s birth and then hurry onward.
Tim checks the GPS with more frequency, warning that we should be there soon. The anticipation is thrilling. We move cautiously, listening and checking through our binoculars, until we hear the sounds of corks popping—the party is not far away. That sound, I’m told, is the mating call of the greater sage grouse.
Photos and Captions by Elaine Kennedy
The American Prairie Reserve is composed of vast expanses of native prairie, and teeming with beautiful and unique wildlife. Being part of the ASC Landmark crew was a great way to experience the Great Plains ecosystem while contributing to an ambitious research and conservation project. Through photography, I hope to share some of the interesting species we’ve seen on the prairie, and encourage the public to appreciate and value wildlife and the environment.
Story and Photos by Tim Brtis
Landmark Crew Member
There is more to walking through mud than just moving each leg in turn. During my time with Landmark, I’ve learned that technique can be the difference between voyaging through the mud at a swift 1.2 mph, and struggling in one spot for 15 minutes. Becoming stuck can drain valuable energy, and if freedom isn’t regained, you might run the risk of attracting a hungry, circling turkey vulture.
I hereby propose the compilation of an academically thorough guide to mud maneuvering. I will begin the effort by sharing the knowledge a coworker and I have compiled here. However, because I don’t possess every technique related to mud walking, I plan to consult experts from around the world for future volumes.
It’s best to avoid becoming stuck. Maintaining your liberty may require one or more of the following techniques.
The Pointed-Foot Technique
While trudging through an increasingly mucky area, I could feel the ground playfully tugging at my feet with each step. Eventually, the mud got greedy and did not let go. With my literal next step denied, I was pulled back to the gluttonous ground, which then took my second foot.
“Walk on the balls of your feet, and you don’t stick as much!” Elaine called over to me. I tried walking in place using this technique and was promptly liberated.
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