Landmark is ASC’s groundbreaking project to provide “boots on the ground” support for the American Prairie Reserve management team. Wildlife survey crews consist of skilled outdoors men and women who live and work on Montana’s northern Great Plains, collecting data that informs APR’s conservation management decisions.

PictureMarin students walk across the Reserve. (Photo by Liz Gottlieb)

 By Andy Traylor

Teachable moments present themselves in various forms, usually unexpectedly.

These are real-life situations that illustrate a subject, concept or process. In my experience, this style of situational instruction captures students in a way that even the most charismatic classroom environment could not.

Different locations and landscapes offer degrees of teachable moments – some with dramatic examples, and others more nuanced. On a recent trip to American Prairie Reserve with high school science students from Marin Academy, I found perfectly timed lessons around nearly every bend and hillock.   

As some of the locals say, “the prairie delivers.”


ASC guide Andy Traylor in a “teachable moment” on American Prairie Reserve. (photo by Liz Gottlieb)

Picture(photo by Liz Gottleib)

One afternoon, we found a Loggerhead Shrike cache along a fence line, with crickets, frogs and spiders impaled on the barbwire. This sparked a discussion about the unique hunting and feeding strategies employed by this songbird, a native of the Great Plains with habits similar to a raptor. 

On another, our group stumbled upon an overlook above a beautiful serpentine stream, which led to talks about stream hydrology, oxbow lake formation and habitat niches required by aquatic organisms. 

While learning to navigate across the prairie using maps and GPS units, the students discovered that game trails are often the easiest paths to follow, and in doing so found bits of bison hair tangled in the greasewood. Through discussion, the group realized these paths offer glimpses into the movement of different animals to water, food sources and shelter. 

Once they’re familiar with a concept, I often encourage students to look for similar instances. The benefits of this are twofold: first, reinforcing a topic with repetitive practice and exemplification, and second, encouraging active observation, which allows students to discover more than just the subject at hand.

PicturePrairie sunset (photo by Andy Traylor)

While it was my responsibility to teach the students about APR’s sagebrush steppe and shortgrass prairie, I found myself learning alongside them. I observed the ventriloquial abilities of western meadowlarks in the field behind our camp, and gained insight into bird language clues during nesting season when rattlesnakes are present. 

I found this habitat rich with wisdom, offering a lifetime of learning to anyone open to it. My deepest conviction for protecting this landscape is so future generations will be able to discover these lessons on their own. 

Perhaps instead of teachable moments they would best be described as “learning moments,” as they give everyone the opportunity to discover and gain knowledge about our world.


Originally from the Willamette Valley, Oregon, ASC naturalist guide Andy Traylor is a fisheries biologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Andy has a degree in Environmental Science from Oregon State University and guided with OSU’s Adventure Leadership Institute. As a rock climber, his travels have taken him around the United States and to Canada and Mexico. 

Find more about the Landmark project, and apply for a crew position on the Landmark page. Learn more about ASC projects on our blog, and by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.