Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The jewel of the western prairie

My old friend wanderlust recently brought me to the Chinooks and shrubs of northeastern Montana, and the American Prairie Reserve. What it lacked in sippin' trout, it made up for in wondrous openness for this old fisherman.

Dawn on a prairie reservoir.
It's a largely undisturbed landscape of scrub, grasslands, and unadulterated prairie (save for a few generations-old ranches) rich with beautiful emptiness, nicknamed America's Serengeti. The reserve was created and is operated by its namesake forward-thinking conservation non-profit organization, and is working to preserve a large-scale prairie complex. The actual property is a patch-work of public (BLM and state) and private (APR) lands bordering the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge south of Malta, Mont., and is open to the public.

In a way, it's a wilderness all its own. Not in the government-designation sense - more of Merriam Webster's version. A wilderness you can drive through, with power lines and occasional ranch houses, and where you have every square inch and similar biodiversity to what you have when you're miles deep into Yellowstone.

I went all the way to the prairie and all I got was this grousy photo. 
We had our own spot in the world about 45 miles down the notorious "gumbo" roads from the nearest amenities, accompanied by the nighthawks, swallows, doves, partridge, grouse, burrowing owls and prairie dogs. And a few miles away, buffalo. One of the APR's primary goals is to bring bison back to the prairie, which they've been doing for years. It's one of the few places in the world you can see pure-strain bison (APR's are from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta) - that is, not at least part bovine.

The dog had the time of his life. He pounced through the marshy shoreline of the nearby reservoir until he limped, fulfilled his dream of riding in the back of a pickup, and lived a life of freedom he's proven he can't handle in a settled area. I feel like a monster for bringing him home.

That night as I watched the dirty water run down the shower drain, I got to believing in what APR is doing. That drab, desolate prairie is something to save.


Michael Heitman said...

Experienced much the same revelation in our experience in Tallgrass Prairie Preserve NP in the Flint Hills of KS. again, walking out into wide open pristine prairie, untouched by the plow, amidst pure-strain bison. For this ole mountain goat, it was an unexpected form of Religion.

Awesome. We need more, appreciate what those folks are working towards. Mike

Josh Bergan said...

Yep, it's a great organization. Now I have to visit Kansas, dammit.