This May, the Princeton Conservation Society traveled to Montana for a week filled with adventure, nature appreciation, and above all, living and learning besides some of the driving figures of the American Prairie Reserve, one of the largest conservation projects in the United States. Throughout it all, we filmed a documentary on the American Prairie Reserve's efforts to become this great hub for wildlife.
The trip started off with two days in Yellowstone National Park, where we hiked, explored the scenery, and appreciated frequent bison sightings. The Yellowstone bison herd is not only the oldest herd in the country, but also the only herd that has survived continuously since the country’s westward expansion, when bison were massacred across the continent. One of the most striking things about the herd is that the mountainous environment of Yellowstone is not in fact bison's natural habitat; rather, both bison and grizzly bears are plains animals that were pushed into Yellowstone as their last resort and chance for survival. The American Prairie Reserve, located to the north of Yellowstone National Park, is seeking to expand the land in which bison can freely graze and to restore the prairie to its natural state, from the flora all the way up to the largest predators, including wolves and grizzly bears.
Over our four days on the reserve, we fell in love with the serenity of the vast, open landscape, spending each day exploring and filming the area and meeting with resident educators, ecologists, and nonprofit administrators. We made great progress with them to help restore a streambed next to the Enrico Science and Education Center. Streams like this existed alongside cattle for the past two centuries, leaving a legacy of unfortunate side effects. The stream had become stagnant, with erosion all over its banks, leaving it eutrophied with algae. The stream restoration we learned about involved planning willow trees along its banks and removing the detritus that blocked its flow. We plan on giving a talk to Campus grounds at Princeton University about restoring the streambed alongside Alexander Street with the same technique that avoids eutrophication and moves detritus.
Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the Fort Belnap reservation, where we met with several members of the local native American community, gaining invaluable insight into the importance of conservation in recovering from the atrocities of the past.
Overall, this was an immense learning experience for all involved; for a group with many students interested in pursuing a future in conservation, ecological research, and nonprofit management this trip provided a hands-on opportunity to explore these fields, learning from those who are national leaders in this domain. We will bring back to Princeton the documentary we have made as well as the knowledge of how to maintain healthy ecosystems and make them climate resilient.