Grasslands on a Grand Scale in Montana – APF and WWF

On a cold, windy November day last year, Bill Eichbaum stared in awe as 16 American bison (Bison bison) that had been confined in a 100-acre outdoor pen for six weeks noticed an open gate in their paddocks. They ambled slowly out, led by a dominant bull, and entered the seemingly endless prairie of northeastern Montana. Suddenly, like wind whipping through tall grasses, they bolted across the prairie for a few minutes, then settled down to graze as if nothing had happened. Eichbaum and other spectators watched and cheered, some teary eyed.

The bison were released into the wild in a part of the northern Great Plains that had not seen the shaggy animals running free in more than a century. "Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic at heart, but it really moved me," says Eichbaum, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) vice president for endangered species. "It was really inspiring. We were all a bit giddy."

by Jeffrey P. Cohn

American Prarie Foundation:

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Black-footed Bandits, Stealing Home

by Howard Youth

All may seem tranquil above the surface of a prairie dog town, but danger lurks below. Deftly infiltrating a labyrinth of burrows with ninja-like stealth and speed, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) seizes sleeping prairie dogs by night, and rests in their burrows by day. While this mink-sized, tubular-bodied carnivore seems to have found itself a good niche, its specialized diet and behavior binds it to the misfortune of its once-abundant prey.

Ranchers have long considered prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) competitors for the grasses eaten by their cattle and sheep, and complain that prairie dogs’ burrow entrances pose a hazard to loping livestock. After more than a century of being shot, poisoned, trapped, and bulldozed, prairie dogs are now found on just two percent of the approximately 100 million acres they once inhabited.

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