The great plains play an important role in both the history and prehistory of North America on many levels–in terms of wildlife, ecosystems and human occupation–and the American bison were an integral part of all three. The American Prairie Reserve is an ambitious project to reintroduce herds of the species into 3.5 million acres of public and private land patched together to create a protected area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.
Sean Gerrity is passionate about the project, so much so that he is able to leverage his successful Silicon Valley business acumen into creative 21st-century solutions to the world’s conservation challenges with ideas that include the 73 bison calves awaiting their release into the wild the next day.
If all goes well, this bull calf will spend the rest of his life roaming grasslands that once teemed with millions of his forebears. He will encounter herds of elk, deer, and pronghorn. He will sniff the wind nervously for the scent of cougar and bear and wolf. Prairie dogs will dive for cover at the tremor of his hooves while hawks soar hungrily overhead in the endless sky. He will run for miles, for days, with no fence to hinder him.
If all goes well, this bull calf—or perhaps this calf’s children or his children’s children—will belong to a herd 10,000-bison strong, the largest conservation herd in all the world and the cornerstone inhabitants of the American Prairie Reserve, which has set its sights on becoming the largest wildlife reserve in the continental United States.
If all goes well, visitors to this vast public expanse will see what the great explorers Lewis and Clark saw when they passed through in 1805: “in every derection Buffalow, Elk, Antelopes & Mule deer innumerable and So jintle that we Could approach near them with great ease.”
If all goes well, Sean Gerrity, 55, a former Silicon Valley consultant with no background in conservation, will be the one most responsible for making it happen. “No one,” he says, “is thinking bigger than we are.”…
Three million of those acres is public land, owned and managed by federal, state, and tribal governments. The rest—the glue, as Gerrity calls it, that will connect the separate parts into one whole—comes from ranches purchased by the reserve. So far, the reserve owns 58,000 acres and leases 273,000. “The plan for the reserve is built 200 to 300 years out,” says Gerrity. “Time is on our side.”