Press Release: The Fort Belknap Indian Community and American Prairie Reserve to receive Field Museum conservation award

This April, the Field Museum will honor the Fort Belknap Indian Community and American Prairie Reserve for their conservation efforts in the Northern Great Plains. These two organizations have played a key role in protecting one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world and restoring populations of grassland species like bison, black-footed ferret, and swift fox, once on the brink of extinction in the Northern Great Plains. In recognition of their work, the Field will present them with the Parker/Gentry Award, a prize for outstanding and underrecognized conservation efforts.

When it comes to conservation work, grasslands don’t always get as much attention as rainforests and coral reefs. To the naked eye, they can even appear barren and largely devoid of life. However, grassland habitats like the ones stretching across the Great Plains are critical to the health of our planet. The roots of prairie grasses anchor the soil and prevent flooding, and the region is home to critically endangered plants and animals that have played an important role in human societies for thousands of years. Western colonization, the conversion of habitat to agriculture, and poaching have decimated wildlife populations, making grassland conservation an urgent, if underappreciated, matter.

From their lands in northern Montana, the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Nakoda (Assiniboine) and Aaniiih (Gros Ventre) Nations are leaders in restoring prairie wildlife in the Northern Great Plains for the benefit of the human and non-human communities that rely on this vital landscape. They regard local wildlife as family and have successfully returned populations of native animals to the region that had been decimated in the past.

“[The Fort Belknap Tribes] are the unsung conservation heroes of the Great Plains who welcome all that want to support their vision and efforts to conserve the animals that reside on Fort Belknap Tribal lands and to preserve and protect the cultural values of the Gros-Ventre and Assiniboine People,” said Kristy Bly and Noelle Guernsey of World Wildlife Fund in their nomination. “Their leadership in prairie wildlife conservation serves as a model for many other Tribes in the region.”

In conjunction with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, American Prairie is creating the largest nature reserve in the contiguous United States, a refuge for wildlife to be preserved forever for future generations. The organization connects swaths of fragmented public lands through the strategic purchase of private lands. Once fragmented public and private lands are fully connected, American Prairie will provide a seamless prairie ecosystem of three million acres collaboratively managed for wildlife and recreation. Since 2004, they have connected 419,625 acres, a region nearly three times the size of Chicago; the final reserve will be bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island put together.

“American Prairie’s conservation vision resonates with the Field Museum because it’s our conservation vision as well,” says Nigel Pitman, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Field Museum. “Dream big, work in partnership, listen to the science, and focus on the results.”

The Parker/Gentry Award is named after late conservationists, Theodore A. Parker III and Alwyn Gentry, who were killed in a helicopter crash while doing conservation work in South America; the award is made possible by an anonymous donor. Past awardees represent work in more than a dozen countries and across diverse ecosystems, from the rainforests of South America, Africa, and India to valuable freshwater resources like the Great Lakes in North America, to coastal regions worldwide. Awardees have been recognized for protecting critical species and landscapes, providing training and education, and conducting significant scientific research to advance conservation on the ground. This year the ceremony will take place virtually on April 28 at 4:00 pm CT. To receive an invitation next month, email Ellen at ewoodward@fieldmuseum.org.