A Smoky Arrival at Northern Cheyenne Reservation
I’ve been visiting the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana since October 2009 as part of the zoo’s partnership with the community to conserve endangered black-footed ferrets. The region’s beauty never ceases to amaze me.
The vastness and the diversity of the landscape—long rolling hills of prairie followed by wooded high terrain—always makes me want to bring my horse and ride the trails. The tribal members are always welcoming, and we have many friends and colleagues that we run into wherever we go.
Unfortunately the Northern Cheyenne Reservation is experiencing a wildfire caused by lightning strike that has burned more than 240,000 acres. Driving up, we planned on staying in Colstrip, which is just north of Lame Deer, but we weren't sure if we could even get there because Highway 212 was closed.
Stopping on the way at the Little Bighorn Battle National Monument, we could see a smoky haze in the direction of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Taking our chances, we drove there on 212, seeing huge burned-out areas that were still smoking. When we reached Lame Deer, the road to Ashland was closed, but we could go north to Colstrip.
The only funny thing about the fire was the next morning when I woke up to the smell of bacon cooking. My travel companion, Student Programs Coordinator Kyle Suller, thought the smoky smell was coming from wildfires. Sure enough, when we went down to breakfast, we found no bacon and saw that it was really smoky outside. Apparently, a new fire started just west of us. Luckily, a lot of the firefighters were staying in our hotel.
Later, driving through the reservation with Kyle, I pointed out milestones from six past visits made with Rachel Bergren, the zoo’s vice president for education. Here’s where we spotlighted for ferrets. It’s this way to the Heritage Living Center. There used to be a massive prairie dog town here, but first plague hit and killed most of them, and today it’s wildfires that are burning up prairie.
I point out the schools where we have camera traps set up for the students to monitor and learn about the wildlife in their backyards. It’s amazing how much has changed but still remained the same.