In April, American Prairie announced Alison Fox had been named the organization’s new president, succeeding Sean Gerrity. Sean is staying on as CEO.
As the organization’s new President, Fox’s responsibilities include ensuring the organization’s fiscal health and American Prairie’s promising future by developing relationships with American Prairie’s growing network of supporters, as well as leading the organization’s development, marketing, operations and finance functions. Gerrity’s new role will focus on leading all aspects of American Prairie’s long-term vision for creating rich and robust wildlife populations on American Prairie and ensuring public benefit, both for the local communities that neighbor the prairie and the global visitors who enjoy the Reserve’s growing educational and recreational opportunities. Gerrity and Fox work with American Prairie’s National Board of Directors and on a four-person executive leadership team to direct the organization’s strategic goals.
Many of our supporters know Ali well already, but for those who don’t, here’s a chance to learn a bit about her and about what you can expect from her leadership.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I was born and raised in Vermont, in a town of about 1,200 people. As a kid, I spent my days outside — biking, swimming, skiing, and generally exploring the wilds around our house with my siblings. I climbed a lot of trees and caught a lot of frogs and newts, in other words. As a family, we would hike in the White Mountain National Forest every summer, but it was a family trip “out west” to Glacier and Yellowstone when I was 12 that first introduced me to our national parks and the incredible expanses of public land in this country. Later, as a junior in college, I spent a momentous summer working in St. Mary, Montana, on the eastern edge of Glacier. My first night there, I joined some coworkers on a pilgrimage to watch the sun set at the top of the Going to the Sun highway. The guy who sat next to me on that stone wall as the sun disappeared behind Heaven’s Peak is now my husband. I fell in love with Montana, and him, so as they say, the rest is history. Jeff and I live in Bozeman with our two sons: Oliver, age 5, and Graham, age 4. Jeff is the Montana Policy Manager for Renewable Northwest, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the expansion of environmentally-responsible renewable energy resources in the Northwest. Jeff was raised in Missoula and his childhood was similar to mine, so we are raising our boys with that same appreciation for nature and sense of responsibility to steward it.
Q: What drew you to American Prairie Reserve?
A: I went to business school in Washington, D.C. in my mid-twenties. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be back in Montana and to work for a mission-driven organization. American Prairie Reserve offered the perfect combination of what I was looking for: the opportunity to spend a lot of time outside on a landscape I came to love, the chance to travel around the country telling our story, and the ability to make a meaningful impact on a project that will leave a legacy for the generations that follow. There truly isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to be able to contribute to all of that.
Q: You’ve worked for American Prairie Reserve for ten years. How have you seen it grow and change over that decade?
A: Taking on this new role has provided me with a “moment in time opportunity” to reflect on this very question. And really, every facet of the project has grown and changed over the past 10 years, made possible by the generosity of our thousands of donors and fueled by the hard work of our National Board and staff. Our habitat base has grown by 10 fold, from the “just” 30,000 acres that comprise Sun Prairie to the 350,000 acres of deeded and leased public land we have today, spread over eight units. One of my first roles at American Prairie Reserve was managing our relationship with National Geographic as they produced the hour-long film “American Serengeti” in 2010. That film celebrates our bison herd hitting 100 animals. With this spring’s calves, we are pushing the 1,000 animal mark. And then, of course, the changes in the experience we can provide to public visitors have been incredible. I remember how proud we were to produce our first “self-guided tour” of the Reserve, then in 2011, opening our first campground, which felt like the first invitation to the public to come check us out. Now we are building a Hut-to-Hut System and our second campground. We have thousands of hunters who enjoy our lands. We have school groups and scientists staying at the Enrico Education & Science Center. As a staff, we never get tired of hearing visitors’ stories. Though grasslands are not familiar to most, we’ve never had a visitor leave disappointed. The vast expanse of land and the way the complexity of the landscape reveals itself over time is a constant source of inspiration.
Q: What are your priorities as president?
A: One of the most rewarding things about working for American Prairie Reserve is that our vision has remained so steadily and consistently clear — to restore a fully-functioning grassland ecosystem of more than 3 million acres and ensure that it benefits people. That was the vision the day the organization was founded and it remains true today. Although a conservation effort of this scale has never been undertaken in this country, the roadmap is there. When we look back in history, though, each stage of the project will likely have a theme, and I hope the theme of the next few years is “inclusion.” I see huge opportunities to engage a much broader audience in this vision, starting right here in Montana, but also across the nation and world. Our story is reaching new audiences, our still relatively new membership program holds incredible promise and our new Hut-to-Hut System, the first two huts of which will be open later this year, is an invitation to families, solo travelers and groups of friends to explore the Reserve and all it has to offer.
Q: What message would you give to someone reading this who’s interested in supporting this mission?
A: We invite you to help us grow. I recognize that our vision is still relatively unknown, and that is something Sean and I, and all of our staff, are motivated to address. If you are interested in getting involved, please consider becoming a member, volunteering, visiting American Prairie Reserve and sharing our mission with friends, family and colleagues.