“No cows, no grass, no birds.”

Greetings from the 100th Meridian! I am overjoyed to inform you that I have now survived the first six weeks of the Rock Hills Ranch 2017 Summer Internship. “Survived” might sound like peculiarly strange diction to use while describing your dream internship. However, when Lyle found out I was attending military college in the fall, he promised me that he would make military school seem easy. Mornings begin with Lyle’s piercing wake-up whistle and holler at 6 a.m. sharp. At this time I chug 2 cups of black room-temp coffee and begin the morning PT session which consists of sit-ups, pull-ups, and a sub-25 minute 5k run. Occasionally, my routine PT session is accompanied by an additional hour-long workout designed and enforced by the ranch’s new one-month intern, Alexi Galber, who happens to be a former Israeli Defense Force soldier who trained to be a drill instructor. Lucky me, right? With this in mind, I can assure you that many mornings by the time I report to Luke for work at 8 a.m., survival is largely on my mind.


Things are not all bad here on the Northern Great Plains though. If you overlook the ongoing six-month drought, fences are being built, hay is being made, and cattle are being worked. There is no doubt that June has historically been, and continues to be, a busy time for the nation’s cattle producers. Here at Rock Hills Ranch, the already slam-packed month began with a visit from several donors, staffers, and scientists from the World Wildlife Fund. The group came on an overnight visit to the ranch to learn more about the role that ranchers play in the prairie ecosystem. There is a lot to consider and learn when talking about grassland conservation and Rock Hills Ranch is the perfect place to start.


One of the reasons that this internship stood out among the panoply of ranch internships I applied for was the value that Rock Hills Ranch placed on the prairie ecosystem. From day one of my time here, I have experienced so much about the role that ranchers play in wildlife conservation. In a nutshell, I have learned that the importance of grasses to both the prairie ecosystem and also to the environment as a whole.


Grasslands make up one of the world’s largest sources of carbon sequestration (the process of taking carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis). Sure, monoculture suburban horticulture and ag crops will also take carbon out of the atmosphere. However, if you consider the carbon cost of producing each of the stands (think fuel and fertilizer), the grasses have a much more beneficial impact on the atmospheric carbon levels because they require considerably less mechanical and chemical management. Grasses on prairie lands also contribute to water quality. Grass stands greatly contribute to soil health through increasing soil structure and infiltration (the ability of the soil to collect and hold water and nutrients) as well as reduce erosion. This reduces the loss of nutrients (mainly P & K) through runoff and leaching which ultimately prevents eutrophication in our water systems. Last, but not least, grasslands are home to bobolinks, meadowlarks, pheasants, and hundreds of other bird species that don’t nest in monoculture crops. Lyle says, “No cows, no grass, no birds.” If there is a reduction in the number of head of cattle, we lose prairie. That means we also lose air and water quality, as well as the wildlife that makes this region so special. The bottom line is that, contrary to popular belief, cows ARE good for the ecosystem of the Great Plains because they keep grasslands intact. So the next time you’re feeling environmentally conscious when you’re ordering food, think of the Northern Great Plains and get a burger.  

A Truly American Experience

My name is Alexandra Galber, Alexi or Lexi for short. I am a combat veteran of the Israel Defense Force (SSgt). I have a LL.B (law degree) from Ramat Gan, Israel, and on May 14th I graduated from Chicago Kent School of law with a LL.M (master law degree) in US, International, and Transnational law. I lived in London, England before I moved to Israel at the age of 16.

After graduation I wanted to spend my remaining time here in America doing something truly American. Something that I couldn’t do in either Israel or England. And that is how I fell into South Dakota and landed here at Rock Hills Ranch with the Perman’s.

Growing up, my family (Mum, Dad, and two younger sisters) would spend the holidays camping in the southern English country side rather than in a hotel. Once or twice we even stayed on a farm. But that is the closest that I had ever came to something like the life that I have been living over the past three weeks here on the ranch. With no disrespect to Chicago, I have never been into living right in the city, and I found that in comparison, the fact that the closest town from here has maybe 10 people living in it, is definitely more to my liking.

Over the past three weeks I have experienced things that I could never have even thought of before. Among the many things that I have learnt through experience here at the ranch is that there is so much more to grass that it just being green! And that it is considered to be traffic when there is more than just you and one other car on the road!

The day after I arrived at the ranch a group from the World Wildlife Foundation came to visit. It was a great way for me to be introduced to the ranch as we went on a tour of the pastures and received explanations of how the ranch functions. It was especially interesting as the ranch is based along the 100th Meridian, and also has Native American tee-pee sites. The visit was also the perfect example of how different people with different opinions can work together to find a way to protect, what I have come to learn as being one of the most important things that needs to be protected, the grass.

My first real ranch life experience, and therefore, out of my world experience, was moving cattle. As someone who has never been in the middle of a field completely surrounded by extremely large cows, this experience may have definitely caused me some blood pressure problems.  Even after being around cattle a several more times, I still maintain that I would rather deal with the animals that I had to deal with during my time in the service, rather than deal with an unruly cow. My inexperience with cattle was shown once again when I had to wrangle an escaped bottle fed calf back to the barn where it was kept. Thankfully there are no cameras in that barn. The whole situation would have been a whole lot less amusing had I not been wearing a sweatshirt with the name of my military unit, and the words “counter-terrorism” written on the back!

My second real life experience was the first time that we worked the cattle. Let’s just say that if anyone ever has the need to castrate a bull calf, they can call me.

This past weekend Tucker, the other intern here at Rock Hills Ranch, and I drove down to Mount Rushmore. It is incredible to think that it was carved in a time before the advancement of technology. During our trip we toured a bison ranch with the Grassland Coalitions, of which we are now members, and spent the first night at the Perman’s cousins in Rapid City.  We also visited the Crazy Horse monument, the town of Wall, the ghost town of Scenic, and drove through the Badlands, where we camped on Saturday night, something that was only possible thanks to Tuckers skills at engineering with duct tape.

There has been so much more to these past three weeks that what I have begun to write down and hopefully the next ten days before I fly back, will be just as amazing, and just as American.