Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Crown of the Continent in Five Days by Jacob Seidel and Kaydee Borchers

Just shy of Canada in the small rural community of Polebridge
As our Wilderness and Civilization class toured the Crown of the Continent, from Bigfork, to Polebridge, Two Medicine-Badger, Triple Divide, and around to the Rocky Mountain Front, an overarching sense of responsibility was present. The responsibility to care and participate in the protection and enjoyment of the places we visited. Here is a concept which cannot easily be ignored; to be conscious about the environment around us and make changes to help out rather than to just take up space. Discussion with Mark Heaphy about how he lives sustainably and participating in pika and mountain goat surveys near Triple Divide Pass are a few examples of how we explored different ways to live responsibly and participate actively.
What impacted me the most about the trip was being able to do my learning at the place where the topic was most relevant. By being in the environment which we were discussing I built an emotional relationship with my surroundings which increased how much I cared about what we were learning at the given moment. For example, while learning about the fen ecosystem on the Rocky Mountain Front I was also sitting at a great viewing spot, looking at a fen that was right in front of me. From hands on experience to discussion about the politics in conservation we were able to gain a new “panoramic” perspective on how we can interact with our environment.
Monitoring for Pika and Mountain Goats near Triple Divide Pass
Throughout the visits we had with local leaders and managers, it was apparent that everyone is passionate about protecting the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. They all have a different relationship with the land, yet it is important to focus on the underlying values that can bring different people and groups together. Gary Burnett, the executive director for the Blackfoot Challenge, epitomized this concept with his “80/20 rule”, where we focus on the 80% of issues that we share a common stance on and work on the other 20% later, once we’ve built trust and fellowship. Gary and Lou Bruno, from the Glacier Two-Medicine Alliance spoke about not compromising on values, which could sacrifice portions of what we hold dear. I was thrown off by these comments at first, as they seem so foreign to the ideals of compromise that often are necessary to get anything done in this country. It is a struggle to balance the want to do something that has an immediate impact with the patience to fight for more. Gary and Lou both shared this philosophy, but their attitudes and methods were distinct. As a student, being able to see how people who care about similar issues but tackle them from different angles was very informative. There is no handbook or cookie-cutter method on how to make a difference, it just starts with passion and will.
From Flathead Lake, we continued north to Polebridge, the quaintest lil’ community you ever did see! With a year-round population of only sixty people and a history of independent-minded residents, this off-the-grid “town” provided an excellent stop to look at the intersection between humans and the wild, and how they continually shape each other. After climbing a short while to a lookout tower, which afforded us a view of the North Fork of the Flathead River, Polebridge, Glacier’s western extent, and the Whitefish range, we casually discussed river dynamics on the landscape, the history and future of mining development in the basin, and the changing community structure in Polebridge. Though it has escaped a lot of attention, more people are looking to move to areas like Polebridge, with just enough amenities to stay sane but more wild lands than anyone could ask for. Many of the new residents have different ideas on how to interact with the community or want to live a different lifestyle than the current and historical residents, which obviously changes the culture in such a small place. The North Fork valley has also had interest from developers in the mining industry. This has been the focus of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which is currently in congress but, if passed, will provide protections for the North Fork from large development activities, especially resource extraction. I have faith that Polebridge will retain it’s character for a long time, the North Fork will be protected, and the mercantile will continue to make the best bear claw’s around.

We spent the better portion of our 4th day climbing toward Triple Divide Pass, which sits just north of Triple Divide Peak. The peak’s moniker is derived from its affect on the hydrology of the local area as well as all of North America. Theoretically, a water droplet that falls on the peak could drain into either the Pacific Ocean to the west, Hudson’s Bay and the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Atlantic to the east (although some are skeptical if this is the actual exact spot where this happens…). Our focus, however, was on conducting citizen science wildlife surveys of pika and mountain goats. The low clouds made fall feel real and lent a mysterious beauty to the landscape, but obscured the view of our mountain goat spotters. Pika crew #1 realized the difficulties of conducting science in a natural landscape as well, when they couldn’t locate the previous site marker, and almost came out empty-handed. As they were leaving the newly situated site, they hear the high-pitch, almost comical “meep!” of a nearby pika. During the rest of the hike we spotted elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats (but not at survey sites), moose, squirrels and a few species of birds. As we elevated beyond Medicine Grizzly Lake and the lower horizon of the clouds, I was struck by the ethereal beauty and power of the landscape, where the forces of nature (generally) run free of their own accord. At the top of the pass two of the three major watersheds that Triple Divide forms became visible. It was easy to see from this vantage point how important small, localized features are to the greater environment, how important they are in our culture and beliefs, and how important it is to continue protecting these invaluable places.

Reflections on Magruder Corridor Fire Succession Field Learning Experience Photos and narrative by John Harrington

On Friday, October 3, 2014, students in the Wilderness and Civilization Program had the opportunity to meet with Mick Harrington and David Campbell. Mr. Harrington is an experienced Fire Succession Ecologist and lifelong native of Western Montana. Mr. Campbell is a retired Wilderness Manager, who at age eighteen began working for the Forest Service as part of a fire suppression team. He climbed the ranks of the USFS, working as a Wilderness Ranger for many years.
From left to right: Harrington, Campbell

The chilly morning began with a practical examination of an old-growth Ponderosa Pine forest that has been heavily managed in order to reduce underbrush. Mr. Harrington explained that because the Ponderosa crown is so far from the forest floor, and has fire resistant bark, it has historically been able to resist traditional fire regimes in this area. With fire suppression becoming the modus operandi of the twentieth century, this changed. Douglass fir, typically cleared by fire regimes in this area, has grown in tandem with the Ponderosas, threatening them. When the Douglas Fir grows too near to the crown of a Ponderosa, the later becomes susceptible to what would have otherwise been a benign fire.

Note the Douglas Firs on the right precipitously close to the Ponderosa Pine (left). What would have otherwise been a crown safe from fire is now close to a new fuel source.

The Forest Service has embarked on a project in this area to harvest the growth around these Ponderosas (mainly Dogulas Firs) and sell them for timber. This practice has proved controversial, as many parties have accused the USFS, and Mr. Campbell is particular, for being financially motivated. Mr. Campbell argues that such measures are necessary to undo the damage done by a century of fire suppression. Wilderness enthusiasts and preservationists disagree.
 The Ravens Creek Complex history while 
Wilderness and Civilization students examine
infrared maps overlaid on fire history mapping. 

In areas recently (<10 years) burned,
the heat signature of the fire is much less,

 indicating a less intense fire.

Throughout his career Mr. Campbell has taken a “hands-off” approach to fire management in his district. He argues that fire is a natural and necessary part of ecological succession, and his belief is backed by scientific evidence that Mr. Harrington has helped to gather. Harrington and Campbell are often criticized for their beliefs. One such example would be the wash out that our group viewed while traveling down the corridor. Some within the Forest Service argue that if the fire that crept through this hillside had been suppressed, that financial resources would have been saved from having to clear the road.

Above is an example of primary succession. 
This stand has just experienced disturbance 
and awaits a new cohort establishment.  
An example of secondary succession
After lunch, we continued further West along the corridor to view the ongoing Ravens Creek complex. I was astonished at how little damage this fire had done. Most trees were left unburned, the undergrowth now ash.  Our group was able to watch an old downed log carry the fire to a decaying tree stump, where it will likely smolder for days. Even though this fire was in its end stage, it was a profound learning opportunity to see just how gentle a wilderness fire can be in contrast to harsh alarmist news reports. Watching the fire gently smolder along was actually peaceful, and our group enjoyed its radiating warmth.

This trip provided the group with an excellent field learning experience regarding fire management, succession, and politics.  Riding with Mr. Campbell, a few of us also learned a lot about the bureaucracy inherent within the Forest Service and his personal climb through it. For the sake of objectivity, it would have been interesting to have visited with a community member holding an opposing viewpoint regarding fire management policy and the sale of timber from within a Wilderness Area. 

To learn more visit the Forest Service website below:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Missoula Institute of Sustainable Transportation Field Trip

Missoula Institute of Sustainable Transportation Field Trip
Reflection By Michael Banning, Photographs by Matthew Freeman

On Friday September 12th our Wilderness and Civilization class went out on bikes and rode around Missoula with Bob Giordano, the pioneer behind the Free Cycles Community Bike Shop and MIST (Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation). Our goal was to look at the idea of sustainable transportation and how that fits in with the city of Missoula. We started our day with a presentation from Bob Giordano on the bicycle culture in Missoula. He pointed out that over the past fifteen years the city has started to become more of a bike friendly town. They have done this by putting in more bike lanes and paths, creating safer intersections with roundabouts, and adding safer pedestrian crossings over the Clark Fork River. After his presentation we all grabbed our bikes and rode around town looking at examples of the changes.

Our first stop was at the Free Cycles shop. We were given a tour of the warehouse full of donated bike parts that are used to help build bikes to sell or give out. At Free Cycles they offer a place for you to take your bike and fix it for free. They also have a program that allows you to build a free bike, all you need to do is take one of their BikeWell classes and do 4 hours of service at the shop then you can use their parts and build your own bike. All of their services are free but donations are always accepted and a great help to keep the program running.

While riding, we stopped at the roundabout at Beckwith and Higgins Avenue, an intersection that used to be very dangerous. Luckily though, through the support of everyday people and promoters of the bike culture, in 2009 a roundabout was put in. Since the addition of the roundabout there have only been two minor fender benders and no injuries. There are many benefits of having roundabouts, one is that they slow down the traffic making it a safer intersection but at the same time keep traffic moving. We looked at many different roundabouts in town that day, each having the same greater goal of safety but representing it in a different way. This is only the start to the changes that Girodano would like to see in Missoula. In the future he is hoping to see more roundabouts at major intersections, such as Higgins Ave and South 4th Street, making travel safer for bikes, cars, and pedestrians.

Coming from a city in Indiana that is going through many of the same changes with travel safety as Missoula, I have seen the benefits of roundabouts in a community and how they help. Also as an avid bicyclist it is nice to see changes that allow for safer travel on roadways.
During our lunch break at Circle Square in downtown Missoula, Giordano shared with us his dream of using a section of road in the downtown area as a city common area where only bike and foot traffic were allowed. A place that people can sit and relax as well as meet with others and enjoy downtown. This is only one of Girodano’s many ideas that he has for the city. Another one of the big projects that he is promoted through MIST is an idea to redesign the layout of the Higgins Bridge. As of right now it is a 4-lane bridge with a small bike lane and even smaller sidewalk. The hope is that they can get it redesigned to accommodate 2 lanes of car travel with 9-foot bike lanes and sidewalks making a more practical and protected area for pedestrians.
As our field trip came to a close we all felt very inspired to help with the cause of making the city of Missoula a safer and more enjoyable place to ride. Visit to learn more about the Free Cycles community shop or MIST and all of their road projects.

2014 Wildernes and Civilization Fall Trek Across the Badger Two Medicine

Reflections on the Fall Trek Across the Badger Two Medicine
Reflection By Julia Douglas, Photographs by John Harrington

The Rocky Mountain Front, where the great rolling plains are broken vertically into jagged peaks, is referred to by the Blackfeet people as “the backbone of the world”, and it was there they would go to seek wisdom and spiritual guidance. The plains were home to them, but the mountains held something of the sacred. In the final days of August, our Wilderness and Civilization class took to these very mountains for eleven days. 
We walked south along the Two Medicine River, crossing down into the Badger creek drainage, over the pass onto Strawberry Creek, through Gateway Gorge, and along Birch Creek until we broke out onto the plains again near Swift Reservoir. 

To be in the backcountry for such a long uninterrupted period of time is to experience a distinct difference of mentality from shorter trips. There are no complications and external pressures that define life in the civilized world. After a few days of acclimation, the entire sphere of one’s normal life in town seems distant and not influential. You are left to be exactly where you are. The changing landscapes become the pattern of the days- going from one valley to the next through shifting forests and burn areas, high alpine and aspen parkland. 

As we hiked along our route, observing and identifying the flora around us was of particular importance. To fully identify and come to terms with a plant takes time. In a trip of such long duration, we had the ability to truly understand the flora in context of its environment, distribution, and varieties of appearance. We didn’t just learn to identify the lodgepole pine from a guidebook- we saw the gradient of lodgepoles throughout burn areas and recovering areas, we made dinner on its fallen needles, and we felt the way it shaded out the sun to create moist understory habitat. It was in this way we became familiar with the landscapes throughout the days. 

There is a difference between theoretical knowledge and the true holistic understanding that comes from experience. Our trip along the Rocky Mountain Front was defined by experiential learning of the place that we were moving through. Care for a place isn’t engendered from external formal education. It is difficult to feel care for something you have no memory based experience of. But I know for myself and every person in my group, that we all now have a great care for the landscapes of the Badger Two Medicine area. The place was not the backdrop for our backpacking trip, but an active and alive part of the experience. For a while, our human lives ran parallel to the life of the Rocky Mountain Front ecosystem. This connection will endure throughout the semester as we now embark on the academic side of learning about the wilderness. Hopefully we will ultimately combine our experiential care with intellectual backing to help in the efforts to protect, conserve, and manage this special place. 

Fall Trek 2014 Reflection by Sanders Smith, Photos By Kaitlyn Kriz

It was quarter after seven on August 27th and the sun was creeping over the eastern edge of Missoula. We, this year’s students in the Wilderness and Civilization program, met up in a parking lot before departing on our fall trek to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Badger Two Medicine area.
While we waited for our transportation to arrive, all twenty of us sat around in a big circle munching on some pre-trip snacks. Our backpacks were comically large – stuffed to the brim with eleven days food and gear. Despite the heavy load and the early hour, everyone looked eager.
We were divided into two groups – ten students and two facilitators in each. The first group was headed to Mariahs Pass, hiking generally southeast through the Badger Two Medicine and the Bob, ultimately ending up at Swift Reservoir. The other group, my group, was essentially taking the same route but in reverse, heading in at Swift and out at Mariahs Pass. We hopped into our respective cars and took off.

Before hiking, my group stopped in Augusta and met with Hal Herring to learn some background of the area. Hal is an accomplished journalist with articles on conservation, energy development, and wildlife politics published in big time journals (Field & Stream, High Country News, etc.). He talked about the history of the Rocky Mountain Front, oil and gas development, the Bob Marshall and wolves. The topics all felt so interconnected that it was hard to tell where one ended and the next began. He spoke passionately throughout his talk but was especially emphatic about the role of politics and policy in shaping the landscape we were about to enter. He wished us a good trip and, with that, we left for Swift Resevoir.
It was a quintessential late summer afternoon in Montana: 80something with a slight breeze, the sun glinting off the wind-rippled surface of the water. Lumplets of cottage cheese cloud drifting lazily in the deep blue sky. Pine scent clinging to the mountain air. We hiked around the picturesque reservoir and found an ideal campsite near its southwestern end. We discussed Leave No Trace Principles before setting up our tents. We cooked dinner, ate, made a campfire, and prepared to call it a day.
The sky had darkened. Overhead, an unfathomable number of stars pinpricked the night. To the east, over the reservoir, the horizon glowed. Nobody knew what it was. There was no city, no streetlights, no reason for a glow in that direction. The glow ascended and grew more intense. The light shifted color and shape. A green then yellow band of luminescence, the aurora borealis, was jutting streaks of itself high into the firmament. We watched as the phenomenon painted the sky and the mirror topped water.

We woke up, broke camp, and hiked. We hiked every day but one, about 5-7 miles per day. All told, around 65 miles or so. Every one of those miles was noteworthy, but for the sake of brevity (this would be a pretty long blog post if I treated every day as descriptively as the first one), I will focus on some highlights:
-We saw grizzly bear, black bear and wolf tracks! Whoa!!
-  We each prepared a lesson for the group and taught it! We had topics ranging from traditional Blackfeet storytelling to arachnids; wolves to geology! Cool!
-  We had field guides to rocky mountain flora and learned to identify some plants! Achnillaea millifolium (yarrow)!!
-  We ate the most delicious meals every night! Yum!!
-  We all got cool trail nicknames! Crampbark!
-  We learned a lot about the landscape, each other, and ousrelves! Neat!

In our 11 days out, we amassed a considerable amount of both knowledge and stank. Just as the smell of campfire and body odor took more than the wash a few showers to fade from skin, I am sure that these memories and lessons will take more than the wash of a few years to fade from mind.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

SheJumps! by Janine Welton

My Wilderness and Civilization internship culminated on a cloudy spring day in early May.  I sat on the forest floor with a group of women, the smell of pine needles and moist earth fresh in the morning air.  Our introductions to one another brought up similar desires for the day:  wanting to feel competent, understand how to assess risk, learn technical skills, and most importantly, wanting to gain confidence and act as leaders.  

For my project, I partnered (through the Wilderness Institute) with an organization called SheJumps to run a women’s outdoor rock climbing clinic in Missoula.  When I began searching for a topic I knew I wanted to use my love of outdoor adventure to create a project that was meaningful. Bridging the gap between my recreational lifestyle and my engagement with my community is something that has been on my mind throughout the Wilderness and Civ. semester.  My advisor, Natalie Dawson, suggested working through SheJumps to create an event that would reach out to other women in the community.  SheJumps’ mission is to empower women through increasing female participation in outdoor activities.  Because the organization does not have a presence in Missoula, the objective of my internship (beyond my own personal learning and service) became introducing it to the area.  A town full of athletic and adventurous females, Missoula has huge potential for being a hub of communication, sharing, and growth amongst women.

Creating this event was about a more personal exploration than simply fulfilling an academic requirement.  A lover of mountains, I find my greatest internal growth in backcountry skiing and climbing.  There is something incredibly satisfying about being competent and able to step up and take the lead, whether it is during a day of climbing at a local crag or the planning of a long, remote trip. Striving to work towards SheJumps’ mission gave me a chance to reflect on my own behavior as a female athlete and the relationships I form with my adventure partners, male and female.  Too often, I’ve found myself in the position of backing down and feeling inadequate in comparison to my partners, even when I have valuable knowledge and skills.  Why is it that women so often step back and take a submissive role?  Is it at times easier than stepping out, speaking up, and being seen? 

My internship also confronted me with the reality that running female-only events is at once important and also very exclusive.   At times, the process of advertising and recruiting participants became uncomfortable and made me think hard about why I feel so strongly that female-only space is important.   The majority of my adventure partners are male and I enjoy the balance and dynamic of my interactions with them.  What I don’t enjoy are the times when I back down and lose my ability to confidently state what I think:  something that happens more frequently when I am in mixed or male-dominated groups.  For me, having female-only trips gives an opportunity to re-gain confidence and practice communicating in a supportive environment.  Once I’ve found my voice and confidence with other women, I can transfer those patterns to my interactions with men.  I’ve realized that ultimately, this ability to be confident and a leader with all of my adventure partners is a skill that I have the responsibility to develop.  I hope that over the course of the coming months SheJumps can begin to have a presence in Missoula, and more women will begin that journey towards feeling comfortable and confident in their knowledge and decision-making, no matter who they are recreating with. 

InnerRoads Wilderness Program by Will Thelen

I have been working for InnerRoads Wilderness Program for the past three months. InnerRoads was founded in 2001 and operated on its own before partnering with the Youth Homes in 2005. The purpose of InnerRoads, as outlined in its mission statement, is to help teenagers “change direction, find motivation, build self-worth and insight, develop interpersonal skills, and better understand the connection between their actions and consequences.” Struggling teens are often offered a variety of therapy choices that might resemble a visit to the doctor. However, in this program students have the opportunity to go on a backpacking trip for about a month! During an InnerRoads trip students are exposed to many backcountry living skills while simultaneously being challenged to reflect on where they’ve come from and see what changes need to be made in their habits or actions to take them where they want to go in life.

My main task this semester was to put together a field guide for InnerRoads students. Up until this April, there were a series of handouts and loose papers that were given to students upon their arrival in the program. First, I complied the documents containing the field activities and journal prompts. After formatting and arranging them in one document, I was tasked with writing a narrative to help guide students through the four main phases of the program. This was the most fun and difficult piece of my work because I had to translate directions meant for instructors into something that would make sense to students. Aside from putting together the field guide, myself and the two other interns worked on organizing logistics for InnerRoads. This would usually entail cleaning and fixing packs, organizing the gear shed, and I also had the opportunity to help with a gear fitting for one of this year’s students.
Over the past couple years I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of work I want to be doing after I graduate. I am obviously interested in being outside as much as possible, but it has been a challenge to decide exactly what I want to be doing. At this point I’m settled on outdoor education or wilderness therapy. I’ve participated in several field courses as a student and an intern, but working behind the scenes for a program that focuses only on wilderness therapy was new to me. I think the most important part of this experience for me was learning about what kind of language to use with kids who are struggling. Some students may have not even traveled into Wilderness before, so it is challenging to be clear about Leave No Trace philosophy or safety procedures without being too commanding or overbearing in a way that might cause students to ignore you.

This internship was a great way to finish Wilderness and Civ. After learning so much about Wilderness travel, philosophy, policy, and management, my internship with InnerRoads provided me with an excellent environment for applying what I had learned and allowed me to practice teaching these ideas to others. I am excited to continue developing my own Wilderness skills as well as continue teaching others about how to take care of Wilderness and themselves.