Nico Matallana & Chelsea Johnson: The Spirit of the Wilderness


“Alright guys, you need to make sure you have everything on the packing list.” It was the first day of WRFI and we were in a Missoula parking lot, surrounded by the piles of stuff we’d need for the next two months. We had synthetic rain gear, plastic tents, chemicals to purify our water, and apples from Fiji for lunch time snacks. With these, we’d surely be ready to create our own environmental ethic in Montana’s wilderness. Right?

Quickly, the illusion we had of primitive backcountry life was buried underneath our piles of gear. We wondered if it was valid to go into the wilderness with all this stuff. How would dragging our plastic stuff into the mountains teach us anything about being environmental?  Continue reading


Tiffany Chou: After the Fire


As we hiked through the charred remains of what was once a lush forest full of Englemann spruce, subalpine firs, and lodgepole pines, I felt the awe of Simba and Nala as they explored the Elephant Graveyard. The trees, dark and mangled, reached out with their spindley branches for their fallen friends. Those that had succumbed to the fire and could no longer stand lay on the blackened ground like obsidian alligators, their burnt, scaly bark reflecting the afternoon sunlight. In the Scapegoat Wilderness of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain (1964 Wilderness Act), my best guess for the cause of the forest fire would be a lightning strike.

Standing among the burnt stands and seeing up close how a single spark grew to consume miles of 80 foot tall giants was both amazing and saddening at the same time.  Continue reading

Carly Snider: Think Outside the Classroom

Sitting on top of a mountain examining the current effects of climate change on Montana’s landscapes isn’t a description of your typical environmental studies class. This experiential learning approach that WRFI offers it he key to their success at teaching to students to explore connectivity in the Yellowstone to Yukon region.

During our two month long adventure from Yellowstone to British Columbia, we travel to locations that are in environmental dispute due to debates of connectivity. This exposure gives students a first hand and personal connection with these controversial issues. Our journey consists of meeting with experts and specialists who studied their conservation issue for years. Finally, we have the opportunity to backpack through these areas of conflict and gain an even deeper outlook on a specific issue. Through this unique program, I know believe that this experiential learning approach should be a necessary element in tradition universities today. Continue reading

Hanna Twiss – Brooks: The Lodgepoles of Traditional Ecological Knowledge

WRSSThe Native Americans, along with other Aboriginal tribes around the globe, rely on their knowledge of and relationship with their local environment for subsistence, both physical and spiritual, called Traditional Ecological Knowledge, often abbreviated to TEK. TEK has seven major aspects or “lodgepoles”, according to Menzies and Butler (2006). TEK is:

  • Cumulative and long term
  • Dynamic
  • Historical
  • Local
  • Holistic
  • Embedded
  • Moral and Spiritual

The Bitterroot Salish-Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille, the three tribes living on the Flathead Reservation in the Flathead Valley of Western Montana, strive to preserve their TEK to this day. Continue reading