Emily Quigg: Cooking in a Corridor

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After a cold and wet six-mile hike, there was nothing I wanted to do more than crawl into my sleeping bag and go to sleep. However, everyone still needed to eat. Of course that day my course job was to help cook dinner.

At home, I am more of a microwave chef. If all else fails I will just go to Wawa, a Pennsylvania gas station convenience store, and grab a hoagie. That being said, cooking is obviously not my strong suit. Luckily, on a WRFI course, there are two cooks each night so I wasn’t alone in my efforts. As I started chopping the bell peppers for Jambalaya, and the other cook started the stoves, I looked at the rain falling onto Bovin Lake and pondered what we learned in class that day.

An excerpt from the book, The Carnivore Way, by Cristina Eisenberg, explained the importance corridors have for large predators and how corridors are implemented in the environment. A corridor is a landscape that species move through to get to other habitats. For example, the goal of the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, or Y2Y, is to connect core habitats that allow animals to move from one area to another. As I continued cooking dinner, I thought more specifically how the area we are in, The Castle Wildland Provincial Park, may act as a corridor.

The Castle was officially designated as a provincial park three years ago in 2015. The park had a three million dollar budget to implement a plan and add new features. The park’s management plan protects the wildlife and headwater region, respects and upholds the rights of Aboriginals in the park, and ensures recreational opportunities for the public. ATVs and other motorized vehicles were outlawed. Snowmobiles are still allowed and research is being done to assess their impact.

While making sure the rice didn’t burn and my hands didn’t freeze, I thought about the grizzly bears this corridor is important to. Grizzly bears need corridors to live and procreate successfully. Grizzly bears have a very low reproductive rate. Once cubs are born and reach maturity, the female cubs are philopatric, meaning they stay in their mother’s home range. However, male grizzly bears need 400- 1,000 square miles to roam during their lifetime to eat, hibernate, and, most importantly, to mate. Without the dispersal of male grizzlies, some populations of grizzlies could become isolated and prone to inbreeding.

Cooking dinner made me think of what the grizzlies might be eating out in the Castle. Grizzlies are omnivores, like humans, and munch on a variety of plants, animals, and nuts. Having to consume a lot of calories daily, grizzlies have been known to eat over 200 different species. Grizzlies are opportunistic hunters and often scavenge wolf kills for an easy meal, despite 80% of their diet being plants.  Without the Castle acting as a corridor for grizzlies, they might travel across roads and face devastating automobiles, venture into towns to find food, and struggle for survival. With the corridors in place, grizzlies can avoid roads and humans, forage for food, and have a better chance at survival.

As the meal began to come together, the other cook and I called everyone to climb out of their tents and their warm sleeping bag cocoons to gather under our rain tarp for dinner. We took a moment of silence before our meal as we do every night and in that moment I felt very lucky to be in such an amazing place for people and bears alike. In the end, the Jambalaya was a success and nobody was harmed in the process.

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Shannon Lynch: My Happy Place

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“Even when I’m a thousand miles away from my roots, I’m home.”

-Zac Brown Band

Growing up in a small town in Southern New Jersey with not many things to do and always wanting to be elsewhere, it was hard to find a sense of place and home there. Since moving out West four years ago, I’ve moved three times, Colorado, Nevada, and now Montana—each place feeling more like home than the previous. I’m not quite sure if Montana is the place, but I’m okay with that, I have plenty left to explore.

Jumping into a six-week course that explored the Crown of the Continent, I was excited to get to know places I’d never been to. The Crown of the Continent includes northern Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia.  And I love it. Plans have changed on the fly—rerouted backpacking trips due to flooding and recent forest fires—but that’s okay, life is always changing things up.

School hasn’t been the easiest journey for me. I’m dyslexic and have reading and writing comprehension issues. This course is challenging. Getting up at 7 am, having class at 8, then tossing on a 60lb pack and hiking 7 miles to our next destination to then read 50 pages that night, can be tiring. But when I’m in nature learning clicks for me.

Walking through and learning about my surroundings suits me better than merely reading about it.  I came into this trip not knowing any tree species. Within two weeks, I can easily spot a Western Larch, Lodge-Pole Pine, White Bark Pine, Engelmann Spruce, and so on. I had never backpacked prior to this and three weeks in, I have my daily backpacking routine down, such as how to organize and fit my pack properly. It has been rewarding to see how far I’ve come academically and physically.  I feel a sense of pride of my accomplishments. This sense of pride has been boosting my mental health.

My mental health tends to drop in school since my way of learning doesn’t fit into the “traditional” educational system. My academic struggles are not fun to deal with and can be discouraging at times.  But an outdoor classroom doesn’t have the same distractions as an indoor one, such as a kid in front of you on his laptop watching Netflix or the girl texting on her phone having an argument with her boyfriend. The outdoor classroom may have a nosey chipmunk or an Osprey diving into the lake looking for breakfast. Many of these distractions provide teachable moments. Being able to sit at an alpine lake, enjoying its beauty and enjoying my reading is very calming because I’m absorbing more out here. This course has shown me that I can progress in school and my grades so far have been proving so.

One of our guest speakers, who teaches at the Blackfeet Community College, is also an advocate for experiential education.  She said that the Blackfeet value it for their growing process. As Helen said, “how can you be in it and not outside?” Words on paper can only do so much justice.

Really getting to know this place and the people in it has made it feel like home. Finding a sense of place in a country I’ve never been to is exciting. As we have learned in class, hundreds of species and different environments all have a connection together. As I learn more and explore new places, I find new connections to these places. I like the NorthFace tagline, “Never Stop Exploring”, and use it as a motto for myself. As I keep exploring on this course, it’s refreshing to be connected to new territories and call them home. I am satisfied knowing that “Even when I’m a thousand miles away from my roots, I’m home.”

Alyssa Swartz: Wilderness Defined Differently

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No one wants to carry around an encyclopedia in their 75 liter pack through the Scapegoat Wilderness. Even if I did want to carry around my phone, there is no service for Siri to look up definitions for me. Therefore I am challenged to create my own definition of “Wilderness.” With assistance of my WRFI reader, I have carefully crafted my own personal definition that I can only hope meets the standards of my naturalist predecessors.

Bob Marshall in his 1930 essay “The Problem of Wilderness” spoke of wilderness as “a region which contains no permanent inhabitants, possesses no possibility of convergence by mechanical means, and is sufficiently spacious that a person in crossing it must have the experience of sleeping out.” Over the past week, I have been honored to backpack through the Helena National Forest and Scapegoat Wilderness, part of a series of interconnected wilderness areas named after Bob Marshall himself. He was a pioneer, with inspiring insight and thoughts about the American landscape beyond his time.

A more recent thinker who also tackles ideas about wilderness is the writer Christopher Ketcham. In his recent article in Orion Magazine, called “Taming the Wilderness,” he writes: “Wilderness is intended, among its other purposes, to be a refuge for wild animals and plants, where the processes of evolution, so far as we humans have observed them, are to remain unmolested and unhampered.” Ketcham also defines wilderness as “difficult to reach and explore, sometimes dangerous to life and limb.” Through his writings, Ketcham inspires me to expand my own definition of the natural world and of wilderness. We must acknowledge that we have not been “humble or responsible.” This realization has led me to a passion for stepping up and advocating for the stewarding of our public lands and wilderness.

In addition to Marshall and Ketcham, other naturalist writers have contributed to my personal definition of wilderness, including Thomas Lowe Fleischner and the novelist Wallace Stegner. These two authors had powerful remarks about loving the natural world we are surrounded by, and fighting for what is left of it. Both encourage acceptance of what is, but also of what can be. While they don’t deny that there are serious environmental problems, they both encourage us to strive beyond the status quo. They both want us to better the wilderness in every possible way. Thomas Lowe Fleischner states “a known and loved world has more effective advocates than one that is ignored.” Wallace Stegner writes, “Better a wounded wilderness than none at all.” These wise words have provoked in me my own, unique definition of wilderness.

Now with you I share my vision of Wilderness:

Wilderness: A home to plants and animals that did not earn our respect, but simply deserve our respect through their existence. A natural area that allows humans to escape, find solitude, and practice mindfulness. A home and refuge that must be protected and fought for by the naturalists and passionate advocates, few in number, but strong in heart.

My definition of Wilderness draws on perspectives from both science and philosophy. To me, my definition is pure, honest, and valuable. The opportunity to temporarily live in a Wilderness, as I am right now, forces me to practice being a steward of this earth. It forces us, as humans, to open our eyes to how small we are in the scheme of all beings. These vast landscapes allow me to dream bigger, reach higher, and advocate for the land that sustains us.

Although my journey to find and perfect the definition of Wilderness is just beginning, I hope and dream that with every passing night, I find more of myself among these lands; I want my dreams to soar, just as the towering Lodgepole Pines reach for the sky. They are my guides. For now I thank the Wilderness for humbling me, empowering me, and allowing me to let my light shine.

Jumbo: The Grizzly Bear’s home by Isabella Kallfelz

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Envision a pristine, sacred, protected land stretching for miles on end, providing a home for the grizzly bear, an important spiritual site for the Ktunaxa people, and a place for adventurers to seek their own sense of serenity. As our group hiked up to Jumbo cabin in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, our view was filled with mountains and glaciers that would leave you awestruck.

Can you picture this same wild land with a year-round ski resort, 22 lifts, 369 hotel rooms, 240 townhouse units & 974 hotel and condo units? As I sat atop Jumbo pass with my classmates, we stared at the mountain where this project has been proposed for the last 25 years and I thought about how this altered landscape would affect something other than my own experience.

One consequence of the Jumbo Resort would be the encroachment on one of the Ktunaxa peoples’ spiritual places. The grizzly bear holds much significance for the Ktunaxa people.

“For us the grizzly bear holds everything,” states a Ktunaxa tribal member.

The Ktunaxa tell the story of how the bears made room for the Ktunaxa ancestors in this valley. The Ktunaxa declared Qat’muk (upper part of Jumbo Creek Valley) as a refuge for both the grizzly bear & the grizzly bear spirit. The Jumbo Resort would impact the bear’s native habitat, hurt the grizzly bear spirit, and remove the current protection of religious and cultural sites.

The Jumbo Resort would also impact an important corridor for the grizzly bear.

“Essentially, bears offer a window into a larger, deeper environment of a landscape,” says Bruce Kirby. As an indicator species, the grizzly bear is a sign of how the landscape is functioning. Jumbo Resort is threatening one of the largest contiguous areas where bears still roam today. If the land was developed, the grizzly would have to migrate elsewhere and their habitat would become fragmented which could in turn affect the health of the species.

The views we see today include a breathtaking 360 degree view of the some of the largest glaciers in the Purcell Mountain Range. This may change within our very own generation. Townhouses, ski-lifts, half a million visitors a year, and a 55-kilometer road into the center of the Purcells would surely threaten the wild balance of this place. As British Columbia receives a new Premier, my hopes and the local’s hopes remain high for the continued protection of this spectacular place.

Shane Smith: Cycling Through History

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Everything that arises, decomposes. This is a simple, but overlooked reality of life. At first this may seem like a depressing thought, but when it settles in you realize it’s actually quite freeing. In fact, when you look at it from an ecological perspective it is a beneficial thing.

When we started out on our 35 mile backpacking journey through the Bob Marshall Wilderness we saw large swaths of burnt forest. We noticed that beneath these charred, dead trees were a variety of new plants including fields of strawberry, aspen, armies of young lodgepole pine, and many other low-lying shrubs. An important aspect to this successful forest re-growth was the mosaic the fire had created when it went through about seven years ago. When a fire burns a mosaic pattern, some areas are burned heavily, other areas are burned lightly and some areas are not burned at all. Later, we learned that habitat disturbance and subsequent rejuvenation is called succession and is essential for the continuing health of an ecosystem. Five weeks later, this lesson has come full circle with a reading on “panarchy,” which gives new meaning to the importance of rejuvenation in an ecosystem.

Panarchy is a theory proposed by Buzz Holling that states that all systems go through a phase of growth, a decrease in resiliency, a regrowth period, collapse, and then (hopefully) rejuvenation. This “new” system can be a little bit different, entirely different, or anywhere in between. According to Holling’s observations everything goes through this cycle, from the microscopic bacterial cycles that happen on the microsecond scale to the global climate cycles that happen on an epoch time scale. When these cycles are aligned, collapse events can be lined up, causing the rejuvenation process to become a lot harder.

In the Purcell Mountains, we saw this theory enacted first hand where whitebark pine was heavily infested by the mountain pine beetle. From afar it looked like an extremely hot and devastating fire went through, but as we came closer to the trees infected we could see the excessive sap on the trees that came down in defense and the many demarcations in the bark from successful sabotages. A warming global climate allowed for the mountain pine beetle to expand into whitebark pine habitats with populations that seemed to be growing exponentially. Specifically, the warming climate allowed lodgepole pine, a common attractor of mountain pine beetle, to grow into higher elevations where whitebark pine would normally grow exclusively. The increasingly warmer temperatures allowed for the mountain pine beetles to overwinter when they usually would be killed by frost and extended periods of subzero weather as well, exacerbating the problem. This aligning of “collapse events” is what leads to situations similar to that of the mountain pine beetle and whitebark pine– it makes the destruction a lot stronger and recovery nearly impossible.

Similarly, panarchy systems thinking can be applied to our society’s system of thought. In Western cultures, we often have this incessant drive to take more than we need. If we stay rigid in this thought and practice, we could be aligning collapse event cycles— global warming, deteriorating environments, diminishing energy sources… the list goes on. However, if we change our ways and start respecting the environment by working to give back more than we take from it, then we will have the chance of recovery and revitalization when the winds of collapse blow in. Just like the Bob Marshall forest that was able to rejuvenate because of its fire mosaic, our societal rejuvenation will be manageable if there are pockets of strong, localized, and environmentally thoughtful communities.

Beth Porter: Moonlighting as a Cyclist

Beth PorterAs each member of our group clumsily hopped on their loaded bikes in Billings, eager and unprepared, and as we faced the many grueling miles we had ahead, the end goal of our adventure always felt like it was reaching Glacier National Park, the Crown of the Continent and a prime example of climate change and its effects on ecological systems. We talked about the meetings we would have in the park, how our last few days of the course would be spent camping near West Glacier, in Apgar by Lake McDonald, and how on one day we would have the privilege to ride up “Going to the Sun” road — apparently the thing to do while in the park. Some of the other girls from the group who had been there raved about its beauty and challenge and even from home my dad kept reminding me that he too had been up to Logan Pass and it was worth the traffic.

As the last few days of the course were winding down, afternoons had been spent drinking overpriced coffee and lounging by the cold, clear, turquoise-blue water of the Flathead river as raft tours passed by and guides, as practiced, slapped the water with their oars. On the day that we were supposed to go on our most challenging and looked-forward-to ride up Going to the Sun Road, this is exactly how the day had progressed until meeting at the campground to ride to our dinner. It was relaxed and welcome, and I was very much unaware of the length of the night to come.

Since the road is closed to cyclists between 11am and 4pm, our group decided to take advantage of the full moon and take part in the unofficial moonlight ride, leaving the north side of Lake McDonald around 9pm to begin our upward trek. Other than a glimpse of a map, a mile count, and general elevation profile, I had no idea what to expect as the gang pulled out onto the still busy road, jammed with other cyclists and cars carrying bikes (presumably to ride down the pass with). However, while traffic was at first a nightmare making one question the audacity of tourism, the setting sun on the Rockies and the first glimpse of the rising moon over the tree line made me understand the desire to witness your surroundings by whatever method possible.

While the views were incredible while they lasted, the night slowly took over and darkness engulfed the mountains around us so all that could be seen were the moonlit hills slowly winding upwards and a cloud of bike lights from far ahead and behind. For me, this is what made the experience unforgettable.  As the sun set and car numbers dwindled, there was unison in the goals of the people around me; everyone wanted to be present in a beautiful place and most wanted to use their own power to make it to the top. The moonlight ride wasn’t about the grandeur sights, but rather the enthusiasm and community that gathered around cycling and the commitment to face the challenge of the ride. Whether passing or being passed, there was constant encouragement and friends and strangers all rallied around each other to inspire and strengthen the will to make it to the top.

Being on team sports like cross country and track my whole life, this experience reminded me very much of the races I used to run and the pride and community that accompanied them. As I struggled with what I thought was the last switch-back (surprise it wasn’t), I was met with a stranger’s voice yelling “only 3 miles left! You got this” and as we reached the last stretch I felt completely supported and reminiscent as my teacher, Ben shouted out “sprint finish!” and took off as I pathetically attempted to sprint with what little energy I had left. All of this reminded of what it was like to be on a team again; all of the “last hill” and “almost there” and the hoots and hollers were all reminders that there was an end to the uphill madness and each person there had accomplished it with you.

Before this class, I called myself a cyclist — making the daily commute to campus and occasionally the grocery store — but I didn’t really know what I was doing and when I did know what I was supposed to be doing I still never did it (i.e. using lights or wearing a helmet). It was simply the quickest mode of transportation, but I never felt quite in alliance with the others I was sharing the road with. This experience has shaped my idea of a cyclist and, like running, has shown me that it can be anyone in any shape on any bike and all deserve encouragement — no matter how small the ride.

Overall, I am glad I got to experience this ride in a different light and surrounded with like-minded, passionate people. While I may not have made it to the sun or witnessed the full expanse of views from our highest elevation, this opportunity allowed me to take advantage of my strength and reminded me of the goodness of people and spirit sport can have. I also got the check something off my bucket list I didn’t even know I wanted to do.

Hailey Moll: Walking in Two Worlds

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Our guide at the Ktunaxa Interpretive Center, Jared, led us down a long hallway that was warmly lit with refurbished wood fixtures and plush Oriental rugs padding the floors. The original bricks from the school were fighting through the dry wall and wallpaper. As he reconstructed what the fully-operative establishment would have looked like in our mental imagery, there was an evident melancholy that seemed to emanate from the architecture.

From 1908 until 1970, the St. Eugene Mission, later remembered as the Red Brick School, would take indigenous children from their Ktunaxa First Nation [too-na-ha] and strip them of their cultural upbringing and heritage through forced religious enculturation. Completely unqualified teachers of the Christian leadership would expel the children’s prior way of life, culture, and language through rigorous academics, familial and gender segregation, and even violence. With each generation, more of the Ktunaxa’s cultural knowledge and beliefs eroded. This ubiquitous assimilation practice across Canada was a means of European settlers gaining complete sovereignty and control of the land. Attendants of the school recall being beaten, separated from siblings, and returning home in the summer unable to speak the same language as their parents.

By the time this tragic establishment had its last students roam its classrooms and dormitories, the Ktunaxa still had an arduous battle to reclaim both the land and their culture. Now, the building is a year-round resort completely owned, managed, and operated by the Ktunaxa people, and Jared says his people are proud of that. However, their culture greatly suffered; their language is considered critically endangered, and their elders are dying along with the traditions and knowledge of their people. Through this relentless cultural genocide, relations between the Canadian government and the indigenous people of Canada are contentious, to say the least. You can still feel that resentment in the grim stories of Ktunaxa people relating their experiences at the Red Brick School. I left the Interpretive Center with a burdened heart and a genuine sense of the infringement of their rights and way of life.

The battle for Indigenous sovereignty and land rights with the Canadian government continues to this day. The area of focus–and the location of our final backpack excursion pivoted around the Jumbo Valley in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. For the past 25 years, there has been an ongoing conflict around the development of a proposed ski resort in the valley. Architect and developer Oberto Oberti and his team envision an enormous island of coffee shops, condos, lifts, and gondola rides. Meanwhile, conservationists, local residents, and the Ktunaxa First Nation are fighting relentlessly to protect this area permanently. To the Ktunaxa, Qat’muk (Jumbo Valley) is sacred to them and the Grizzly Bear Spirit. This reciprocal relationship between the people and the bears is fundamental to Ktunaxa history, and it guides their stewardship principles to the land. I strongly felt the sacrosanct effect of this landscape one evening we hiked up into the smoke-hazen peaks just behind our cabin, and the sheer immensity of the Purcell Mountains commanded my respect and reverence.

As has been the case for hundreds of years, the lack of recognition of indigenous sanctity and culture has threatened their land and way of life. It is difficult for people of a Westernized worldview to try to value a different worldview, and often this difference dictates decisions with ultimate disregard for different ways of knowing. Even as the Western world attempts to understand ‘traditional ecological knowledge,’ we are still doing an injustice to Native people by trying to harness and condense this knowledge using Western-derived concepts, words, and ideas. In order to begin this slow process of healing, we must first try to value Western knowledge and indigenous knowledge equally; these two divergent views should complement one another to better coexist in the same human and natural landscapes. Backpacking through Jumbo made me realize how little I actually know about the area. I respect that I will never be able to view the area in the same lens as the Ktunaxa. Yet, I know that protecting this beautiful valley will help preserve the knowledge about it indefinitely.