Notes from the Field
Restoration Ecology in Greater Yellowstone
The 2006 Restoration Ecology course recently returned from the Greater Yellowstone area, where students were able not only to experience the abundance of one of North America’s most intact ecosystems, but to help make it healthier.
“WRFI opened my eyes not only to [new] academic knowledge, but overall growth as a concerned citizen of the Earth,” said Joe Cooper. “The backcountry experiences really open your eyes to what you are missing.”
The trip began in the backcountry just north of West Yellowstone, Montana. Four students and their two instructors spent five days backpacking into Red Canyon, a beautiful wilderness of forests, meadows, sparkling creeks and mountain peaks. Elk and the evidence of black bears were everywhere, and the solitude allowed the group to focus on the fundamentals of restoration ecology and the natural history of the area.
The next stop was Yellowstone National Park, where the group helped a fisheries restoration project to protect the native cutthroat trout of Yellowstone Lake. This included helping park staff remove lake trout, an invasive species that eats and outcompetes native cutthroat, from Yellowstone Lake. The time in Yellowstone was another fantastic section for wildlife, where students were able to observe bison, wolves, grizzly bears, black bear, bighorn sheep, marmot, and pronghorn antelope.
From there it was off to Gardiner, Montana, just north of the national park, where students studied bison management issues and visited Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was an amazing place for scenery and wildlife – badgers, moose, and otters were seen for the first time on the trip. A variety of birds were also present at Red Rocks – bald eagles, osprey, trumpeter swans, pelicans, and sandhill cranes to name a few.
Students worked on their two academic projects during a three-day backpack to nearby Cliff Lake, and then spent three days camped on Elk Lake, also near the refuge. Here, students met with employees from the refuge and The Nature Conservancy and assisted them with two restoration projects: removing knapweed, an exotic plant, and decomissioning an old irrigation structure.
“Since ecology is my major, this course definitely piqued my interest,” said Brittany Poirsan. “I loved talking to Nathan [Korb, southwest Montana land steward for The Nature Conservancy and a WRFI alumnus], and hiking in the woods.”