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Ten Days Later

By Carlyn Anderson, Geography major, Mountain Studies minor
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Glacier National Park. Photo by Carlyn Anderson.Phew! If you’ve been checking out the blogs then you know what a jam packed ten days we had as part of the Climate Change Field Studies course. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with our journey, let me give you the speedy version of what we were doing.

We first spent three days in Glacier National Park observing the changing ecosystem of the park, learning how lodgepole pines are encroaching on alpine meadows, and seeing melting glaciers firsthand. Dan Fagre, a research ecologist with the USGS, spent the first evening with us, sharing how he goes about researching climate change in Glacier National Park and Steve Thompson, with the Cinnabar Foundation, told stories of the hard work being done to protect the North Fork from coal development and Tony Prato, a professor emeritus of Agricultural and Applied Economics, explained the meaning of ‘Adaptive Management’ and how it can be applied to managing changes. Next up, we became ‘Citizen Scientists’ as we monitored and collected data on The five needles of a Whitebark pine. Photo by Carlyn Anderson.threatened species (Mountain goats and Pika, eep!). It was a jam packed three days and I am sure I speak for all of us on the course when I say my brain was overflowing with new information.

Next, we traveled down to the Swan Valley to spend three days talking about forest management and what that looks like. We jumped right in to this as Melanie Parker walked us around private land, public land, and old Plum Creek timber land. We discussed what a healthy forest looks like versus one that had been harvested for timber. Also, how forests are hard to manage due to their size and complexity. Adam Lieberg led us on a beautiful hike in the Swan to observe changes in wildlife, mountain pine beetle kill, and blister rust. He gave us his experiences in the area, explaining that the five-needle tree, whitebark pine, has really been hit hard and being a keystone tree species, the loss of the whitebark is affecting animals like grizzly bears, Clark’s nutcracker, soil nutrition, shade for snow, etc. Lastly in the Swan, we played in the Playing in the wetlands with Andrea Stevens. Photo by Carlyn Anderson.mucky wetlands with Andrea Stevens. Her enthusiasm for the the creepy, crawling (and pinchy) creatures that live within was contagious and we wasted no time plummeting our hands into the ground to experience this first hand. Furthermore, we learned the role wetlands can play in climate change, as they are a great place for carbon sequestering.

To round up the trip, the last three and a half days were spent in the Blackfoot valley discussing the daunting topic of policies, locally, nationally, and internationally, around climate change. To tackle these issues we had our fearless policy leader Karen Wayland, the previous senior advisor on energy and environmental issues to speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and more recently director of Climate Change Policy for The Nature Conservancy. She dived into the Waxman Markey Bill with us, explored the task of forming policies and explained the importance behind them.  We then took a tour of the local lumber mill, Pyramid Lumber, and learned the procedures of the mill, discussed how economically, climate change is beneficial by creating jobs and processing beetle kill timber, but in the long run the forests will be depleted due to dead pine beetle trees.

Mill employee watching for inadequate lumber. Photo by Carlyn Anderson.Impressive, eh? Well, impressive and maybe a bit overwhelming as well.
The last ten days have provided an amazing opportunity to have open conversations about climate change with people from every sector of life. Time and time again, guest speakers and community members shared their thoughts and allowed us to get a glimpse into life through their eyes. From scientists and professors to forest service rangers and ranchers, all took time out of their busy lives to share their knowledge, stories, and perspectives to our class. And I think it’s safe to say, we’re all walking away inspired by what we saw and thinking about what our role can be in the future of climate change.