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Students in ecological restoration spent a day planting willows along a restored creek in the Ninemile Valley

Many of the college's undergraduate courses have a field component or utilize the outdoor classrooms around Missoula to demonstrate a concept talked about in the classroom, implement a research project, and to help students learn practical skills. Some examples of these field experiences include:

Students in NRSM 385 assessing groundwater-stream interactions in Lubrecht

Students in Watershed Hydrology (NRSM 385) spent several days at Lubrecht with professor Kelsey Jencso and instructor Kevin Hyde assessing stream-groundwater interactions along Elk Creek at Lubrecht.  Students performed two measurements of stream discharge using a new dilution gauging and dye tracer technique.  They did this at the top and bottom of the stream reach to assess net changes in discharge (whether the stream is losing or gaining water). They also took measurements adjacent to the stream to assess water table gradients and whether the groundwater was contributing to streamflow.

Forestry 330 students studying fire ecology Students in Andrew Larson’s Conservation Ecology (NRSM271) take several trips throughout the semester, including a visit to old-growth forest research plots in the Bitterroot National Forest to discuss fire ecology. Students assessed survival of trees greater than 100 years old, finding that Douglas-fir trees died at twice the rate of ponderosa pines in the same plots. Students also did forest restoration treatment monitoring in the Seeley Lake area (read about their trip in this Missoulian article). They also traveled from Missoula over Lolo Pass to study the various forest types and structure along the way, from the sparse dry Ponderosa forest of Blue Mountain Recreation Area to the old-growth Western Red Cedar and Grand Fir in the DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove (with two stops at other elevations).

Students in FOR 435 conduct a BMP in Lubrecht Experimental Forest Twelve students in Advanced Timber Harvesting (FORS 435) conducted a Best Management Practices field review of a timber sale on the North Fork of Elk Creek on the college’s Lubrecht Experimental Forest. Students studied Montana’s field review process and streamside management zone regulations in preparation for conducting their own audit of BMPs. The class is taught by professor Beth Dodson, but for this field exercise she has help from DNRC’s forest practices program coordinator, a retired soils scientist from the Lolo National Forest, the research forester at UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, and a volunteer at the Clark Fork Coalition.
Students in WILD 491 sampling aquatic insects in Twin Creek Students in an undergraduate Aquatic Invertebrate Ecology (WILD 491) class, taught by professor Laurie Marczak, are running two field studies to help assess the creek’s restored health. In Twin Creek, students are study rates of leaf decay in three stream locations. Students are also collecting invertebrates for an analysis of  population in the same three locations. While this class is only a semester-long, their study will continue after the restoration project is complete. Marczak and future classes will compare data on aquatic invertebrate abundance and composition for the next several years to assess stream health.
Students in NRSM 265 planting willow cuttings in the Twin Creek restoration site Students in Elements of Ecological Restoration (NRSM 265) are working in the Ninemile Valley to put into practice what they’re learning about stream degradation and restoration. Professor Cara Nelson wants the students to gain experience in riparian restoration as well as learn how to organize and run a volunteer restoration event. To do that, students in NRSM 495, the ecological restoration practicum, have designed and are leading this volunteer day. They’ll be evaluated on how well they ran this as well as another volunteer event with community members. Students in both classes have planted native trees, shrubs, and sedges, installed browse protectors, seeded native early seral plants, and spread an organic fertilizer in the Twin Creek restoration site.
Students in WILD 370 & 470 at the CM Russell National Wildlife Refuge Students in Wildlife Habitat Conservation and Management (WILD 370) must spend at least 40 hours in the field. This semester they’ve traveled to places such as:
Ninepipes Wildlife Management Area to learn about state wildlife projects in wetland areas in the Flathead Valley, as well as talk with state wildlife biologists about their job duties, experiences, and stories; Highway 93 overpasses and underpasses to learn about wildlife crossings and how to mitigate for wildlife on roadways; The Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge to learn about Northern Great Plains/prairie ecosystems in a weekend field trip to the refuge with students in Wildlife 470; Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness to visit with biologists on the Flathead Reservation to talk about wildlife habitat projects on the reservation lands; and the Blackfoot Valley to learn about community conservation projects relating to wildlife habitat conservation
PTRM 484 students on the Hiawatha Trail Students in Recreation Management Field Techniques (PTRM 484) spend the semester looking at how recreation activities impact natural and cultural resources and how to measure that impact. To practice field measurement techniques, they've taken a 5-day trip to Yellowstone National Park, biked the Hiawatha Trail in northern Idaho, and gone on a whitewater raft trip.

Students in Natural Resources Interpretation (PTRM 310) have taken two trips with professor Elizabeth Metcalf this semester to supplement what they’re learned in class. At Travelers Rest State Park they met with park managers to understand how the site is used for cultural interpretation and how to tailor an interpretive program for older adults, youth, and the general public. At the college’s Lubrecht Experimental Forest, students work on a project to learn how to manage the forest for recreation. The students must create a self-guided brochure for the ski trails and generally focus on the forest’s unique features, like wildlife, forestry, fire and recreation.

The Wilderness and Civilization Program (NRSM 273 and NRSM 373) provides students with over 30 days of field experiences during the course of the fall semester, and another 5-10 days of field experiences in the spring semester.  Field activities as part of this program include:

  • 10-day backpacking trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness where students explore the concept of wilderness, as well as learn natural history skills such as plant ID, mammal track and sign, and have to teach individual environmental education lessons in the field for their groups;
  • Small carnivore surveys in the Great Burn Wilderness Study Area, setting and then collecting hair snares for an ongoing research project with the USFS;
  • Stream monitoring with the Watershed Education Network Stream Team and collecting seasonal monitoring data from a local stream.
  • A weekend in Glacier National Park learning about conservation activities in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem