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College of Forestry and Conservation

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All it Takes is a Walk in the Park

By Julia Bryant, Resource Conservation major, Wilderness Studies minor
Thursday, August 25, 2011

 As I lay in my long johns, wrapped up in my sleeping bag, my thoughts were concentrated on an article. The scientific article I am reading describes warming temperature trends. It’s interesting though that I’ve also read many editorials and blogs recently that passionately exclaimed climate change is not happening, pointing fingers at so-called environmental alarmists. I’ve heard many debates full of passionate opinions claiming that changing weather patterns are anthropogenic. I decided to take this Climate Change Field Studies course to do some investigating, find out why tsunamis and hurricanes that I’ve been seeing on TV are happening, and to hear scientific explanations by professionals.

The North Fork’s trans-boundary pristine clear waters and scenic views make it unforgettable. It would be easy to make some phone calls and try to buy mineral rights to mine an area you’d never seen before. But I will say, that if you sit on the water’s edge listening to the flow of the North Fork of the Flathead, hearing someone talk about how grizzlies roam this area, and magnificent creatures such as lynx, wolverines, moose, elk, and wolves need it for habitat, you’ll never again consider tearing up this land for money. Teaching students (or teaching anyone) about this river by standing in the valley it flows through, looking at a hawk in the sky, looking at the sun glinting off of the ripples in the water, you have created one more defender of the earth, one more vested soul in protecting this valley and others like it.

Julia (right) takes a look at a bark-beetle infested tree.Learning experientially in a field setting builds bonds between people, enhances communication skills, and provides the opportunity for a more holistic understanding of the subject. After camping for ten days with ten other people, I have ten new great friends. It is amazing what you learn about others when you sleep, eat, hike, and learn as a unit. Any time spent in the car on our trip became a follow-up talk about each lesson and a think tank for environmental solutions. I loved that our classroom was the outdoors and that our lessons went beyond lectures. In a class this intimate, we bonded with our peers, and made connections with speakers we visited.

Jim Stone, a cheery, fire-cracker rancher from Ovando welcomed us to his ranch, where he talked to us about how his interactions with the landscape have changed over time. His first-person narrative was engaging and he made eye contact with everyone. He said things in a way I could easily understand, and he explained community dynamics that gave a new perspective on climate change. I think that sometimes scientists discount other perspectives because they appear illogical. A textbook may have hundreds of pages to prove that climate change is happening, and won’t mention why anyone would disagree. So many holes in my learning were filled in by probing other worldviews on this trip.
           
This class helped me learn that talking to ranchers like Jim Stone is equally important as talking to biologists and hydrologists. But what is most important is that everyone talks to each other, with open minds, and open ears. A biologist helped Jim restore a wetland on his land, providing habitat for fish and birds that he hadn’t seen there in decades. The restored wetland brought up the water table, which also helped irrigate Jim’s hay fields, aiding in more bountiful harvest. We can help each other by getting outside and observing, learning, and asking questions, communicating, and listening.

Talking with 5th-generation rancher Randy Mannix on his ranch.  Photo by Nicky Phear.I am learning that it’s important not just to listen to what people say, but to do your own investigation before you are convinced by what some one else decides is the truth. The changes I’m seeing in the Crown of the Continent led me to believe that there are now unprecedented changes happening on the land, at least in human memory: glaciers melting, larger and more intense fires, more insects and disease.  I am keen to keep reading and learning and talking, convinced that we need to talk about these changes even if it makes us squirm. And if the projections come true, continuing on our current emissions path will cause a great deal more havoc for our plants, animals and ecosystems as a whole.