Two days ago, the students had the unique opportunity to meet with Dr. Chris Geremia, a bison biologist with the National Park Service. Dr. Geremia came to our lodge and met with us after dinner to share a little of his story and the story of Yellowstone’s bison. He fielded lots of questions and engaged all of us with his passion and commitment to bison. Did you know that in 1902 there were just 23 wild bison left in Yellowstone? Bison have roamed this land since pre-historic times but modern humans almost drove them to extinction. An intensive management plan has returned their numbers to over 5,500. While this might sound like a success story, there are critiques who say there are just too many bison leading to the bison migrating out of the park and creating conflicts with ranchers and other landowners. There are concerns about the spread of brucellosis to livestock and on the hazing and culling of bison, the national mammal. You can learn more by listening to this podcast that explores all sides of the bison issue.
Dr. Geremia and Ecology Project International arranged for our students to spend two days in the field with members of the bison research team (Anna, Beth, Carly and Owen). Students learned about the research projects, field protocols, data collection, and most importantly, spent time with scientists learning about their work. These scientists were so open and sharing with our students, they discussed colleges, majors, job opportunities, different career avenues in environmental science, biology, wildlife ecology, and natural resources. Also, they were just superbly cool to hang out with on a bitterly cold, windy day in Yellowstone National Park even if we were collecting poop samples. Really, we hunted down bison and deer poop or scat as we like to say around here. You can learn an awful lot about an animal by investigating it's poop - what it ate, it's hormone levels, you can even do a DNA analysis!
This morning, we met up with Yellowstone superstar and wolf expert Rick McIntyre as the dawn broke over the Lamar Valley. Rick and his team (affectionately referred to as the wolfies) head out every day to track and observe the wolves of Yellowstone. We tracked him down at one site where he began to debrief us on the radio telemetry technique they use to find collared wolves. He shared some wonderful stories of wolves, the step dad who defended his adopted pups against much stronger alpha males, the strong female who took down a grizzly, and the sisters who ruled enemy packs. News came in that wolves had been spotted at Slough Creek, so we headed over there and sure enough we got to watch a black juvenile wolf chewing on a bison skull near the pack’s den up on the ridge. Here’s an opinion piece that gives you a real sense of Rick and his passion for wolves.
By midmorning, we headed to the northwest corner of Yellowstone to learn about snow science. After snowshoeing in to a beautiful clearing, students dug snow pits to learn more about snow. It turns out snow science can help ecologists understand how animals live under the snow while being hunted from above and snow science can help predict avalanche risk. Students learned how to measure depth, density and hardness of snow.
We wouldn’t be Pirates if we didn’t end a lesson on snow science with a snowball fight.
About this Blog:
I am a former Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow, a program of the U.S. Department of State. I have completed graduate level training in Global Education and traveled to Senegal in April with the program to explore their educational system. This blog is a piece of the global education guide I have created to support other teachers and students in globalizing their classrooms. My focus area is life and environmental science and understanding the interconnectedness of Earth. For more information on the fellowship please visit the IREX website.