By JESSIE THORESON
Right after we returned from the backpacking trip, we got all hands on deck to help with Community Firewood Day. This event, put on by Swan Valley Connections, is an effort to get winter firewood to community members that cannot get it themselves. It was a great time for the students to mingle with their neighbors and practice their wood chopping skills! The night ended with a bonfire, a potluck dinner (some students’ first exposure to game meat) and bocce ball.
Although it felt like we'd just returned from the backpacking trip, it was not long before we packed up the rigs for another adventure, heading to the Flathead Indian Reservation. During our 5 day stay we met with a variety of community members to learn about the agricultural and hydrological conversations that are happening on that landscape. The Mission Valley is very different from the Swan. It is primarily agricultural, it is tribal land, and it has a much larger population. This means that, although it is only a two hour drive away, the policy, land management and natural history are quite different from what the students had been exposed to thus far. It is important for the students to understand how these conversations about conservation change, based on the community and landscape being discussed.
During our time on the Reservation we met with the Tribal hydrologist, a potato seed farmer, the education director at the People’s Center, a family run ice-creamery and the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center. The students must now integrate all of these unique perspectives into their understanding of how the management of resources is playing out in this community.
After a sleepy car ride home, we had a well deserved two-day break (marking the mid-way point in the program!) before diving back in to our Forest and Communities class in the Swan. Over the course of three days, we met with a variety of land managers that provided unique stakeholder perspectives on the complexities of managing forested land (a very different discussion than agricultural land). These conversations will help the students prepare for their final Forests and Communities project called the Stakeholder Role-play. Each student will take on the perspective of a person with a vested interest in forest management and they will present their positions and discuss solutions in a collaborative setting.
After several weeks pretty chock-full of school, the students are getting a break to go on their two-day homestays! Each student is paired up with a family in the valley. They will live with them for two days and be incorporated into their everyday life; helping with chores, hiking, touring the valley, having conversations, cooking, fishing, etc. It is a good opportunity for the students to get a sense of what living in the valley full-time is like, as well as get a break from communal living at the Beck Homestead. That being said, the barn is pretty darn quiet without them around and I will be happy to have them back.