By EMILY BOGAN
This past week the Wildlife in the West students spent time learning about stream ecology and bull trout, as well as higher elevation ecology with habitat suitable for Canada lynx. It was many of the students’ first time tromping through a river in waders and everyone was surprised by the strong current, even just knee deep. Many students said that the different locations within the Swan Valley watershed we explored helped them see the individual water ways as part of a larger picture, something they did not consciously think about before. Caitlyn specifically says she sees fish in a whole new way now after physically getting in to their habitat instead of just watching from the bank. Similarly, Logan was surprised to learn all about the relationship between the water and woody debris and the huge role it plays in fish habitat and keeping a stream healthy.
Students learned tracks and sign for wolves, bears, lynx, and other larger and smaller mammals. Although many of the students had experience with tracking before through other course work, they all agreed it was much more enjoyable and informative to get out in the field and see the tracks first hand. The group was even lucky enough to come across a fresh and clear lynx track during one of their field sessions. Thanks to Ryan Deloge for capturing it!
The special relationship between Canada lynx and snowshoe hare is another aspect of lynx ecology that the students dove into. Ben was surprised to learn how reliant lynx are on one specific species (snowshoe hare) for survival, as hares make up almost all of the lynx diet. We talked to Scott Mills, a wildlife biologist, snowshoe hare researcher, and professor at the University of Montana, who gave even more insight on the survival of hares in this area and how their decline may affect lynx population.
It was a great week of learning for Wildlife in the West 2017 and everyone came away having gained some new knowledge. Next on the agenda is bear ecology and the students cannot wait to see where that topic takes them!