Category Archives: Science

How Doug Chadwick’s Willful Optimism Just Might Save A Species

Book cover - Tracking Gobi Grizzlies by Douglas Chadwick
Book cover – Tracking Gobi Grizzlies by Douglas Chadwick

Montana Public Radio did a nice segment on North Forker Doug Chadwick and his new book Tracking Gobi Grizzlies: Surviving Beyond the Back of Beyond. Thanks to Patti Craig-Hart for spotting this one . . .

‘I mean I don’t know where all this is going, but I can’t believe we’re letting the fabric of the natural world unravel without more of a hullabaloo about it because it’s essentially our greater selves.’ — Doug Chadwick

Sarah Aronson: What do you call it, you say every naturalist is . . .

Doug Chadwick: A stunted 11 year-old. They’re an 11 year-old who saw a rock and just has to go turn it over and go “Ooooo wow. What’s that?!” And they don’t change.

There’s a lot of wonder in that.

Well look, the earth offers an infinite supply of it [wonder] and I’ve never figured out how anybody can be bored. And people say, “Well, but I’m not into that nature stuff,” and that confuses me too because, look, there are 10 trillion cells in our body—human cells. There are more microbial cells than that in our body and they consist of thousands of species of yeast and bacteria and archaea, another microbe group, and there’s more microbial DNA is us than there is human DNA, so whenever someone says, “Well you know I’m just not into that nature stuff,” I go, “But nature’s totally into you!”

Read more/listen to the full interview . . .

Humans have been altering tropical forests for at least 45K years

Tropical forest vegetaton - Patrick Roberts
Tropical forest vegetaton – Patrick Roberts

Here’s a thought provoking scientific study. It appears that people have been altering tropical forests for a long time — “sustainably” in some cases, but altering them nevertheless . . .

The first review of the global impact of humans on tropical forests in the ancient past shows that humans have been altering these environments for at least 45,000 years. This counters the view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. The study, published today in Nature Plants, found that humans have in fact been having a dramatic impact on such forest ecologies for tens of thousands of years, through techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting. Although previous studies had looked at human impacts on specific tropical forest locations and ecosystems, this is the first to synthesize data from all over the world.

Read more . . .

“Montana’s Pioneer Botanists” available!

Rachel Potter, prominent North Forker and NFPA member, passed along the following exciting announcement . . .

Montana's Pioneer Botanists Book
Montana’s Pioneer Botanists Book

Dear North Forkers:

I am pleased to announce that Montana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and Prairies is now on sale at the Polebridge Merc.  It includes essays by Jerry DeSanto, retired Glacier National Park North Fork Ranger.  Price:  $29.95.

Some of you will remember that after Jerry retired, he wrote biographies for a book to be called Plant Hunters of the Pacific Northwest.   Jerry was the perfect contributor to the project.  His background in history and knowledge and passion for plants resulted in three wonderful stories on David Lyall (1817-1895), R. S. Williams (1859-1945) and his good friend Klaus Lackschewitz (1911-1995).   Jerry did years of research that included travelling to the National Archives in Washington D.C. and spending day after day digging through herbarium specimens in various Pacific Northwest herbaria. This was pre-internet.  Notes for a fourth essay on Sereno Watson were in his truck at the Polebridge Ranger Station the winter he got sick.

As the decades went by and the main players aged, it became clear that the Pacific Northwest book was not going to happen. The Montana Native Plant Society (MNPS) decided to publish a book with the original Montana essays and some new ones.  My main motivation was seeing Jerry’s essay’s published.  The book includes essays by 17 authors on 30 different botanists. Naturally, Jerry’s are among the best, and being rich with detail, comprise a hefty percent of the book. The essays are illustrated with portraits, historic photos and photos of flowers and landscapes (including a handful of Jerry’s), as well as old and new botanical artwork.

There is more about the book at:  We are updating purchasing info and adding reviews and more, so check back periodically.

Go to the Merc and check it out!

On another note, Jerry’s Alpine Wildflowers of Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park was scanned by the MNPS and is available to view online at  Jerry’s papers have been accessioned into the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Montana.  An Rachel Potterindex can be found at:

Rachel Potter

Impromptu ‘Science March’ in Polebridge

Science March in Polebridge, Apr 22, 2017 - Debo Powers photo
Science March in Polebridge, Apr 22, 2017 – Debo Powers photo

Debo Powers reports . . .

Visiting biologists staged an impromptu “Science March” in Polebridge on Earth Day, April 22, in solidarity with hundreds of thousands in Washington DC and around the globe who marched to support science and research-based policy. Several North Fork residents joined in making the statement in front of the Polebridge Mercantile.

“Era of Megafires” Presentation at FVCC, April 25

Wildfire Plume - USFS
Wildfire Plume – USFS

From the official press release . . .

Wildfire plays an important and integral role in our forested ecosystems. Local fire history records show that our forests have evolved with fire for thousands of years. We have successfully suppressed 98% of wildfires in the greater Flathead Area since approximately 1930, and the resulting accumulation of fuel creates an environment conducive to large fire growth. It’s important for our community to understand wildfire and promote a proactive approach to mitigating impacts to our communities; private property, airshed, watersheds and forest ecosystems.

On April 25th, the community is invited to a public event and conversation at the Flathead Valley Community College, Arts and Technology Building Room 139 at 6:00 p.m., for an “Era of Megafires” presentation. This 70-minute multi-media traveling presentation by Dr. Paul Hessburg, will help our community understand the issues surrounding Megafires, so collectively we can move toward solutions that can change the way we receive wildfire and related smoke. Dr. Hessburg has conducted fire and landscape ecology research for more than 27 years.

The “Era of Megafires” presentation will be followed by a question and answer session around topics that are relevant to the community in order to identify local challenges and local actions. Typically, different communities face different obstacles when it comes to wildfire preparedness and resilience.

The intent of this presentation is to significantly reduce the amount of loss we are experiencing by developing a collective understanding of fire, approaches to wildfire management, and how landowners can engage.

The “Era of Megafires” is brought to you by Flathead Area FireSafe Council, Northern Rockies Fire Science Network; Southwestern Crown Collaborative, Montana DNRC/Kalispell Unit; Flathead National Forest, Flathead Valley Community College and FireSafe Montana. For more information, contact Mike West, Flathead National Forest at 758-3539, or Ali Ulwelling, MT DNRC at 751-2270.

Mountain lion kitten cause for excitement and concern

Mountain lion kitten P-54 - Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area - NPS photo
Mountain lion kitten P-54 – Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area – NPS photo

This is a seriously cute photo, but the attached story offers a lesson in habitat isolation and its worrisome effects on genetic diversity . . .

Admit it. You only clicked on this story because of the photo of that insanely cute mountain lion kitten. You just wanted to gaze into her (yes, it’s a her) milky blue eyes.

That’s fair.

But there’s more to the story of this kitten. Researchers have named her P-54. She’s no more than a few months old. And – this is the sad part – it’s likely that she’s the product of inbreeding.

The kitten was born amidst the urban sprawl of Southern California in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the largest urban national park in the country. The recreation area is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, agricultural fields and greater Los Angeles.

Read more . . .

Researchers looking at Montana’s cutthroat trout population

Native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout stranded in a pool in Ole Creek. Courtesy Jonny Armstrong USGS
Native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout stranded in a pool in Ole Creek. Courtesy Jonny Armstrong USGS

A group of researchers just published a thorough study of the effects of hybridization on Montana’s cutthroat trout population . . .

Cutthroat trout, a prized and legally protected fish species in Montana, are increasingly threatened by a growing trend of hybridization with non-native rainbow trout, according to research published last month in the scientific journal Global Change Biology.

A group of researchers from the University of Montana, the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the University of Alaska analyzed Montana’s historical fish-stocking records and 35 years’ worth of genetic data collected by state biologists, finding that hybridization between the two species is increasing across remaining geographic range for genetically pure cutthroats.

For decades, fisheries managers in Montana and elsewhere in the Western U.S. stocked rivers and lakes with non-native rainbow trout, a popular sport fish that easily established breeding populations in the state’s waterways. The state abandoned the practice in 1969, but interbreeding between rainbows and the closely related cutthroats has resulted in a proliferation of hybrids and has eroded the native fish’s genetic pool throughout most of its range.

Read more . . .

Steve Gniadek receives Conservation Achievement Recognition award

Steve Gniadek in “the Bob”, July 30, 2014
Steve Gniadek in “the Bob”, July 30, 2014

NFPA member Steve Gniadek received a well-deserved Conservation Achievement Recognition award from the Flathead Audubon Society recently. There’s a nice write-up on their web site, where you’ll likely learn some things about Steve you never knew . . .

We are excited to present our first 2017 Conservation Achievement Recognition to Steve Gniadek who is clearly one of the most dedicated conservation-minded people in the Flathead. Steve, who has assimilated extensive and diverse wildlife experiences throughout his career, is now a happily retired wildlife biologist living in the Flathead Valley. But Steve is no ordinary retiree, he is one of those passionate and committed individuals who believes that his fortunate and exciting life of public service requires that he continue to give back his time and energy to the local community.

Read more . . .

What light pollution costs us every night

The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon - Bob Wick, BLM
The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon – Bob Wick, BLM

Astrophysicist and science writer Ethan Siegel has a great article on the importance and increasing rarity of dark skies. It’s a short read, but very informative, with lots of photos and data. Recommended reading . . .

If you don’t have pristine, dark skies, you might never connect to the Universe. But there’s hope.

Human vision is ill-adapted to true darkness, but our eyes can provide us with stellar views of the night sky. Since the invention of artificial lighting, however, our views of those natural wonders have diminished precipitously.

Read more . . .

How a guy from a Montana trailer park overturned 150 years of biology

Lichen on blue rock along American River, Folsom, CA
Lichen on blue rock along American River, Folsom, CA

Here’s a fascinating story from The Atlantic magazine.

Remember learning about lichens in high school or college biology? Turns out, you learned it wrong. Sort of. And a persistent fellow from Montana proved it . . .

In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.

Read more . . .