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Thinking Like A Mountain

This week’s blog was written by Devin G., a Bucktails alumni. He writes about what one can learn from thinking like a mountain.

When thinking about mountains, many picture towering palisades of stone and soil, unmoving and unresponsive to the outside world. Throughout history mountains have been seen as obstacles and hindrances, simply there to be tunneled through or utilized to extract resources. These views only skim the surface of what it means to be a mountain. Mountains are eternal beings, formed before the dawn of man, and are constantly changing from the effects of time and other natural factors. To be a mountain means to be imperturbable, omniscient, and objective, while also being vulnerable to adversity. Although one cannot become a mountain, one can learn to think like a mountain.

Part of the ranch we visited where conservation is a key component of managing the land.

As I learned during my class field week in the Medicine Bow Mountain Range in Wyoming, thinking like a mountain is not as straightforward as one might believe. Through the many experiences we shared as a class, I was able to see the world from a different view, the viewpoint of a mountain. When I read the words of Aldo Leopold, I was struck by how interconnected the natural world is and how, to make beneficial decisions, one must consider every aspect of nature that will be affected by your choices. This lesson was reinforced when we visited a sustainable ranch, where we learned about the processes of running a farmstead in an environmentally friendly manner. For example, water usage is becoming a greater conflict due to climate change and the ranch is considering a variety of options to combat this issue. Most of their solutions focus on the long-term conservation and storage of water which may oppose the social and cultural pressure to use less water and disrupt the natural cycles which replenish aquifers. By considering the big picture and long-term natural effects, the ranch demonstrates how to think like a mountain.

Me standing in front of one of the gap lakes in Medicine Bow National Forest.

As part of the field week, we also participated in many other educational and environmental activities. We spent a morning hiking the Snowy Range, marveling at the natural beauty that surrounded us. Discussing the impacts of erosion we were able to see the effects of wind, water, and glaciers which helped shape the land around us. We also learned about the effects of human activities on wildlife migrations after attending a presentation by the Wyoming Migration Initiative. There I learned about the many obstacles ungulates face as they trek from their summer to winter grounds. Developments, oil fields, highways, and fences all present challenges to these migrations. By tracking these migrations and protecting bottleneck areas, the Wyoming Migration Initiative can mitigate these hardships.

Our view of sunrise after a morning hike.

Overall this field week allowed me to open my mind to many new ideas and allowed me to partake in new experiences that I could only dream of. The theme of thinking like a mountain means so much more than one would think. It means looking at the world as a system where every part needs to be protected. We can all take part in conserving our natural world by following the wise words of Aldo Leopold and thinking like a mountain.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

Raptor Rehab

This week’s blog was written by Paige F., a Bass alumni. She writes about the importance of raptor rehab programs.

Raptors are types of birds that have sharp talons, hooked beaks, strong eyesight, and they are carnivores. They are also an important part of the food chain because they can control the populations of many smaller prey animals, or in the case of vultures, they eat previously dead animals. Many of these birds are currently endangered, and become harmed by many different causes. Some will sustain injury from fighting other raptors or larger predators, while many in today’s world become injured from man-made causes. It’s more common than many may realize for these typically large birds to be hit by cars, tangled in barbed wire, or hurt from other human causes.

Amelia was hit by a truck in Washington state, and because of how her wing healed she wasn’t able to be released.

When an injured raptor is found they are brought into a special program called raptor rehab. Raptor rehab is focused on the rehabilitation of injured raptors. This essentially means that injured birds are brought into a facility so that their injuries can be treated, with the intention of releasing them back into the wild after they have healed. This is done in hopes of decreasing deaths in the community. By decreasing deaths more raptors will be able to live on to reproduce, causing the numbers to increase in future generations of birds. Sometimes birds are unable to be released back into the wild due to the nature of the injury, amputations and broken bones healed wrong tend to be the most common injury that prevents a bird from being released back into the wild. While it may seem strange to not release all of the raptors, disabled birds wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild, as they would be outcompeted by other raptors or larger predators. When a bird can’t be released they are often sent to zoos to help educate the public about the endangered raptors.

Gru, a turkey vulture, is an amputee taken in by Oglebay zoo, he currently helps educate people about raptor rehab.
Choctaw, a barred owl, was amputated from a barbed fence, they currently partake in Zoo To You programs.

There are many raptor rehab programs across the US, and many ways people can help to support them. Volunteering and donating are some of the easiest ways to help out raptor rehab facilities. Someone could also help by spreading the word about these amazing birds, and educating people about how their actions affect them. Sadly many birds receive fatal injuries from human activities but through programs like raptor rehab, it can be hoped that the overall population of raptors will increase over the years, and maybe one day all raptors can be pulled off the endangered and threatened lists.

The photos in this blog belong to the author.

Pursuing Environmental Interests: Starting A School Club

This week’s blog was written by Emma O., a Drummers alumni. She writes about how she started a club at her high school that focuses on environmental service work.

Throughout my life, I have been involved in various environmental activities, such as Envirothon and Science Olympiad. Although I absolutely adore studying wildlife, trees, soils, and current issues/environmental policy, I noticed as I continued my educational career that there was a lack of environmental “action” present in many of these environmentally-focused activities. Many clubs in my middle school and high school focused only on the study of the environment, rather than helping nature hands-on.

I did not notice this disparity until I became involved with programs like the Wildlife Leadership Academy, where students complete a lot of field work. Previously, my experience with the environment involved studying for the mentioned activities and simply being outside. However, I soon fell in love with working directly with flora and fauna.

This new passion eventually translated into wanting to complete more environmental service work. Upon entering my Sophomore Year high school and noticing that clubs at my school did not involve this component of environmental science, I did what any passionate naturalist would do–I created my own club! I created the Central York High School Community Conservation Corps last February, and it has been my passion since. Nicknamed “CCC” (after the Civilian Conservation Corps, of course), my club mainly focuses on promoting conservation through environmental service work. On the side, we tackle initiatives focused on education and sustainability.

After my Envirothon Coach generously agreed to be the Adult Advisor for CCC, I campaigned my high school’s administration to allow me to officially create the organization. Once approved, I began to spread the word of my club through my personal social media platforms; by stopping and talking to peers in the hallway; and by creating promotional videos for my school’s broadcasting program. I ended up starting with around six devoted members of the club who attended our weekly meetings, which grew to about 12 by the end of last school year.

A picture of my club in action at another clean-up initiative last year.

With these wonderful members, CCC completed multiple stream clean-ups at a local creek, along with establishing our club social media platforms to spread the word about what we accomplished. We also wrote several articles for our district’s newsletter and our school newspaper.

Here is a picture of a few club members after a stream clean-up last year.

Over the summer, we kept up with our social media posts to attract new members. Then, after several people became interested in joining CCC over the summer, the new school year brought on an influx of new members. About 15 new people joined in August. After that, we planned a set-up for our school’s Club Fair (a school event where all clubs present information about their organization to attract new members), complete with a tri-fold, banner, and take-home seedlings. With all of the hard work our members contributed to make the fair a success, we ended up recruiting 70 new members, bringing the total number of participants in the CYHS Community Conservation Corps to approximately 100 students!

This is our club set-up at our school’s “Club Fair.”

I am so excited to see where this year takes Community Conservation Corps. Our biggest project thus far is planting 100 evergreen saplings–donated by the York County Conservation District–around the community; however, many of our members have also expressed great interest in even more initiatives, such as trying to reduce food waste in our school cafeteria.

An up-close picture of the take-home seedlings that we gave out to interested students at our “Club Fair.”

My advice to any naturalist who does not see their particular niche of environmental science/ecology represented in their school or community is to create their own initiative. Though it requires dedication and hard work, it is an entirely worthwhile and quite fulfilling experience that will foster enormous personal growth.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

December Student of the Month – Jaidyn G.

Our December Student of the month is Jaidyn G. She has been working on her outreach since the field schools, and recently submitted her record books for the Early Bird check-in date, sharing what she has accomplished so far!

Jaidyn shows her creativity in her projects through the variety of activities she has undertaken, as well as the actual projects themselves. Her first submitted project is a collection of nature photography, and is absolutely stunning! Jaidyn clearly has an eye for the natural world, submitting photographs of insects, mushrooms, trees, and other interesting things she found along the trail.

Jaidyn has also spent time learning more about the elk in her area, attending educational presentations that explain all about their behavior in the fall and what to look for. Additionally, Jaidyn wrote and submitted an article for the National Wild turkey Foundation’s newsletter, Turkey Talk, that addressed her experience at the Gobblers field school.

Jaidyn has also been out and about with wildlife biologists, and had the opportunity to capture, age/sex, and band wood ducks and mallards. Spending time with the PA Game Commission, she was able to learn this valuable skill, and then release the ducks back into the wild.

Jaidyn has been an excellent example of a true Conservation Ambassador, and we are so proud of her accomplishments! We are looking forward to seeing what else she works on in the future!

River Otter Recovery: Surveying Otter Populations in the Rocky Mountains

This week’s blog was written by Devin G., a Bucktails alumni. He writes about the reintroduction of otters in the Southwest United States.

River otters; these spunky animals are an icon of healthy waterways, presenting scientists with a method to indicate habitat quality. Since they are apex predators and consume many fish species, otters can become a victim of biomagnification in polluted rivers. Due to this pollution along with urbanization and overharvesting in the 19th and 20th centuries, river otter populations were depleted throughout their historic range. These majestic creatures were extirpated across the United States, including a majority of western states. In order to restore otter populations, Colorado wildlife crews reintroduced numerous otters in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1976. Biologists also planned to reintroduce otters in the Grand Canyon, but due to a remaining population of Southwestern river otters biologists feared the project would cause genetic swamping, contaminating the gene pool of the population. You don’t usually think of river otters when thinking of the southwest, but Southwestern, or Sonoran, river otters are one of seven subspecies of the North American river otter and when reintroduction efforts began across the U.S., it made the search for native otter species such as these much more complex.

Me standing by the Colorado River with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Wildlife biologists knew that reintroduced otter populations would travel down the Colorado River, eventually reaching the isolated Sonoran population in the Grand Canyon. In an attempt to predict how long it would take for otters to naturally disperse, studies were conducted in Rocky Mountain National Park, and continue bi-annually. I had the opportunity to assist in one of these population surveys this past fall. The goal of this survey was to identify otter signs through scat identification and the location of latrine sites. This data could be used to estimate population size and evaluate seasonal changes in latrine use to determine the preferred sampling period.

Our surveying group walks along the stream, looking for otter signs.

As we conducted the survey, groups of about five members hiked along different sections of the Colorado River. While surveying, we watched for heavily used slides as indicators of latrines while also looking for fresh scat. When we found a location with otter signs, we would collect data from the surrounding area. This data consisted of a GPS location, underbrush cover, canopy cover, aspect, and bank slope as well as the characteristics of the stream like width, shad cover, and substrate material. We also recorded observations about the scat samples and whether it was relatively new or old. In our section of the survey, we discovered two areas with otter signs. Both were slides with a nearby latrine, and we found fresh scat at each of the sites. Although we found few signs of otters in this fall survey, it will be interesting to see if otters are more active in the spring, when the other part of the survey occurs. I owe this experience to the Wyoming University Chapter of The Wildlife Society which introduced me to this study and urge that everyone gets involved with groups who share similar interests with you.

The photos in this blog belong to the author.