Winter Field Studies

Course Overview:

The purpose of Northwest Connections courses is to provide university students and interested citizens with opportunities to learn about ecology and environmental studies in the field while collaborating with us on long term ecological monitoring and restoration projects. Students in our Winter Field Studies course assist NwC with monitoring the presense and distribution of forest carnivores including lynx, fisher, pine marten and wolverine.

Winter Field Studies students study the diverse habitat types represented in the Swan Valley, the flora and fauna that utilize these habitats and the human communities which depend upon the area. The development of skills is a central part of the course and students learn how to identify trees, shrubs and animal tracks as well as practice the skills necessary to travel, camp and conduct research in the winter.

The first half of the course is taught using a rustic homestead as the base camp. We spend all day in the field and then return at night to interact with guest speakers. Speakers include local residents with years of experience in the outdoors, agency biologists and managers. Three days and two nights of the course are spent in a remote backcountry setting. Students assist NwC staff in surveying one of our 10K transects designed to document track evidence of lynx, fisher, marten and wolverine. Data collected assists public and private land owners and managers in planning for the conservation of these species.

The culminating activity is a group project wherein students are asked to utilize all available information and outline the major elements of an ecosystem management plan that would conserve mid-sized carnivores in the Swan Valley.


The Winter Field Studies reader includes segments of relevant Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife service documents, articles in conservation biology, essays by early homesteaders and trappers, and general readings in ecology. Authors include Wallace Stegner, Mary Hartwick, Bud Moore, Reed Noss, John Weaver, Barry Lopez and Mary Oliver.

Course Itinerary:

Day 1 -- 10:00am Meet @ Buck Creek Cabin, Swan Valley

Introductions -- students/staff

Safety Talk/Gear Check

Field Session : Buck Creek

Recognizing eco-types in the Swan Valley ecosystem.

Day 2 -- Forest Habitats

Field Session: Swan Front

Tree/shrub ID

Forest ecology

Evening Program:

"The Wild Bunch" Slideshow on lynx, fisher, marten and wolverine and their importance as indicator species.

Day 3 -- Animal Tracks

Field Session: Windfall Creek

Animal track and sign

Evening Program:

"Ethical Trapping: A Perspective on Forest Carnivores" -- Bud Moore and Butch Harmon, Swan Valley residents who developed a curriculum on ethical trapping for the Montana Trappers Association

Day 4 -- Wildife Linkages

Field Session: Lindbergh Lake-Jocko Ridge

Begin track survey for lynx, fisher, marten, wolverine

Set up spike camp

Evening Speaker: "Issues of Multiple Ownership and affects on wildlife"-- Vernon

La Fontaine, FS wildlife biologist for the Swan Lake Ranger District.

Day 5 -- Ecological Linkages

Field Session: Jocko Ridge-Crystal Lake

Continued track surveys in two field teams

Evening Program: "Swan Valley Community: Perspectives on Conservation" Tiger Hulett, a local logger and trapper shares his thoughts on the subject.

Day 6 -- Conservation Issues

Field Session: Crystal Lake-Lindbergh Lake

Complete track transect

Meet with Lindbergh Lake Conservation Committee to discuss current land exchange process.

Return to Buck Creek base camp

Day 7 -- Ecosystem Management

Evaluate the findings of track surveys

Work on final project

Evening Speakers: "Lynx, Marten, Fisher and Wolverine" Dr. John Weaver and "Chirp" his lynx present a talk on carnivore biology at the Condon Community Hall.

Day 8 -- Course Conclusion

Present final project

Final Exam

Course Evaluation

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