MTPR

Montana Natural History Center

Sagebrush near San Luis, CO.
Flickr user Jeff B (CC-BY-2.0)

I’ve always been impressed by survivors, especially here in the arid, unforgiving West. No species better demonstrates this survival instinct for me than does the lowly Artemisia tridentata, better known as big sagebrush. And few other species come as close to communicating such a significant part of the nature of the landscape.

North American river otters.
Dmitry Azovtsev (CC-BY-SA-3)

At the end of last summer, as I sat in an eddy on the Clark Fork River, something furry and black caught my eye, moving as smoothly as the water itself. I was looking at a North American river otter. Remembering studying sea otters in elementary school, I wondered if I had just seen something rare for this region, and decided to do a little research.

Geology student studying the limestone near Farlin, MT.
UM Western

Last summer I was helping teach a geology field camp near Dillon. On our way back to the Birch Creek Outdoor Education Center each day, after long hours in the August sun spent identifying and mapping incredible exposures of rock, we would drive past a few crumbling cabins beneath an unweathered cliff face footed by large piles of scree.

This was once the town of Farlin – a long-abandoned copper mining camp at the base of the Pioneer Mountains. Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, it was home to hundreds of men, women, and children. Inextricable from the experience of Montana, ghost towns like this one now dot the landscape they once extracted.

While watching an evening newscast about Montana wildfires, I saw some TV footage of deer and elk fleeing burning areas and listened to speculation by the newscasters of how many animals might be killed during the fires. I was reminded of watching the movie Bambi as a child, and fearing for Bambi’s life as he fled that fictional wildfire many decades ago.

So how devastating are wildfires to deer and elk? Can most of them outrun or outflank a rapidly spreading fire? And what about the survivors when they return to a burned forest? Isn’t their habitat destroyed?

Krummholz: The Bonsai Opportunists Of Timberline

Jun 19, 2017
Flickr user, famartin. (CC-BY-3.0)

Winds lash the peaks. Snow pelts the ridges almost every month of the year. The warmest average monthly temperature is a mere 50 degrees F. The conifer forests of the high Northern Rockies appear hunched, twisted and bent. In fact, there’s a word for the dwarf form of subalpine tree species which in other environs would grow tall and straight: “krummholz,” which translated from German means “crooked wood.”

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