Monday, May 12, 2008

Spring (?) in Montana

We've arrived back at our summer volunteer location at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, Montana, where the days have been cool and the nights cold. We're surrounded by snow-covered mountains, the Bitterroots to the west, and the Sapphires to the east. The snow pack is over 120% of normal, which is a good thing, unless it gets real warm in a hurry, then the danger of flooding throughout the valley is a concern. 6000' above the visitor center, Saint Mary's peak is a beautiful sight in the morning sun. It's great to be back among such good people here at the refuge, and we've been running into people we met from our summer of 06' tour. While strolling through the booths at the Missoula downtown market one Saturday, we stopped at the display for the Wind River Bear Institute, a really interesting group of folks that we had the chance to meet and watch perform at the refuge. They provide a one of a kind service called "bear shepherding" using Karelian bear dogs. You can learn how the dogs are used here.
We've settled into our routine; our obligation is to provide 24 hours per week in exchange for a full hookup site. This year, the other couple here for the summer is staffing the visitor center on weekends, a job we formerly performed, and we're focusing on environmental education and public outreach programs. We've been asked to develop and conduct a program called "behind the signs", where we take visitors for a tour of the area of the refuge normally closed to the public. We're also developing a "traveling road show" to take to area campgrounds and any organization interested in a presentation in an effort to increase awareness of the refuge, and hopefully the number of people who visit. In addition, Brenda is teaching classes when we have schools visit, and I'm back in the wood workshop when I get the chance. Tomorrow I have All Terrain Vehicle training - WooHoo!
As always, we've taken the time to do some exploring. We drove over the Bitterroots for lunch at one of our favorite places, the Lochsa Lodge. On the way back, we stopped at the Lolo Pass visitor center, where the snow has really piled up - and this is only at an elevation of 5200'. This is the time of year when the elk congregate into large herds and in the early evening can be seen on fields and pasture. Just a few miles down from the refuge, we came upon a large herd, seemingly relaxed and comfortable around people. I was able to walk up to the edge of the field and get this picture of a young bull. Soon, they'll disappear into the mountains to escape the heat and mate, but for now, it's a real treat to see so many magnificent animals in one area. It's also a time for the Canada Geese to have their young; I caught these geese and gosling at a refuge pond. Unfortunately, the Canada Geese, as in much of the country, have become a nuisance; hopefully many of these will continue on north as the summer progresses. Of all of the wildlife on the refuge, we're both fascinated by the badger. We know of at least three active dens this year, and this one in particular is the grand lady who we've seen over the last two years. She comes out of her den frequently, and will pose for pictures.....just don't get too close.
We're looking forward to our summer stay here in the Bitterroot Valley; lots to see and do, and lots to learn. Come back and visit!