27 December 2013

Friday Field Notes: Home for the Holidays

During my visit back east I was reminded of how wonderful my parents' backyard is for observing birds and small critters. As I sat on my parents' back porch I was ecstatic to see a number of Black-capped Chickadees, one of my favorite birds in Montana, as they quickly swooped down from the shrubs and large oak tree towards the bird feeder that my parents had positioned in the backyard when I was just a child. Ever since its placement in our backyard, the bird feeder has always attracted Eastern gray squirrels. It still puts a smile on my face to watch the squirrels scurry about, as they gather the birds' littered seeds off of the ground.

13 December 2013

Friday Field Notes: Greenough Park at Dusk

December 9, 2013

During a winter walk in the snow with Greg and my dog Oatis we decided to stop at our favorite swimming spot on the Rattlesnake Creek. 

06 December 2013

Friday Field Notes: Nature Journaling on a Brisk December Day

December 1, 2013

Norway Maple 
Latin name: Acer platanoides

The Norway Maple originates from Europe and Western Asia and was introduced the the United States as an ornamental tree. The deciduous tree offers shade in the spring and summer and it is adapted to survive in adverse conditions, typical of Montana winters. It is believed that the first Norway Maples were brought to Missoula by Frank Worden, the founder of Missoula. Although a beautiful tree, the Norway Maple, with its dense canopies of foliage and allelopathic properties (a process in which its roots release a toxin into the ground) are known to displace native plant species. 

22 November 2013

Friday Field Notes: Oh, I Have Been Inspired!

I love nature journaling, but, frankly, it has been a number of months since I have opened my journal. A few weeks ago I noticed that MNHC was offering a weekend drawing workshop with the talented Nancy Seiler. I thought to myself, what better way to get back into nature journaling than to take a class where I must make keen observations of natural objects and draw them for 8 hours a day? Although drawing for two days straight was difficult, as I was certainly out of practice, it was well worth it. I am thankful to Nancy and all those who participated in the class for inspiring me to not only practice my nature journaling skills, but to embrace the challenge. I have set a goal for myself to keep a weekly nature journal. My hope is that by carving out time in my busy schedule to work on my journal that I will not only improve my drawing and writing skills, but that I may also find stillness in my life as I connect with nature. 

Entry 1: November 20th, 2013

13 September 2013

Friday Field Notes: A Little Face on a Quaking Aspen Leaf

Last Friday, September 6th, I enjoyed a leisurely hike up to the Blodgett Canyon Overlook in the Bitterroot National Forest. The warm sun was muffled by a scattering of grayish clouds, allowing the temperature to stay below 85 degrees. It was a perfect day for a short adventure.

On the descent of the hike, I stopped next to a four-foot-high quaking aspen tree alongside the trail. I reached for a leaf, and placed it in my hand. My fingers followed the contours of its outline, amazed at its symmetry. I stepped back to look at the whole tree, when my fiancé said, "Hey, look at this!" Between his fingers he held another aspen leaf. I glanced at the leaf, but didn't notice anything, and looked back at him questioningly. He said, "Look closer." As I stared at the leaf, I was taken aback by the caterpillar that lay on the leaf before me. Two yellow ovals on the top of its head created the appearance of eyes, and a yellow and brown line across its thorax unveiled a smirk (depending on your perspective). Its green body with subtle blue dots blended in perfectly with the leaf.

I learned that this caterpillar was a Western Tiger Swallowtail, or Papilio rutulus, and that it is common to western North America. They are often seen in woodlands, riparian areas, and urban settings. These caterpillars feed on the leaves of hardwoods, such as poplar, willow, alder, maple, cottonwood, and quaking aspen. The Western Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar, or larva, will molt about five times before pupating (that is, evolving from a caterpillar to an adult insect--in this case, a butterfly). For butterflies, the pupal stage is called chrysalis. When the caterpillar has reached its full size, it produces silk to adhere itself to a leaf or limb of a tree. At this point in the process, the caterpillar will shed its skin one last time, leaving a hard skin, called a chrysalis. The caterpillar will stay in this stage until it is ready to turn into a butterfly.

In the summer, a butterfly can emerge within fifteen days of pupating, but if it pupates in the fall, it must wait until springtime, when the temperature begins to rise. The beautiful butterfly that emerges from the chrysalis has yellow on its forewings, a thick black border along the wings' outside edge, and a hint of orange and blue on its tail. Its wingspan is ~8.5 centimeters. Females will lay up to 100 eggs onto the protective underside of leaves, and within four days or so, they will hatch, introducing a new group of smirking caterpillars into the natural world.

06 September 2013

Friday Field Notes: Sketching Changes in Nature

For me, the start of school marks change. In my own body, I notice a change in the pace at which I move. It is as though the lethargy induced by summer's heat slowly starts to leave my body, revealing a new zest and passion for exploring the outdoors. I know that I transform in this manner, because I listen to my body and I make note of the changes that I feel.

Similarly, if you take the time, you can note change in the natural world. As the seasons starts to change, so do the animals, birds, insects, plants, and natural landscapes. Change can be bold and impossible to miss, or it might be subtle and easily overlooked. In order to understand and learn from these changes, it is helpful to stop, observe, and document your observations about the way the natural world evolves. We can teach ourselves and each other about change, by tapping into our sense of sight, smell, hearing, and touch. The change of a season is a perfect time to start observing, sketching, and learning to embrace change.

How do you sketch changes?

Well, first start by creating or buying a nature journal. It does not have to be fancy, but it should include blank sheets of paper and be bound. Dedicate at least one page of your journal to each individual observation. Start by choosing a plant, animal, insect, bird, or landscape to sketch. If you choose a landscape, remember that it is best to start small. Date your entry, including the time, location, and weather. In your sketch, concentrate on details. You can add depth to your observation by including additional drawings, colors, and words.

Revisit the object or place on a daily or weekly basis. Make a new sketch on the same page as your first one. Note any changes in the new sketch in comparison to your last sketch. Remember to use all of your senses! Does is smell differently? Have the colors changed? Do you hear different sounds? Continue this process as long as possible. Be inquisitive and explore each curiosity to better understand the evolution of the object or place over time. Who knows, maybe you'll become fascinated with the changes, and you will have years and years of observations about one object or landscape. In the end, all of your observations, drawn and written, will help you and others to understand the complexities of change within our natural world. Go ahead, and start sketching changes in nature!

Learn how to make your own nature journal!

26 April 2013

Friday Field Notes: What's Blooming in Missoula?

By now, you must certainly feel like we've turned the corner here in western Montana and are well on our way to Spring. Sure, we've seen this before. Only a few weeks ago, temperatures were peaking in the 60s, and what did Mother Nature serve us up next? A week of rain and snow! But the weather these past few days, along with the forecast for highs in the 70s this weekend, has me convinced that Spring is here to stay. There's something else that has tipped me off, too . . . wildflowers!

For the past few weeks, since the very first buttercups defiantly sprung up from the ground, things have been slowly - but surely - progressing. Now, there are number of different wildflowers out and about that you should look for on your next hike. Here's a collection of what is in bloom around Missoula:

Shooting Stars on Waterworks Hill
Waterworks Hill:
On the lower slopes of Waterworks Hill, Arrow-leaf Balsamroot is beginning to dominate the south-facing fields, with some Biscuitroot and Larkspur joining the burst of color. Higher up the trail, Shooting stars and Yellowbells are abundant, while a few hearty Lupine are starting to flower. On the upper, wind-exposed ridge, Missoula White Phlox and Rocky Mountain Douglasia are abundant. There are also countless basal leaves of Bitterroots, but no flowers just yet. Below in Cherry Gulch, there are a few Woodland Stars to be found.

Mount Jumbo:
During a recent trail run along the lower slopes of Mount Jumbo, the most abundant flower appeared to be Buttercups. It was apparent that Yellowbells and Shooting Stars were already on their way out for the season, as the few that were found looked pretty worn. The next wave of flowers set to take over are Biscuitroot, Lupine, Arrow-leaf Balsamroot, and Larkspur, though only a handful of plants were actually in bloom. To my surprise, I found a number of Oregon Grape plants already flowering.

Arrow-leaf Balsamroot on Waterworks Hill

Rattlesnake Creek:
Along Rattlesnake Creek, the towering Ponderosa Pines have provided enough shade to slow Spring down quite a bit. The only flowers to be found in bloom were Buttercups. On some of the hills above the creek, a few Glacier Lilies provided a welcome surprise. Other than that, things appear to be a few weeks behind where they were last year. This may not really be related to wildflowers, but I'm sad to report that I have yet to find morel mushrooms in the areas I discovered them last year. Hopefully, the warm weather of late will be more conducive to wild mushroom foraging!

Rocky Mountain Douglasia on Waterworks Hill.

Oh, and since I've already strayed away from wildflowers with my mushroom rant, here's a killdeer nest:

Killdeer Nest in the Upper Rattlesnake.
We would love to hear about your wildflower observations or any other Spring happenings you've come across in the comments!

19 April 2013

Friday Field Notes: Spring Break Edition

Note: Two weeks ago, like many others around the state, I took the opportunity to get away from Montana's moody spring weather and head out on a Spring Break adventure to warmer climes. Each year, I am drawn by some invisible force to Utah's red rock country, and that is precisely where I landed yet again.  My home will always be amongst the mountains of the Northern Rockies, but the desert offers a type of experience that drives my imagination wild. For anyone with a remote interest in natural history, desert ecology and geology is truly fascinating. Of course, the landscape is also highly photogenic, its bizarre colors and sleek curves a dramatic contrast to the rolling mountains and valleys of Montana. The following are a handful of photos from my recent trip through Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I hope they inspire you, excite your senses, and conjure up the adventure spirit found within all of us. - Mike Canetta

Fifty-Mile Mountain, a distinct "step" in the southwest's unique geologic formation known as "The Grand Staircase," is an ever-present feature near the town of Escalante.

Over eons, a large, abrupt bend in the river has carved a stunning amphitheater in Coyote Gulch.

(More photos after the jump)

29 March 2013

Friday Field Notes: Bluebird Days

Lately, it seems as if the sky is blue more often than not. There is nothing quite like waking up to a brisk, bluebird day in the spring in Montana. The growing strength of the sunshine warms the skin and raises hope that summer is not far away. But it isn't just the sun that illuminates the landscape this time of year.

On a recent outing up Missoula's Waterworks Hill, I heard a soft, chattery whistle sound. Initially, I was caught off-guard, but rather quickly it hit me: Mountain Bluebirds. I panned around, searching for the magnificent cerulean birds, and sure enough, there they were perched on a power line right above me. I don't know why I was so surprised to see them; the sweeping grasslands are perfect bluebird habitat that the birds return to every year. Perhaps it was simply the abruptness with which they arrived. The previous day, there were no bluebirds to be found. Now, there were dozens.
A male Mountain Bluebird with his lunch.
Mountain Bluebirds (Sialia currocoides) are a small member of the thrush family, which includes common birds like the American Robbin, Hermit Thrush, Townsend's Solitaire, and other bluebirds. While common throughout Montana and most of the interior West in the spring and summer, Mountain Bluebirds move as far south as Central America to winter. Rather interestingly, Mountain Bluebirds can tolerate colder habitats than other bluebirds, and some migrate westward to the Sierras for the winter. I suppose they must be pretty hearty, as their early return to the Northern Rockies inevitably results in them being forced to weather a handful of spring snowstorms.

Unlike many bird species, Mountain Bluebirds have largely benefited from human settlement and activity in the West. The clearing of previously forested lands and the expansion of agricultural development has opened up millions of acres of new bluebird habitat. They also have been helped by our affinity for them - there must be hundreds of thousands of "bluebird boxes" scattered across the western United States.

A female Mountain Bluebird hovers while searching for insects.
Like most thrushes, Mountain Bluebirds feed primarily on insects, although their diet is supplemented throughout the year with small fruits and seeds. What sets this particular bird apart from its close relatives, however, is the way in which they sometimes acquire their food. Mountain Bluebirds can often be seen hovering in place, not unlike American Kestrels, as they scan the ground for insects. If prey is found, they quickly swoop down to the ground like a raptor pouncing on a small rodent. It is a spectacular sight to behold, made all the wilder and more intense by the bird's stunning colors.

Over the coming days and weeks, more and more of these magnificent birds are sure to arrive. Their presence on Waterworks Hill and other grassy fields across Montana is likely to be accompanied by that of a close rival, the Western Bluebird. As mating season takes off and the struggle to establish a territory reaches fever pitch, Mountain Bluebirds will clash with Westerns as well as members of their own species over nesting boxes and territories. It will be a spectacle, no doubt. I, for one, will be watching eagerly.

Have you seen any bluebirds yet this spring? Do your bluebird boxes have new residents? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

19 March 2013

Friday Field Notes: Sounds of Spring

There are few better harbingers of spring in North America than the millions of birds that begin to arrive and sing about this time each year. Sure, an arbitrary date on the Julian calendar and the act of changing our clocks alerts us to the coming season, but nothing signals the actual arrival of spring and its warmer weather quite like birds and their songs do. And much to my delight,  all kinds of birds are beginning to "spring" up around Montana.

The first sign for me that migration was underway occurred about ten days ago, when I awoke to the sound of an emphatic Killdeer in my yard. Although these shorebirds are year-round residents of western Montana's valley bottoms, this particular pair seems to take off for greener pastures every year in late September, only to return to the same exact spot sometime in March. It was a surprising but welcome event.

One of my squatters on his first day back.
Not long after this punctual plover showed up, I noticed that there was a sudden influx of robins in the area. Like Killdeer, the American Robin is also a year-round resident, but only a handful stick around and brave the winter. Come late February/early March, large flocks of these renowned "early birds" begin to invade. It is safe to say that our lawns and parks will be worm-free any day now.

The surest sign of spring I've received thus far came only a week ago. At the crack of dawn, a Song Sparrow who managed to spend all winter in my backyard began singing his complex, melodic song in an attempt to impress a nearby female. His choruses were joined by dozens of hopeful Black-Capped Chickadees belting our their unmistakable "cheese-bur-ger" song. Then, out of nowhere, I noticed a Spotted Towhee vigorously scratching through leaves and dirt, likely searching for a suitable place to nest.

There have also been a few oddities that have signaled change is in the air. That same day, a small flock of Pine Grosbeaks joined the raucous group of birds around my home, likely beginning their trip up to the higher elevations where they breed. Even more shocking was the sight of a Mountain Chickadee on my feeder and a Townsend's Solitaire taking a bath in my gutter, sure indications that birds are moving around and transitioning from winter to summer habitat.

All of this recent bird activity around my home in Missoula coincides with the wealth of observations from around the state of Red-winged Blackbirds beginning to sing and court. It is only a matter of time, really, until Western Meadowlarks arrive and grace us with their bubbly verses. I'll really be a believer, though, when Mountain Bluebirds return to paint our hillsides the color of the sky. 

What's going on in your backyard? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!

01 March 2013

Friday Field Notes: A Bohemian Rhapsody

I see a little silhuetto of a bird,
It's got a crest! It's got a crest!
And a beautiful masked face!
... And waxy yellow tips on its wings?

I'll admit it: that was cheesy, at best. But the timing of this this naturalist-inspired Queen spoof is perhaps perfect. As winter crawls along, thousands of Bohemian Waxwings fill the valleys of western Montana with their sweet trill. Yet not every winter presents such a great opportunity to see them (indeed, their name "Bohemian" lends credence to their extremely nomadic nature), so it's worth taking advantage of the recent influx of these magnificent birds while they're here.

Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) are one of three large passerine species that belong to family "Bombycillidae," commonly known as the Waxwings. The other two - Cedar Waxwings and Japanese Waxwings (native to Japan - surprised?) - are very similar in appearance to the Bohemian. Bohemian Waxwings (like their close cousins) inhabit temperate coniferous and mixed forests, and feed primarily on fleshy fruits and berries, though gleaning for insects becomes a primary summer feeding behavior. Interestingly, Bohemian Waxwings do not establish breeding territories, likely because the fruits they depend on are abundant during breeding season. As a result, these birds have no true songs, communicating almost entirely through their high-pitched trill.

While Cedar Waxwings are found in Montana year-round, Bohemians - outside of a small sliver in the northwestern-most corner of the state - only occur in winter. Thus, Bohemian Waxwings and Cedar Waxwings are both present in winter in Montana, and the two species frequently form mixed flocks. Hence, the problem: How does one tell apart these two extremely similar birds?

Cedar Waxwing top right; lower two birds are Bohemian Waxwings.
This photo, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, provides a big helping hand. The difference in size (Bohemian Waxwings on average are 2-3 centimeters longer and 1 ounce larger) is particularly noticeable, and other field marks become evident. Note the dark red coloration underneath the Bohemians' tails, which the Cedar Waxwing completely lacks. The best field mark to check for, however, is the belly color. Bohemian Waxwings have slate grey bellies, while Cedar Waxwings have vibrant, sulphur-yellow bellies that turn to amber nearer the head. Being able to pick up on this field mark will help you make a correct identification next time you're out and about with your binoculars.

Of course, you aren't very likely to get this good of a look at the two species side-by-side, as they are notorious for their constant gleaning and fluttering about. This is where being able to tell the difference in their call can be useful.  As you listen to the Bohemian Waxwing's high-pitched trill (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/bohemian_waxwing/sounds), be sure to listen carefully, as you can hear each individual note in the call. Cedar Waxwings, by comparison, have a nasally, high-pitched whistle (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/sounds) which resembles more of a single "bzeeee" note. While at first the two calls sound very similar, you will quickly pick up on the subtle differences between the two.

Hopefully this crash course in waxwing identification helps you in your future birding pursuits. At the very least, you now know that Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" can be laughably re-mixed to accommodate birds and natural history topics!

Have you seen or heard any Bohemian Waxwings this winter? Be sure to let us know!

08 February 2013

Friday Field Notes: All Eyes on the Wolverine

When it comes to wolverines in the news, the media is usually referring to a certain university in Michigan, not the aggressive, thirty-pound weasel that roams the high mountain ranges of the western United States. But following last week's announcement by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that the large mustelids were being considered for "Threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act, even prominent news outlets like the New York Times and the Huffington Post couldn't keep their eyes off Gulo gulo.

The wolverine's scientific name, Gulo, comes from the Latin word for "glutton." However, despite the animal's ability to take prey of considerably larger body sizes than its own, the characterization of the wolverine as a glutton may actually be the result of a false etymology. Indeed, some researchers believe that the Swedish word used to describe wolverines (which in English translates to "mountain cat") is very similar to the German word vielfrass, which means "devours much"--and the rest is history. The common name "wolverine" is derived from the German word wolvering, which loosely translates to "little wolf" or "wolf-like."

They might look cute, but I've heard they have a bit of a temper.
A more appropriate name for the wolverine would be "little bear." In the rare event that people actually do see a wolverine in the wild (usually from some distance away), they often mistake them at first for bear cubs. It's hard to blame them: wolverines can be over three feet long and weigh upwards of 70 pounds! At nearly twice the size of their cousin the fisher (Martes pennanti), it becomes obvious that wolverines are not your ordinary weasel. When it comes to meal time, wolverines are actually more like bears than weasels. While prey often consists of small mammals such as shrews, voles, and rabbits, wolverines have been known to take animals as large as white-tailed deer, elk, and occasionally moose. This fact, combined with the fearless manner in which they have been observed competing with wolves and bears for carcasses, has earned the wolverine the title of "nature's most ferocious animal."

Incredible feeding behaviors aside, the most impressive aspect of the wolverine might be its propensity for movement. With massive, snowshoe-like feet, wolverines can move quickly and gracefully over snow-covered alpine environments. Case in point: a wolverine collared by researchers near Jackson, Wyoming, once traveled to Pocatello, Idaho, (a distance well over 100 miles) and back in under three weeks. Apparently not tired of life on the road, he later made another 100+ mile trip southeast to Wyoming's Wind River Range, then took a detour to the Salt River Range on the Wyoming-Idaho border before returning north to his home.
A wolverine family roams the backcountry of Glacier National Park

Don't let this deceive you; wolverines aren't wanderers, rambling through the mountains without direction. Rather, they are animals with massive home ranges, sometimes greater than 200 square miles, living in very low densities. In the odd event that they do manage to run into another wolverine and develop a romantic interest (which will become a lifetime partnership), the female digs a large den in deep snow in winter before giving birth to a litter of two to three in early spring, which the family will occupy until late spring/early summer. Thus, the presence of deep snow, both for movement and denning, is a critical part of wolverine life history.

It is these strict habitat needs--particularly the need for stable snowpack--that now have prominent scientists and researchers discussing whether the animal warrants the heightened protection of Endangered Species Act listing. Some climate models predict that suitable wolverine habitat will decrease by almost two-thirds before the end of the century if warming and reduced snowpack trends continue. It is a particularly damning revelation for the wolverine, whose population is just beginning to recolonize habitat in the lower 48 after near-extirpation, and now numbers somewhere between 250 and 300 individuals. In 2008 and 2009, a few ambitious wolverines wandered as far south as Utah and Colorado, the first time they have been observed in either state in nearly a century. Now, the strides being made by wolverines to re-establish themselves in the West are in danger of being nullified by climate change.

If ESA protection is granted to the wolverine (a decision that will be made in about three months time, once the comment period closes), researchers would be allowed to introduce an experimental population in Colorado, a region which offers plenty of suitable habitat, yet due to connectivity issues, has not been naturally recolonized. It is unknown if similar reintroductions/translocations would be permitted in other areas of the western US. Due to the nature of wolverine habitat (high, cold, rocky, dry places), ESA listing would likely have little economic impact, though it would certainly put an end to Montana's trapping season, which currently allows for the taking of five animals annually. It is worth noting that the 2012-2013 season was suspended by a U.S. district court in anticipation of the ESA listing proposal.

While the future of the wolverine is uncertain, there is little doubt that Montana will be an important part of that future. Today, roughly half of the lower 48's estimated population of 300 wolverines lives within the Big Sky state. The mountains of northwestern Montana, particularly Glacier National Park and the nearby Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, are a stronghold for this fiery weasel. Conserving wolverines, therefore, is intimately tied to the conservation of our backyard.

01 February 2013

Friday Field Notes: On Bergmann's Rule, Ratios, and the Art of Staying Warm in Northern Climates

When MNHC's distinguished naturalists enter elementary school classrooms throughout western Montana this February for their monthly visit/natural history lesson, they will be discussing a fairly important ecological principle with 4th graders: Bergmann's rule. First articulated by German biologist Christian Bergmann (hence the name), the principle states that within a broadly distributed species or taxonomic group, an organism's body mass tends to increase with an increase in latitude (and the corresponding colder climate). While this principle has been most widely applied to mammals and birds, there are also examples of cold-blooded species that conform to the rule.

Why is such a principle observed in nature, you ask? Fundamentally, it is a function of larger animals exhibiting a decreased surface-area-to-volume ratio. Thus, larger-bodied animals lose less heat per unit of body mass, a characteristic that becomes vitally important in places like Montana where winters are long and cold. The following graphic helps better display this relationship:

Graphic displaying the mathematics underlying Bergmann's rule.

The important thing to note is the red text: While the larger cube has a considerably higher surface area, its volume has increased proportionately even more, thus lowering the surface-area-to-volume ratio.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Surface-area-to-volume ratios are a bit much for 4th graders. Most of us hadn't even heard of Bergmann's rule until our first college-level ecology course. But the science and mathematics underlying this stalwart of ecology can be easily explained and visualized. Consider this simple experiment, best suited for a brisk (32 degrees F or less) Montana winter day:
  • Simultaneously fill up two cans of different sizes (i.e., a coffee can and a soup can) with near-boiling water. Place a thermometer in each can, and record the initial temperature.
  • Place both cans outside. Record the temperature of each can every minute for approximately ten minutes.
  • Afterwards, compare the change in temperature of the cans. The larger can should be significantly warmer than the smaller one, a result of its lower surface-area-to-volume ratio.
This simple experiment is a great way to test and conceptualize Bergmann's rule, and sheds light onto why being bigger is better when you live in northern latitudes. This fundamental relationship between surface area and volume explains why animals such as deer, elk, moose, and bears get larger as you move further north within their range. In some cases, the size difference can be quite dramatic. Male grizzly bears, for example, whose average weight is in the range of 500-1000 pounds in the Interior West, can reach up to 1,500 pounds in Alaska! In white-tailed deer, an incredibly far-ranging species, a similarly dramatic change is observed:

Bergmann's rule exhibited in white-tailed deer

So, if you're feeling guilty about those extra pounds you're still carrying around from holiday feasts or winter vacations, look on the bright side: You're going to stay much warmer this winter than you would without them!

25 January 2013

Friday Field Notes: Why is Yellowstone in Montana?

Note: After more than a month-long hiatus in which the blog's author traveled to places as far and exotic as the Galapagos Islands and New Jersey, Friday Field Notes is back! Here's hoping that the natural world provides us all with excitement, beauty, enlightenment, and inspiration in 2013!

In the last few years, you may have driven past a billboard or a truck displaying this eye-catching advertisement:

The ad, containing a stunning aerial shot of Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring, was put out by the Montana Office of Tourism in an attempt to ensure people spend time in Big Sky country on their next Yellowstone trip. The irony of it, however, will not be lost on most: Grand Prismatic rests firmly within Wyoming's borders. 

Yellowstone, oft heralded not just as America's but the world's first national park, is a spectacular and sublime place, so it's no surprise that Montana would want to claim partial "ownership" of it. And technically speaking, 3% of Yellowstone's more than 2.2 million acres is within our borders (1% falls within Idaho, while the remaining 96% makes up the northwest corner of Wyoming). But that's just the thing: only 3% of Yellowstone is within Montana. When one looks at the park's boundaries, this section appears as little more than a straight sliver of land invading south-central Montana. This observation begs the question: Just why exactly is Yellowstone even in Montana? A deeper look at history begins to reveal some of the answers.