Takahula Lake just off the Alatna River on the final day of the trip. Takahula Mountain in the background.
Adventure Scientists team members, Ricky Jones (Technology Manager), Gregg Treinish (Founder & Executive Director), and Mike Herring (Board Member), spent ten days backpacking and packrafting in remote areas of Alaska to collect data for the Wild and Scenic Rivers project.
Due to the remote and wild nature of the landscape in Alaska, many of the Wild and Scenic Rivers there have unassessed or unknown water quality, making the state a priority area for data collection. Adventure Scientists’ federal and state agency partners will use the data to preserve water resources that support wildlife, recreation, fishing, and human communities.
Here, Ricky, Gregg, and Mike share highlights from their August trip, including grizzly bear encounters, grueling hikes with 70 pound packs, and surprising water quality results.
Rainstorms, a nerve-racking bear encounter, 5,000-foot ascents up mountain passes: Sounds exactly like a Rocky Mountain bikepacking trip. Three volunteers with Adventure Scientists’ Wildlife Connectivity project turned their data-collection trip into a week-long, 400-mile loop last summer. Read all about their experience in a new blog post by one of the cyclists, Conor O’Brian:
"I woke up one morning to see that I’d been tagged in an instagram photo by our friend Emily. A Montana based organization, Adventure Scientists, was looking for volunteer cyclists to ride through Montana to assist in a study on wildlife-vehicle collisions in the state. Matt, Emily and I applied that day, and were accepted shortly thereafter. Our task? Photograph and document roadkill we encountered along the Beartooth highway in southwest Montana - often described as one of the most scenic mountain passes in America. Photographing dead animals in the name of science? Finally - putting that Environmental Management degree to good use!
"In the days immediately after accepting our new roles as dead wildlife photographers, Matt, Emily and I organized a week-long bikepacking route that would take us through the Beartooth and Pryor mountains of Montana and Bighorn mountains of Wyoming (Thanks, Bikepacking.com!). The three of us would ride together that week, and then Matt and I would break off and organize ourselves to ride a 1,400 mile section of the Divide from northern Montana to Colorado.
"Less than a week after that instagram tag, Matt and I were sitting in his fully packed Jeep Grand Cherokee, our beloved gravel bikes strapped securely to the roof rack. We aimed ourselves in the direction of the sky scraping mountains and vast plains of the American west we’d heard and read so much about. We smiled as we hit the gas. We were off.
"Beyond our excitement to explore a new area and engage in some environmental stewardship, we figured this first 400 mile, week-long loop would function as a perfect ‘dry run’ as Matt and I looked ahead to the Divide. High elevations, unpredictable and varied weather, grizzly bear country, extended time in the backcountry, sparse resupply options, and three separate 15+ mile climbs would put our bikepacking skills to the test. While Emily was also an experienced cyclist as a former bike tour leader, these challenges would be new for all of us.
"I couldn’t wait to embark on this unexpected summer journey with these teammates of mine."
Check out the full “Bikepacking the West” post on Conor’s website and be sure to browse his incredible art prints inspired by his adventures. This one is titled “Rolling Toward Forever” and features Emily Hammel, Matt Duncan, and Conor on the approach to the Beartooth Mountains outside of Red Lodge, Montana.
Data from the trio’s trip will be used by wildlife and highway officials to find ways to reduce collisions between vehicles and animals. Adventure Scientists is now part of a larger coalition of groups working on the issue of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The field component of the project is paused as we align our goals with the larger coalition. Watch our social feeds and newsletter to stay in the loop! Learn more on the project webpage.
Thank you Conor, Matt, and Emily! We’re impressed and grateful for your contributions to conservation.
Ellie Friedmann takes water quality measurements from the North Fork of the Smith Wild and Scenic River in Oregon, during an early summer trip. Photo credit: Ellie and Northwest Rafting Co.
Adventure Scientists' volunteers get to explore the outdoors with a mission. For Ellie Friedmann, volunteering with our Wild and Scenic Rivers project gave her a new perspective on the rivers where she guides with the Northwest Rafting Co. in southern Oregon.
Ellie and her colleagues completed a five day backpacking/pack-rafting trip in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, a landscape the Forest Service's website describes as "a harsh, rugged area with a beautifully unique character that resonates with anyone who ventures into its interior... characterized by deep, rough canyons, sharp rock ridges, and clear rushing mountain streams and rivers."
Along the way, Ellie collected data on water quality for the project. In a blog post about the trip she writes: "We tested multiple sites on both established (Chetco, North Fork Smith rivers) and proposed (Baldface, Chrome creeks) Wild and Scenic Rivers. While these areas are specifically valued for their water quality in the Wild and and Scenic Rivers Act, they are rarely tested. We were able to prove that they are still extremely healthy at these upper reaches."
Check out Ellie's full blog post to learn about the carnivorous plants they encountered, the trek they took to get to the headwaters and access the main stem of Chrome creek, and why the group feels strongly that the waterways and tributaries they saw deserve designation in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
"[W]e were able to stand on a ridge overlooking the headwaters of all three Kalmiopsis Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Chetco River, the Illinois River, and the North Fork of the Smith River. Because we work on two of these amazing rivers, it was especially significant for us to see the springs that feed them," Ellie writes. "Seeing the river as a whole instead of just the commercial stretch added context. It also showed us how a pristine headwaters region translates to clean and clear water downstream."
Ellie, thank you for collecting data to help preserve the health of these special rivers. And thank you for sharing your experience and being part of our Adventure Scientists community.
Few trails, fewer roads, and endless adventure: For Alaska Panhandle residents Stéphanie Hayes and Josef Quitslund, volunteering to collect samples of yellow-cedar trees means battling spiny devil's club, balancing on mossy logs suspended over the forest floor, and island hopping through the temperate rainforest they call home.
The duo were collecting samples for our Timber Tracking project. We've partnered with scientists who are using the leaf and wood cores from volunteers to build chemical and genetic databases that can pinpoint the source of illegally harvested timber, ultimately protecting our forests.
Stéphanie and Josef live in Petersburg, Alaska, in the middle of the Tongass National Forest, along the Inside Passage. From December to January, they collected 81 samples of yellow-cedar and Western redcedar.
"We are really in the prime range of yellow-cedar," Stephanie told us. "Some areas we just knew right off the bat that there are a slew of old growth cedars — like 1000 year old specimens."
The volunteers island hopped via kayak and boat, hiked up steep terrain, navigated cavernous ravines and cliffs, and followed old logging roads.
They heard wolves singing and spotted wolf tracks. They also found one old yellow-cedar tree with a long strip of bark removed from about knee height to as far as either Stéphanie or Josef could reach above their heads. The tree was a "culturally modified" tree, evidence of human interaction with nature. Indigenous and First Nations peoples, including the Lingít Aaní (Tlingit) and Dënéndeh whose traditional lands are in that area, have long used yellow-cedar bark to create baskets, clothing, hats, and many other items.
"It's very wild and very remote, you need to bushwhack," Stéphanie says. "But when you are really admiring the environment you are in, you really start to feel the grandness of the ecosystem here and you feel a part of it."
Stéphanie and Josef, your efforts put us over the finish line for completing our yellow-cedar work. A huge thank you to you and to all our volunteers for their incredible dedication, hard work, and willingness to adventure for science!
The yellow-cedar phase of our Timber Tracking project has wrapped, but you can sign up to be the first to hear about the next tree species we'll be working to protect here: https://www.adventurescientists.org/timber.html
From blasting through river rapids to rock-hopping along the spines of continents, our volunteers have amazing adventure stories from their pursuit of scientific data. In December, we invited four volunteers to share their stories as part of our year-end celebration event. Check out the video replay to hear from:
As we look forward to a brighter year ahead, these adventure stories from 2020 are a great reminder of the creative ways people went all in to advance science last year.
Inspired to become a volunteer adventurer? Learn about our current opportunities!
The drama surrounding the 2020 US presidential election has overshadowed some key victories for science and conservation. Feeling anxious waiting for top-of-the-ballot closure that may never fully come? Celebrate these big wins for the planet and learn about another bill in Congress right now:
Colorado made history by passing legislation to reintroduce the gray wolf. The move will restore the species to a key portion of its range between existing populations in the Northern Rockies and the desert Southwest. While this is a decisive win for recovery of the species, success on the ground will require empathy and statewide collaboration in learning to coexist with this apex predator–wolves are expected to move through ranching communities as they travel between wild habitats.
States across the country approved almost $3.7 billion in conservation funding. In Adventure Scientists’ home state of Montana, Initiative I-190 passed with bipartisan support to legalize the sale of recreational marijuna; this change is projected to generate $360 million for conservation over the next 20 years. Voters in California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas opted for tax increases, bonds and constitutional amendments in support of green energy, public spaces, wildlife habitat, and natural resource protection.
Nevada passed Ballot Question 6, which ensures the state will shift to 50% renewable energy by 2030. The goal is to create energy freedom for a state that depends heavily on importing energy. By relying on more renewable energy, Nevada can invest in infrastructure to generate solar, wind, and hydroelectric power - creating jobs and taking control of their energy market.
With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ success at the federal level, the US can expect important changes in the first 100 days on the science front: 1) a speedy reentry to the Paris Agreement on climate; 2) rejoining the World Health Organization; 3) experienced scientists leading the country’s Covid-19 task force (and potentially more job security for Dr. Fauci).
While these are exciting steps for environmental and human health, there is still more work to be done. Energized to engage beyond the election? Consider contacting your senators and House representative to voice your support for the Environmental Justice For All bill currently before Congress. This bill “addresses longstanding environmental inequities that harm communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and indigenous communities across the country.”
Read the Landmark Notes blog: