Merrill Warren grew up near Auburn, California playing in the Sierra and the American River Canyon. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A. in Anthropology. Following graduation she spent time living and traveling in Europe and the American West. Her recent summers have been spent working in the Sierra, on Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, AK, as an intern for the US Forest Service and on clean water projects in Zambia. Merrill is a two-time NOLS grad and an EMT. Currently, she is the intern for Adventure and Science for Conservation and lives in Bozeman. She is eager to contribute to data collection on the American Prairie Reserve and to play a role in such a huge conservation legacy. More about Merrill on our staff page.
Merrill spent the month of March out on the prairie participating in Landmark. This was her first time on the Northern Great Plains. Hear about her experience in her own words.
Landmark is the groundbreaking project that ASC has undertaken in conjunction with American Prairie Reserve (APR) to provide "boots on the ground" support for the conservation management team at APR. Landmark crews consist of six highly motivated and skilled outdoors men and women who will live and work on the Reserve for two months at a time, collecting valuable data that will directly influence conservation management on APR.
But there is more to life on the prairie than just walking transects and collecting data. These groups of adventure scientists form a close bond and develop a family mentality while working and playing together for a month or more at a time. There are highs and lows but always something to smile about. Here is a unique, behind-the-scenes look into the life of a Landmark crew member.
The crews celebrate another successful day, even in the bitter cold of winter.
Greg Tsairis, a native of Maine, graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2008 with a major in Studio Art and minors in Outdoor and African studies. Greg has worked as a wrangler, snowboard instructor, art teacher, and guide in the Greater Yellowstone area. Greg is a member of the April Landmark crew which has been involved in the release of more bison on the American Prairie Reserve.
I dreamt of dust. I dreamt of thunder. Just as the stars in the heavens cannot be counted, the beasts before me were too numerous to number. The land trembled as hooves struck earth, with one-ton masses of shear muscle and resolve riding high. The air was thick with scent and heat and wild energy. The american bison, the buffalo, had returned to the prairie.
They call it the Hi-line. A vast expanse of Montana plains, stretching from the Rocky Mountain-Front eastward along the Canada line. Grass, wind, and people as tough as their boots characterize the region. Beneath an austere and desolate facade hides an intricate and beaming existence.
More of Greg's stories and photography can be found on his personal blog, Finding Place. Find out more about the project and apply for a crew position on the Landmark page. Keep up with ASC by subscribing to ASC's blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience), Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.
Angela Bohlke is a native Minnesotan, temporary New Orleanian, and current Portlander who spends most of her free time (with her camera and/or dog) hiking, mountaineering, skiing, and traveling to far flung places. She is perpetually in search of a new adventure or interesting project, and found ASC to be a perfect way to put some of these skills to use. Angela came out to the Olympic National Forest for the second year in a row to participate in our marten survey project.
Beaver carcass, check! Skunk scent, check! Nails, hammer, wire, saw, shears; check! While I am headed into the backcountry of the Olympic National Forest, I’m definitely not packing from my typical stash of extra lightweight jackets, tents, and sleeping bags. It’s my twelfth winter trip up here in the last two years, maintaining two camera sites each winter. While I am generally anything but a creature of habit in the outdoors, always seeking trails and summits to add to my ever-growing list of new places to see, I actually have come to enjoy returning to the same place.
When I first became involved with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation’s Pine Marten Survey after responding to a call for volunteers that I came across in my Facebook feed, I was both excited and nervous about what I was committing to. My partner for the project and I arrived late at the forest service house that first night where volunteers were congregating. We were given possibly the warmest and most spirited welcome by the other volunteers on the project. Enthusiasm was high! GPS devices, maps, wildlife tracking books, and cameras were scattered about and I couldn’t wait to get started. And wait, a reporter from NPR was here too (listen to the story here)!?! After a morning orientation and some gear packing, we were ready to head out. Jeff, a guide working with ASC, accompanied us on our icy ski into the backcountry and shared his wealth of naturalist knowledge en route to establishing our two wildlife camera sites. Perhaps the most surprising find of the day was just how bad gusto, an odoriferous lure used for the project, smelled. There were the beaver carcasses that we nailed to a tree as bait too, but the reek was insignificant compared to the gusto.
The project was so fun that first winter and I decided to do it again the this winter with two new stations, heading to the camera sites to put new memory cards and batteries in every two to three weeks. Through this project, I developed an unexpected appreciation for seeing the often subtle changes in the winter landscape. I have become more acutely aware of minutia on the paths I was frequenting. Every couple weeks, we received emails from the biologist on the project detailing what had been spotted on the cameras. Perhaps the most surprising was the amount of cat activity at the camera sites— those sneaky bobcats and mountain lion were actually around in the forest that otherwise seemed so quiet and predator-free. The scientific information that the biologist on the project routinely provided helped piece together the purpose of what we were doing and was motivating. But no matter how much Gusto I put near my site, I couldn’t bring a marten in.
My history in the outdoors prior to the pine marten project was extensive. I’m a pretty serious multisporter but have really developed into more of a mountaineer in the last couple years, enjoying the connection with the mountains and the other climbers on my team. After my third trip on the project, I started to feel sad as I drove away, which surprised me. Through the process of returning to this same place with a purpose, scouring the ground for tracks and other biological clues, all the while contemplating the effects that our growing society has on wildlife and the environment, I had developed a connection with the area that was unexpected, unique, and more significant from what I felt as a mountaineer. I admired the other volunteers and found our shared interest in wanting to do something other than just ‘take’ from the outdoors inspiring. In the end, we didn’t find a marten, but we all found a lot more.
Keep up with ASC by subscribing to ASC's blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience), Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.
Tony Mancuoso is a recent graduate from Mansfield University with a B.S. in geography and a minor in geology. As an undergraduate he concentrated his degree on outdoor recreation leadership.Tony grew up backpacking through the hardwood forests of Eastern Pennsylvania and now enjoys whitewater paddling, climbing, and backpacking. For the past two years he worked as a raft guide and trip leader on the Lehigh River. He was a member of both the February and March Landmark crews. More from Tony can be found on his blog.
Today was my first full day on the American Prairie Reserve. We spent the morning reviewing some of the technical aspects of data entry, and then went into the field in the afternoon. Not only have I never experienced terrain or a climate such as this, I have never spoken with anyone who has. The American Prairie Reserve lies between Phillips and Valley Counties; the two most sparsely populated counties in the contiguous United States. There are no words to describe the remoteness of this region. The lack of human influence here is exemplified by the abundance of wildlife. I have never seen so many wild animals in so brief a time. In our first day on the Sun Prairie, we watched a heard of roughly eighty pronghorn spring into the horizon.
We were joined for breakfast today by a Downy Woodpecker, who understandably mistook the log sides of the White Rock Lodge to be a suitable locale for the practice of his pecking. A wind chill factor of -35˚F caused us to scrap our first attempt at hiking a survey transect. The crew from the ASC got us on the radio and issued what I’ve called in my notes the “0˚F Protocol”. If the daily high is not expected to get above zero degrees before wind chill factor, we are supposed to stay home and catalogue data.
If I was forced to choose, I would think that the Greater Sage Grouse would be my favorite animal to see on the Shortgrass Prairie. They are a shatteringly striking animal in appearance. The contrast between shades of black on the belly and white on the wing and breast make this large upland bird unmistakable. However, one of the most developed camouflage patterns in nature hides this bird on the ground. With a spectrum of brown, tan and white along is back and shoulder, this bird can dissolve into the sage undetected by even the keenest vision.
In total, I spent forty days living on the American Prairie Reserve. The place has evoked such an emotional response from me that it is hard to place my feelings down on a piece of paper. In my eyes, this is why the work of the American Prairie Reserve is so important. To restore and preserve a wild, native landscape is to invest in the future of our culture. People need a place that will challenge them to rise to the occasion; that will teach them how to swim through the sink-or-swim moments. To preserve the Prairie is to preserve ourselves.
Find out more about the project and apply for a crew position on the Landmark page. Keep up with ASC by subscribing to ASC's blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience), Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.
Justin Lichter is an avid adventurer who has hiked over 35,000 miles since 2002. His expeditions include hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, across Iceland, over 2,100 miles across the Himalayas, and 1,800 miles in Africa. His most recent adventure took him to Copper Canyon in Mexico where he collected data for ASC. For more information you can view his website at www.justinlichter.com.
After three and a half weeks and roughly 400 miles of hiking through remote canyons in northern Mexico, we were three days from the end of the hike. The goal was to link all six of the major canyons in a traverse of the Copper Canyon region. On high alert we descended into the Sinforosa Canyon, one of the deepest and most scenic of the entire region. Throughout the trip we had been stumbling upon drug fields on virtually all of the farmable land, though I wouldn’t consider the terrain remotely farmable. With miles of rocky soil and 30-50% slopes without roads you wouldn't think anyone would bother growing anything, but that’s exactly what they are doing. As we come upon these fields we start hollering “Hola! Buenos dias!” repeatedly so we don’t surprise anybody.
Gregg and I met years ago through Granite Gear as we were both adventuring around the world. I loved his idea for ASC when I initially heard about it. On my next hike across the Himalayas, he linked me up with a couple of scientists and I collected data for a few projects including one about pika and climate change. I was excited to help out again on this trip since I was traversing another remote and largely inaccessible region. For the Copper Canyon Traverse I was set up with Professor John Spear of the Colorado School of Mines. I collected soil and rock samples in order to look at the DNA of the microbes that are living on these samples taken from throughout the region. The rock sizes were relatively small and only had to be the size of a quarter, so the sampling hardly added to my pack weight! I travel fast and light, and try to cover large distances each day so that is always important to me.
Read the Landmark Notes blog: