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Inspiring Curiosity with the Help of Bison
Posted 07/25/2016 01:26PM

This May, nine Upper School students and Advanced Biology Teacher and Head of the Upper School Kelley Black landed in Bozeman, Montana, thirsting for the inspiration of Yellowstone. We were greeted by three Ecology Project International instructors who introduced us to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As we caravanned across the state to Eagle Creek Campground in Gardiner, abundant space seeped around us, bearded in aromatic sage brush, white dianthus blooms, Douglas fir, and wolf lichen.

We soon learned to count grass with a pin and evaluate American Bison paddies in the Lamar Valley, where we were surrounded by these docile beasts as we gathered data for the National Parks Service's research on their migratory paths. Jeremiah, one of the park rangers and bison expert, joined us to oversee our work and share his wisdom and passion with us.

On wolf-watching morning, tents zipped open at 5 a.m. to a blushing big sky and the snowy-elbowed Mount Electric. We peered through the scopes to see a small group of wolves on the hillside, their pups exploring springtime in Yellowstone. It had never occurred to many of us just how human wolves are. A calm fell over our group as we listened to Rick, another park ranger and zealous wolf-watcher, tell stories, like that of Wolf 21, a massive male who never killed his enemies, but asserted his dominance and released them. Rick also recounted the park's wolf extermination in the early twentieth century and their successful reintroduction, beginning in 1975. Still, many people desire the wolves utterly obliterated, and I can't help but wonder how they'd feel after hearing Rick speak.

Yellowstone is home to some of the wildest geothermal activity in the world, so it's no surprise we spent a day at Norris Geyser Basin, learning about the heat-loving bacteria in the sulfuric water, splaying a rainbow across the hotspot. Hikes around the area revealed grizzlies, black bears, baby owls, fox, coyotes, muskrats, pronghorn, elk, moose, big horned sheep, mountain goats, and many other wonders.

On one of our last days we volunteered with the National Parks Conservation Association to build and repair wildlife-friendly fencing. During migration periods, fences can pose major threats, especially to elk, pronghorn, and mule deer who must either bypass or run the risk of getting caught in the obstacle. We used wire that can be adjusted for the elk to go under and the deer to jump over at no cost to the local ranchers.

Our adventures concluded on a raft down the Yellowstone River, magpies and cliff swallows overhead. We reminisced on the knowledge and curiosity that jockeyed for position in our minds throughout our weeklong research and exploration. We had retained a whole spectrum of new information on Yellowstone and wildlife conservation, yet none of us ever felt lectured, and so the St. Andrew's-Sewanee School group departed in tears and returned to our mountain top community in Tennessee, still with the heat of the geysers in our blood.

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