Tour Description

Journey to the Flathead Indian Reservation and the majestic Mission Mountains to explore the intersection of traditional culture and natural resource management. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are at the forefront of asserting sovereignty rights over natural resources. Along the People's Highway (aka US 93), check out the ecologically friendly features, including a dramatic wildlife overpass and underpasses that protect extensive wildlife corridors. Stop at the National Bison Range to learn about disagreements over how much authority the tribes should have in managing bison. A swing through the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge may yield sightings of migrating waterfowl, including reintroduced trumpeter swans. Other topics may include water rights negotiations, Flathead Lake and native fire management. Depart at 7:30 a.m., lunch included, $30 fee; Drive time — 3.5 hours. Register Now

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Passages for Wildlife

We're all familiar with roadkill, but can you imagine hitting a grizzly bear with your car? Along Highway 93, a busy stretch that runs from Missoula to Glacier National Park, four grizzlies (among other species) have been killed in this area on the Flathead Reservation since 1998.

This situation was recognized as a problem, so The People's Way was conceived and constructed here. With its 42 wildlife corridor structures, no doubt the 56 miles of upgraded highway has saved some potential casualties. On our tour, we'll get to buzz under one of the corridors that span aboveground en route northward from Missoula, but we'll spend a good chunk of on-site time underground at one of the six corridor sites that includes a critter cam. These motion-activated cameras have captured a wealth of information about what animals travel through this area, between the forested wilderness areas in the Mission Mountains on the east to the wetland expanse and grasslands in the west.

Whisper Camel is an Associate Biologist with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), who tour participants will get to know as she explains the work done and being done at this site and connecting areas. Whisper was instrumental in getting these cameras installed to monitor the wildlife that use the corridors. Originally, the construction plan was to include sand beds to simply survey animal tracks. But, while Whisper was away at graduate school, oops -- the sand beds were not installed. Thanks to Whisper's insistence and persistence, the six cameras were perhaps even better for accurate identification and collecting more information about these travelers. The site we'll visit, in fact, is the only one of the six with cameras where grizzly bears have been photographed using the corridors. It's no wonder, perhaps, that it's been at this location.

The site our tour will visit, however, is not just a cool tunnel for wildlife. It especially shows the "bigger picture" of what the CSKT and its partners have been doing for implement a ecologically, wholistic management plan. Tourists driving through on Highway 93 might never suspect that at the base of the awe-inspiring Mission Mountains lies an irrigation ditch. For years, this ditch has diverted water that would have normally drained into the wetlands. Worse, natural springs located on private property also were captured for other uses. Whisper will tell the story of how CSKT has been restoring these areas to more natural conditions. Not only are they getting more water back into the system, but they are also taking steps such as replacing non-native trees and shrubs with natives, such as serviceberry, chokecherry, rose and aspen.

There are many more stories to see here for yourselves. Sign-up for our tour and check back at this blog next week for another report about what we'll look at during our tour, which will include the National Bison Range, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, river restoration for improving bull trout populations, and delving into land ownership changes on the Reservation which have helped to shape opportunities for improving natural resource management.

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