Our Montana field representative sits down for a Q&A with his daughter after her unique experience in wildfire country. Here’s what she learned about forestry and conservation
I remember a whitetail deer hunt where I was lying in the prone position, ready to shoot, with my young daughter Ali lying on my back. She was so excited when the deer went down! Ali is 22 years old now, and she still loves the outdoors. She graduated from Villanova University this past May and couldn’t wait to get back to Montana, where she was hired to work on a forestry crew with the University of Montana.
One of her assignments recently took her on a two-week pack trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex to collect data on fire ecology. This area in northwest Montana—named for the legendary forester and conservationist Bob Marshall—was designated by Congress as part of the Wilderness Act of 1964. It spans over one million acres along the continental divide and is the fifth-largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, attracting fishermen, hunters, and recreationists from around the world. As in other parts of the country, fires are unfortunately becoming more common in the Bob, and Ali’s crew was sent to help study how this ecosystem rebounds differently based on whether burn areas were managed or unmanaged forests before the fire.
I thought this was an amazing opportunity for Ali—and I was pretty jealous that I couldn’t go along. So, when she returned from the trip, I asked her to share her experience.
Scott: Ali, I can’t wait to hear all about the trip. What was the makeup of the crew and where exactly did you go?
Ali: There were ten of us on the crew. We hiked in 40 miles and set up camp at the confluence of Gordon Creek and the South Fork of the Flathead River. We had our food packed in by a team of mules and spent two weeks hiking to our burn sites, moving camp downriver every few days. At the end of the trip, we tied our gear to the front of our pack rafts and floated down the river to the south end of Hungry Horse Reservoir.
Scott: What is the purpose of the research project that you were working on? How will this research on fire affect our public lands, and why do you think sportsmen should care about it?
Ali: Fire is playing an increasingly dominant role on our public lands, particularly as fire seasons are getting longer and hotter. We were there to learn more about the effects of fires in unmanaged lands versus fires in areas previously logged, thinned, or previously introduced to fire through a prescribed burn. With healthy forests come healthy wildlife populations for all of us to enjoy, including sportsmen.
Scott: What was your typical day like?
Ali: The daily hikes to the burn sites were long, three to six miles. We climbed our way through lodge pole stands and up steep ridges. We saw wildlife every day and heard wolves at night. One day a small herd of elk walked right by us in the early morning frost. Yes, frost, in June! We were there to conduct research, but we also got to enjoy the land and gain appreciation for this wonderful place that belongs to all of us. It was clear that the other people we ran into were enjoying the Bob as well. We saw groups floating down the river, spoke with fly fishing guides taking their guests on spectacular trips, and we met a couple scouting for their fall elk hunt.
We spent our free time reading by the river, watching waterfowl bathe and deer tug at bites of grass in stands of old-growth Ponderosa. In the cool evenings at the end of the day we were able to forget the clattering notions of work and worry that shadow us in our everyday lives, and finally enjoy a piece of land full of both loveliness and majesty—an object of awe and love, requiring attention but not toil. It was a treat being surrounded by millions of acres of wild land, knowing that this place is open to all of us. It’s a treasure to spend a quiet hour fly fishing and pull a cutthroat out of the river for dinner, while watching an osprey slope down the side of the valley towards the water, looking for that same meal. I can’t wait to get back up there.
I get goosebumps hearing my daughter describe her attraction and admiration for the natural beauty of our public lands that she, like the rest of us, is so fortunate to have. Seeing this trip through her eyes makes me feel validated for my own effort in TRCP’s mission to protect and improve these resources for future generations. Our forefathers established a system of wildlife management and natural resources held in the public domain, a system that is the envy of the world. These public lands are for all of us to enjoy, use wisely, and pass on to the next generation of outdoorsmen and women.
I’m certainly glad I have a daughter who appreciates that.