Wild Rockies Field Institute

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2009 Colorado Plateau on the trail

The 2009 Spring Semester is underway! By this time the group is deep in Horseshoe Canyon getting their first taste of the magic of the Utah deserts and canyonlands. During this section the students will be introduced to natural history, ecology, and geology of the region while starting to grasp the public land use issues and the competing interests of recreation, mining, water rights, grazing, and wilderness. This is only the beginning - Stay tuned for more updates as the course continues.



MTAA 2008 wraps up successful semester

"My life and how I live is forever changed for the betterment of myself and my community. This course is going to affect the way I spend the rest of my life." -Justin Ryan, student on MTAA '08

The students and instructors on this fall's WRFI semester course didn't have it easy. They faced rain, two major snow storms, and temperatures that were often below average for Central Montana at this time of year. Nevertheless, they savored their days on the Missouri River with sunshine and temperatures warm enough to wear shorts. And when they all returned to Missoula on October 31, their energy and enthusiasm for WRFI was catching.

Gathering at a potluck the night the course finished, in full costumes for Halloween, the students laughed, told stories, and shared their favorite memories from the last two months. Every student was a WRFI fanatic, ready to go home and "talk about WRFI" to everyone they know. Several want to return for another course; others inquired, with laughter and sincerity, about how to major in "WRFI". Congratulations on a course well run, and thanks to the incredible WRFI instructors who made it happen. We hope to see all of you in 2009!


2008 Montana Afoot and Afloat semester is officially "afoot"

mtaa 1

From left to right. Top row: Instructor Bethany Swanson, Sarah Cutteridge, Calvin Patterson, Pete Muehmel, Laura Josephs, Justin Ryan, Phil Fandel, Mickey Hardt, instructor Sarah Richey. Middle: Amanda Tulip, Taryn Longberry. Bottom row: Erin Connor, instructor Kirsten Rudestam, instructor Brandt Geyerman, and WRFI director Laurie Schlueb.

This year's Montana Afoot and Afloat:Human Land Relations fall semester course hit the road on September 2. After organizing everything and double checking for all of their necessary supplies, the group left Missoula at about 4pm and headed towards the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the location of their first backpack. The group will be backpacking, kayaking, and meeting with guest speakers for the next two months.

University of Vermont sophomore Mickey Hardt summed up his preparation well, saying, "This is definitely the most fun I've ever had shopping for back to school supplies."

We're wishing them the best of weather, the nicest of trails, and the challenges of quality learning. Happy travels!


AERIE Backcountry Medicine contributes to the Matt Thomas Scholarship

AERIE Director Dave McEvoy contacted WRFI when he heard about our annual Matt Thomas Scholarship, a $1,000 merit-based scholarship for a deserving student on Montana Afoot and Afloat. AERIE Backcountry Medicine provides wilderness and rural medical training, risk management consulting and first aid supplies to over 2,000 students a year throughout the United States, Mexico and Central America. After working with WRFI to set up a Wilderness First Aid course for MTAA students this year, Dave offered to donate this WFA course to the Matt Thomas Scholarship recipient. This year's recipient, Sarah Cutteridge, was delighted with the gesture.

When she was told of this additional scholarship, Sarah responded, "That is so exciting! That's really awesome of them!" We couldn't agree more.

To find out more about AERIE and the courses they offer, visit their website at http://www.aeriemed.com/index.htm.


Cycle the Rockies Captured Audially, Visually

Kim WilkinsonAlso along on Cycle the Rockies was a two-person team of documentary filmmakers. These filmmakers, Adam Greenfield and Margot Higgins, were intrigued by the students' experiences on this course and what the course was aiming to accomplish, both physically and educationally. This film is expected to be finished in 2009.

At right is Adam Greenfield interviewing student Devin Trainor from Humboldt State University with wind turbines in the background.

Or, if you're more of an auditory person, listen to the podcast from some students on the Carolina Triathlon site! Click here for the podcast.


Restoration Ecology Back From the Field

Gathering Around Corn Restoration Ecology in Greater Yellowstone has completed their time in the field. The group learned about ecological principles and the principles behind restoration. Taught this year by returning instructors Pat Burke and Angie Moline, the course explored issues of human/land relations and approached ecological dilemmas in a way that explores solutions. They also travelled through some of the most beautiful country in North America--backpacking, conducting restoration ecology projects, and visiting with locals throughout south-central Montana.


WRFI Instructors:Back to the Classroom

Two longtime WRFI instructors are headed back to the classroom (at least temporarily) to further their educations and careers. Dave Morris and Neil Kessler will begin doctoral programs in Fall '08. Here's where they'll be and what they will be doing. ack into theout it:

Dave MorrisKim Wilkinson

Courses taught for WRFI: Alaskan Rainforest, Coastal Culture and Ecology of Baja, Conservation & Community in the Yellowstone to Yukon Region, Continental Divide, Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons & Cultures, Montana Afoot and Afloat, and Cycle the Rockies:Energy and Climate Change in Montana.

Dave will be studying at the University of Montana's Forestry and Conservation department, studying climate change and rural communities. He will be working with former WRFI board member Jill Belsky. Dave hopes to learn more about how communities are adapting to the current and predicted impacts of climate change, and "to do useful research in this area, especially regarding communication among climate scientists, ecologists, and policy experts on one hand, and people who have extensive local experience with agricultural and wild ecosystems on the other."

Neil Kessler Kim Wilkinson

Courses taught for WRFI: Alaskan Rainforest: Ecology and Policy of the Tongass, Montana Afoot and Afloat: Human/Land Relations, Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures.

Neil will be studying at the University of New Hampshire, getting a Ph.D. in Education. Neil will work with the Outdoor Education department chair, Mike Gass, to study experiential and/or outdoor education as it applies to undergraduate level education. Neil hopes to expand his work, and to gain opportunities to apply innovative ideas to the outdoor education field.

Alaska Course on National Public Radio reduced pic

Southeast Alaska is stunning; full of wildlife, local culture and awe-inspiring landscapes, it makes for a perfect WRFI course setting. This year's instructors for Alaskan Rainforest: Ecology and Policy of the Tongass were Neil Kessler, Dave Morris, and Malena Marvin. The course was run similarly to past years, but there were a few additions. To start, the course was covered by National Public Radio (NPR). Interviews of Neil, Dave, and student Nick Skari can be heard here.

The course also facilitated a community presentation for the town of Wrangell, their finishing point. Here they told of their travels and reported on what they were learning. Aside from being part of the students' final project, this presentation is a way to connect with the local people, to demonstrate how invested outsiders can be with these local issues, and perhaps to provide locals with perspectives they have not heard before. Inevitably, students and instructors learn from these meetings and from hearing what the people of Wrangell and Southeast Alaska have to share.


WRFI Instructor Receives Prestigious Award from Yale University


John learns from a local woman how to eat well in the Yucatan.

John Tuxill received his PhD. from Yale University last year, finishing it with his dissertation, “Agrarian Change and Crop Diversity in Mayan Milpas of Yucatan, Mexico: Implications for In Situ Conservation.” For his work, he was one of three recipients of the prestigious John Addison Porter Prize. We knew he was good at what he does, but it was clarified even more by the explanation his former advisor gave about his dissertation.

“John’s dissertation is simply the best cultural and historical, as well as ecological and economic, in-depth analysis of agrodiversity that I know of,” said Michael Dove, Tuxill’s former advisor and Margaret K. Musser Professor of Social Ecology. “John’s research, by locating the source of crop diversity in the wider social fabric, transcends current thinking and offers a powerful new model for thinking about biogenetic conservation.”

Check out the article about it. And listen to John on NPR (see below). Then check out John's Yucatan course that he co-teaches with WRFI instructor Kim Wilkinson. The course is an incredible way to earn two upper-division credits!


Taking Action to Create Action--Instructor rides with Ride for Climate

Nicky Phear, instructor for WRFI's Cycle Montana course, has joined the Ride for Climate, where she is cycling from Portland to San Francisco to raise awareness of global warming and the need for action.  Oregon and California are two states leading the way with policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance clean, renewable energy developments.  Nicky is helping give presentations to schools, churches, and communities along route.  Ride for Climate is riding from coast to coast "to promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other solutions to global warming that will give America and the world a better future." To follow their journey on the West Coast and prior, go to www.rideforclimate.com, or click here.

WRFI's Cycle Montana course was recently featured in the Adventure Cycling Organization's newsletter "Bike Bits" for their part in learning about climate change and energy issues. If you'd like to subscribe to "Bike Bits" to read about it, or just to keep up with cycling news around the U.S., click here.

Take a look at more information on WRFI's Cycle Montana: Energy Alternatives for a New Century.


A little help from your friends

WRFI offers several scholarships to help offset the cost of tuition. In addition to a few small, need-based General Scholarships, WRFI offers the $1000 Matt Thomas Scholarship for students applying to the Montana Afoot & Afloat semester course. WRFI also offers a $500-$1000 Cycle Montana Scholarship for students applying to the Cycle Montana course.  Click here for the WRFI Scholarship Application.  


Wikipedia gets it right on WRFI

Everyone who has ever taken a WRFI course knows that WRFI epitomizes the concept of "experiential education." Now, anyone who looks to Wikipedia for information on the topic will know too.

According to one anonymous Wikifarian, the Wild Rockies Field Institute offers "hybrid" experiential/traditional programs that "provide the academic rigor of a classroom course with the breadth and personal connections of experiential education." We couldn't agree more. Check it out for yourself by clicking here.


A few words inspired by WRFI

Henry David Thoreau, perhaps the father of American nature writing, expounded at great length about the inspirational effects of nature on those who spend time in its arms. This affect has not gone unnoticed by WRFI's instructors and students, many of whom encounter the muse while they sea kayak the Alaskan coast, backpack the red rock of the Colorado Plateau. In fact, that's exactly what happened to WRFI instructor Wolf Drimal, whose experiences with his students in the Great Outdoors often inspire him to put pen to paper. Here, for your reading pleasure, are two of his poems, "Reminders" and "Tongass Dragons." (If you are a WRFI alumnus and would like to share work inspired by your WRFI experience, please e-mail it to us.)


WRFI instructor helps NPR get it right on Apocalypto

John Tuxill is no ordinary WRFI instructor. Sure, he's spent many years in rural Mexico, conducting fieldwork on Yucatec Maya farming systems and agrarian change, and, yes, he did recently finish his Ph.D at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. But all of our instructors have interesting life experiences and top-notch professional credentials.

What sets John apart is that he speaks a number of languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, English and, perhaps most notably, Yucatec Maya. All of which makes him the perfect lead instructor for our Yucatan Cultural Ecology course.

It also allowed him to help NPR get it right on a program about Mel Gibson's new film, Apocalypto. Centered around one man's life during the decline of the Mayan empire, Apocalypto is filmed entirely in what NPR called "the Yucatec dialect." (Thankfully for the rest of us, the film is subtitled in English.) John, who recently accepted a position at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, Washington, called in to set the record straight, reminding NPR and its listeners that Yucatec Mayan is a distinct language, not a dialect.

Click here to John Tuxill on NPR to what John had to say on the difference. (John's remarks begin at 2:17 of the audio clip.


Hike a Mile in Her Boots

Kathy Marieb not only leads WRFI courses, she’s a writer who has helped count grizzly bears in Washington State’s North Cascade Mountains. “Tracking Hope,” her essay on the subject, was recently published as part of an anthology called A Mile in Her Boots: Women Who Work in the Wild. Edited by Jennifer Bove, this remarkable collection details the experiences of women who work in a variety of outdoor professions including smoke jumping, river running, professional falconry, and horse packing. Click on the book cover for more information, or to read an excerpt.