Wild Rockies Field Institute

Montana Afoot and Afloat: Human/Land Relations

Dates: August 23-October 23, 2018

Cost: $10,450

Semester Credits: 15

Environmental Studies 395: Environmental Ethics and Industrial Society (3 credits)

Environmental Studies 395: Public Land Issues and Policy in Montana (3 credits)

Geography 348: Environmental Geography of central Montana (3 credits)

Native American Studies 352: Montana's Indians: Relationships with the Land (3 credits)

Geography 348: Sustainability and Resilience in Montana (3 credits)

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*Please note, there is a six-week online portion for this course following the end date that extends the duration of the course to meet University of Montana requirements. Please contact the WRFI office for details.


On this 15-credit undergraduate course, students will explore their personal relationships with the natural world by examining historical and current land use issues in Montana. Students will learn about:

  • traditional and contemporary Native American culture;
  • the exploration and discovery of the region;
  • the history of the agricultural frontier and the culture of current farming and ranching, both organic and industrial;
  • public lands management and natural resource policy;
  • and historical and current industrial activities and the resulting environmental impacts and concerns.

The ultimate goal of the course is for students to learn how to develop a sense of place wherever they live and to arrive at and articulate a personal land ethic: a philosophy regarding how they want to live their own lives with regards to the natural world around them.

To engage the landscape and to understand its response to different types of human use and treatment, we will live close to the land and water of Montana for the entirety of this course. The course will begin and end on the major rivers of Montana, originally made famous by Lewis and Clark. At the outset, we will backpack in the famous Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Rugged mountains will surround us as we get introduced to historic and current Montana wilderness policy and environmental ethics. Next, we embark on a two-week kayak expedition through the Missouri Breaks and past the white sandstone cliffs of the Wild and Scenic Upper Missouri River, where wildlife and scenery abound. The group will then head up above the prairie to backpack in the Big Snowy Mountains, part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and one of Central Montana's "Island in the Sky" mountain ranges. We will finish the course by kayaking for another two weeks past the golden bluffs and cottonwood galleries of the Yellowstone River.

Along the way, we will meet many fascinating people and visit many interesting sites. We will visit two Indian Reservations, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne, to examine the Native perspective on human-land relations. We will visit ranches and farms to learn from the folks who work the land with their own hands. We will visit a defunct gold mine and consider its legacy, and then an operating coal mine, where we will walk across the adjacent reclaimed land and tour the power plant that consumes the coal. We will meet and talk with state and federal managers who have been entrusted with Montana's public lands and wildlife. A small portion of our time will be spent in towns meeting with speakers, buying supplies, cleaning up, and taking short breaks from the rigors of academics and backcountry travel.

Expect to read and discuss a lot of interesting material, to interact with local inhabitants and managers, and to experience magnificent country. Most days involve several hours of travel (hiking or paddling), class, some free time in which to explore or work on assignments, and some time for individual and group chores. The final week of the course is dedicated to synthesizing the experiences of the course by writing the final paper, "My Personal Land Ethic," a challenging yet rewarding endeavor.

The potential for discovery and learning on this course is boundless for those who open their minds and hearts to the land and people of Montana. Past students have developed a much clearer understanding of what it means to be a human being from our culture and on this Earth. Students have also developed a much clearer understanding of how they want to live their lives. Following the course, they can then go off and do just that.

Permited activity will take place on Lewis and Clark National Forest.


Enrollment will be limited to twelve [12] students. Our courses are multidisciplinary and our students come from all majors. There are no academic prerequisites for any of our courses. The best background is a sense of curiosity, a willingness to take responsibility for your academic growth, and a love of adventure. No prior backcountry experience is necessary, but this is a physically demanding course and students are advised to arrive good physical condition. This course takes place in high elevation settings and some backpacking sections will be physically challenging.

WRFI accepts students on a rolling admission basis and will review applications immediately upon receiving them. Currently, WRFI is accepting applications for all 2018 courses.

The first payment of 25% of tuition will be due three weeks after acceptance.

Students applying to Montana Afoot and Afloat are eligible for a Matt Thomas Scholarship. Scholarship applications can be submitted along with the course application. The deadline for the scholarship application is May 5th, 2018.

Apply Here!


$10,450 per student includes tuition; transportation during the course; dinner; use of touring kayaks and related equipment; group camping and cooking gear; and incidental items such as maps and study guides. Participants must provide their own breakfast and lunch, and will be expected to print the course text. An additional $775 filing fee is required to receive academic credit for the course from the University of Montana.

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