Despite an early morning wake up of 3am and a series of turbulent flights, I managed to make it to Bozeman on Friday the 11th for the start of my summer field season. Bumpy starts aside, there’s a very interesting experience that happens to me whenever I fly to this area of the West. I’ll be looking out the window at the puffs of clouds, occasionally seeing the long plots of land that look like checkerboards from 30,000 feet in the air. Then, out of nowhere, I'll start to see mountains peaking out from the clouds. With snow flowing down the tops of them, it’s unlike anything else. For me, it always feels like a welcoming to the area. Once we started our descent into the Bozeman airport, I could see more in view, including the M in the mountain nearby Belgrade.
Compared to when I flew into Bozeman in late April, there is a lot more green in view. We started our descent and landed bumpily amidst the backdrop of big sky country. You look out and can see cloud cover leaving shadows on mountains over 75 miles away, and you start to wonder if that same cloud will ever reach you or if it will just move along somewhere else. That’s the funny thing, you can be sitting in sunshine watching a rainstorm in the distance. The mountains closest to us look green, but in the intense sunlight and 4,820 ft altitude the mountains farthest away look blue as they fade into the horizon. After arriving, I went to pick up my rental car, which, consequently, has Hawaiian license plates. My efforts to keep a low profile were somewhat thwarted when I realized I would be driving around in a vehicle with rainbows on the plates. Regardless, it has already served me well on my travels from Livingston to Bozeman to Butte to Missoula, where I am currently spending the week attending and presenting at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology 2014 Meeting.
Before heading up to the conference, I had a chance to spend the night in Livingston, a town I had not really gotten to see much of last summer. It's a smaller town than Bozeman, and a friend of mine whose family lives there offered for me to stay with them. I tagged along with my friend and her three dogs while she went to go take care of some goats on a nearby ranch property in Paradise Valley, which is on the way toward Yellowstone. The goats and their owners have had a slew of bad luck in the past couple of years. Speaking of human-wildlife conflict, the owners of this ranch lost all but one of their goats to a couple of young cougars who killed them overnight. What happened was these young cougars had lost their mother- she was found hit by a car on the nearby highway. They were yearlings who were not able to hunt for themselves quite yet, so they found the goats instead. Last year, the family nearly lost their goats AND the ranch to a bad wildfire that went all the way up to the property line before being stopped. Hopefully, this year is better, but it's another example of wildlife and wild processes coming into contact with our daily patterns.
I left Livingston Saturday morning and drove myself up to Missoula, with stops in Bozeman and Butte to say hi to a few people and pick up some snacks for my travels. I'm still getting used to the fact that when you're driving along 90, the speed limit (as in MINIMUM) is 75mph. I drive like a turtle compared to the truckers and seasoned travelers along these country roads. Part of my poking along was also due to the fact that the entire interstate is nestled in peaks and valleys of some of the most beautiful scenery. I couldn't help stopping in Butte to get out and take some photos of the historical sites and also to stretch my legs. I made it up to Missoula in the late afternoon. Before checking into my hotel, I wandered around the downtown a bit. The marathon was the same weekend, so I was actually one of many out-of-towners exploring the University town's art galleries, niche coffee shops, and hiking trails. At some point this week, I'm hoping to raft along the Clark Fork River or hike the M, which is the mountain (as you may guess) with the big M on it here. However, I am here for the conference, so I'll need to focus on that as well...
I've not yet been to an SCB conference, and I'm already thrilled to meet so many people doing fascinating work in my field. Plus, I've also run into many people I've not seen in years. I saw an old colleague from my study abroad days in Australia conducting research on bats, and I also got to connect with my friend from NYC, Leo Douglas, who is here giving a plenary for his research on parrots in Jamaica about the 'Flipside of Flagship.' It's always great seeing familiar faces so far from home. I present my research on Tuesday in the session 'Assessments for Monitoring and Management,' and I'll be introducing some of my ideas that I'm planning to write about in the upcoming chapters of my dissertation. Later in the week I'll be traveling with some other conference attendees to Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch to meet with Mike Philips and Michael Soule to talk about the future of conservation in science and policy. There's nothing like roasting marshmallows with the "Father of Conservation Biology" to round out an exciting week of events. After that, I head back to Bozeman and start on more of my interviews and field observations.