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Filtering by Tag: Carnivores

Where My Wild Things Are

Hannah Jaicks

Since it has been way too long since my last blog post, a lot has changed and evolved in my own life, and I have been remiss in keeping updates about the research side of things due to a >brief< 279 page document that is my final dissertation.  I have a number of things that I should be writing about today: my move to Montana last spring, my defense (which was successful), my current happenings...However, rather than focus on any of that, which there is plenty of time for, I wanted to reboot my musings by sharing the Acknowledgements section of my dissertation.  If there's one thing I've come to love and enjoy about my work, it is that it is collaborative in nature.  These collaborations have come in all shapes and forms--research colleagues, old friends, new friends, strangers turned family--from all of these relationships, I am a better person as a result.  While the East Coast is getting hit with the first snow of the season, I'm sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Bozeman, where we've already received a number of snowy and below-zero days.  For my loved ones in the East, stay warm and don't let a little snow slow you down.  As I go about shaping and crafting my next projects, which I promise to share more about in the coming months, let me first share a message for the people who have helped get me to this point:


            When I was eight, I began spending my summers living with my grandparents out on Shelter Island in New York.  Far from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I spent my days running around with a frenetic energy in the ocean, bike paths, and a musty cottage.  During this time, I developed a love of the natural world and a fascination with the fellow animals I would encounter: jellyfish that stung me, deer that would walk across my path on late nights I slept outside on the deck, and osprey that would show up every evening at five to search for crabs near the beach.  Unbeknownst to me, my grandfather would observe me on my daily adventures, and he once described me as having a reckless abandon for life.  This description can sometimes prove detrimental due to my tendency towards impatience and desire to figure everything out at once.  However, it has also meant that I’ve never been short on passion.  In the field of conservation, one needs passion because it is that passion, or love, that pushes you forward.  I recently heard a quote that reminded me of the answer that I give people who ask how I keep going despite the seemingly hopeless and uphill battles facing our planet:

            “The assumption is that hope is a prerequisite for action. Without hope one becomes depressed and then unable to act. I want to stress that I do not act because I have hope. I act whether I have hope or not. It is useless to rely on hope as motivation to do what's necessary and just and right. Why doesn't anybody ever talk about love as motivation to act? I may not have a lot of hope but I have plenty of love, which gives me fight. We are going to have to fall in love with place again and learn to stay put.” (Janisse Ray, The seed underground: A growing revolution to save food)

            As anyone who has ever undertaken something lengthy such as a dissertation or worked on a task that feels insurmountable, there are many days where hope feels unattainable or even realistic.  For me, on the days where I’ve felt discouraged or hopeless, I am reminded of my own reckless abandon that I got to enjoy as a child who was lucky enough to learn that the world is bigger than she is.  That love then, is what keeps me going, and it gives me the fight to figure out how to change the rules of the conservation game that we’ve been playing incorrectly all of these years.  My advisor, Cindi, has often (jokingly) asked me if I’m writing a dissertation or a library, and it’s partially because of my impatience (endearing eagerness?) that I’m trying to change the system all at once.  I know that this is not possible, so what I’ve written here is the first step of many in a lifelong pursuit of my love for people, place, and the animals with whom we have the privilege to share our lives.

            On that note, there are a few wild animals in particular that have helped my own love stay strong as I’ve gone about these endeavors.  First and foremost, my grandfather, David Jaicks, is arguably the best person I’ve ever known, and my favorite carnivore of all.  I miss him every day because he gave me the emotional support and patience that this wide-eyed wild child needed to find her sense of grounding.  He, along with my grandmother Nancy, helped me to create the roots that keep me firm in who I am today, and they never let me forget that I matter.  Nancy, I am grateful that you continue to remind me of this grounding.  Another beloved carnivore of mine is Jean.  You are more than a teacher and a mentor; you are a constant source of strength that inspires me to show up for life every day ready to begin again.  My friends, a mix of college, New York, Philly, family, graduate school, and Montana creatures who somehow find my eccentricities loveable: Will, Emily R., Daniel R., Donna, Patrick, Julie, Andy, Kathleen, Anna, Nick, Emily D., Jeff, Bryce, Scott, Lizzy, Jen P., Jen T., Sruthi, David Agar Jaicks, Bill Jaicks, Steve, Rebekka, Kyle, Logan, J.R., Bess, and Jurgen; I am a more loving and grateful person because of you.  My parents, Dawn and Bryan, your support is eternally appreciated.  Not many people would drive eight hours through the night to take their daughter to go see Jane Goodall, only to return that same day.  Getting to jump to the front of the two-hour line for her autograph because I came the farthest of anyone else is something I will never forget.  My teachers that have guided me and supported my love of learning: Dr. Hagelin, Dr. Rablen, Ms. Carson, Mr. Minsky, Mr. Kahan, Mr. Krauthamer, Ms. Franco, Mr. Carson, Sra. Kantor, Dr. Schwartz, Dr. Sloan, and Dr. Pagnotta, who you are has made a world of difference to me.  My committee and advisors: Cindi, Roger, Caitlin, Susan, and Bill, without you I would never have been able to dream up and undertake such an incredible project.  Finally, to the nonhuman animals I’ve been fortunate enough to know, including my beloved Luce, Devon, Molly, Sandi, Sunny, and Teddy as well as the warthogs, hyenas, bats, penguins, monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, lemurs, giraffes, and wallabies I’ve met around the world, thank you.  It is because of you that my reckless abandon, or love, is so strong, and I dedicate this dissertation to all of you.

            And now my fellow wild things, onward…

Country Roads

Hannah Jaicks

             The past week or so has been an odyssey or, rather, a number of them.  So far this summer, I've managed to put over 2,000 miles on my rental car (AKA the Aloha mobile--I'm sure I make many kids playing the license plate game very happy with that Hawaii plate).  I like to talk to people in person, and many of the individuals I speak with live in various cities and towns around the state.  Thus, it's been typical for me to have to drive upwards of two hours one way to meet with people.  I don't mind really, and it's hard to complain when my travels have taken me from Helena to Yellowstone to Bozeman and a bunch of towns in between more than twice (each) this past week alone.  I spend the drives organizing my thoughts and questions on the way to the interviews, and on the way back I tend to think back on the conversation to process everything.  I audiorecord my interviews for later analyses, but I still like to immediately reflect on everything I just heard.  Most of the time, it helps orient my field notes and ideas for my own work in a way that I hadn't anticipated.  That being said, I still have plenty of time alone with my thoughts, and I've exhausted every podcast episode of Nerdist and This American Life.  Hence, I've taken it upon myself to get really good at singing along to the local country music stations in my best Tim McGraw voice while I weave and bob through the hills of the southwestern Montana region.  Pretty sure I provide the truckers passing me with hours of entertainment when they see me singing my lungs out.

Queen of the Mountain

Big Sky Country means big rainbows

            As a researcher with a keen appreciation for the idea of place attachment, I myself am increasingly attached to the mountains of Montana, and all of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem really.  On my first adventure down to Yellowstone this past week, I spent some time with a wolf researcher from the National Park Service.  We trekked out in the morning with his two kids- the best two helpers you'll ever meet- to see if we could find the two wolves in the unnamed pack near South Butte in Yellowstone.  We toted our gear up the hill- spotting scope, radio telemetry equipment, and binoculars, being mindful not to surprise any bears along the way.  No bears, but we came across a wolfkill (a cow elk) from the spring.  Nothing but bones and the pelt left.  We managed to find (hear) the alpha female quickly using the radio telemetry, but we couldn't spot her in the dense area of trees where her den is.  So instead, we admired some elk off in the distance, and we talked at length about the work I've been out here doing.  Here's the thing, very few of my interviews end up being one isolated conversation.  Many people out here want to know more, or have me join them in their field to see things from their perspective.  I take them up on their offer every time I can.  What better way to get to know someone than out with them doing what they care about?

Early morning elk in the mist

Getting greeted in Gardiner

Elk carcass

           After my foray into Yellowstone, I drove back up to Bozeman, and then I was off to Helena the next day to sit in on the monthly Commissioner's meeting for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  I spent the car ride talking with someone who was also attending the meeting, and he helped me understand a lot of the processes in decision-making and governance that are at play here in the region- state, federal, etc.   It was helpful and a nice way to get a better understanding of some of the policy processes that are a tangled web of confusion at times.  Plus, it was a break in my usual routine of singing like a lunatic on the highway, and it allowed me some good opportunities to stare out at the mountains becoming all the more amber as August progresses. 

             Back from Helena, I spent the weekend around Bozeman organizing my...gasp...Table of Contents, which my advisor and committee members have been wanting me to do for some time now as a way to focus myself.  To quote my advisor, 'Are you writing a library or a dissertation, Hannah?' Another researcher out here, a few actually, really helped push me to do my TofC because in writing down an outline, it also forced me to clarify my own standpoint.  As I've mentioned, standpoint and understanding the lens by which you look at an issue is a big deal to me.  It clarifies things for yourself, and it also gives a more robust argument to your analysis because it indicates a degree of self-reflection.  So, I feverishly wrote that up in between visiting a college friend at Music on Main, saying goodbye to my friend who left for grad school, and celebrating with my housemate and his family at a BBQ on Saturday.  He'll want me to add that his soccer team won their league championship too, because they're awesome.  So, there was ample reason to be celebrating.

            After that, I left early Monday morning to return to Yellowstone for some more interviews and a visit with the wolf-watching community.  I foolishly stayed up until midnight playing pool (like a boss I might add) in Gardiner only to have my alarm go off at 4:30am the next morning.  Few things can get me up at that hour, save for the promise of a beautiful sunrise and a chance to see some wildlife.  I was lucky enough to get to experience both.  I wove my way up into the Park as a proud owner of an Annual Park Pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and I waited patiently for the bison to cross the roads as I made my way over to the Lamar Valley.  I arrived right as the sun was rising, and I finally got to see some wolves.  First one black pup popped its head out of the hillside, then two, then three, and then a gray pup.  Suddenly, I was unconcerned with the early wake up call, and I just enjoyed getting to see these animals that I talk about all the time.  I would post pictures, but the ones of the wolves are all fuzzy because I was strung out on coffee and adrenaline.  The pictures at the end of this post will all be from my travels, but I'll hopefully get some better ones of wolves before I leave.  The rest of the day continued on as such, and I met with people who wake up this early every morning (earlier, really) to experience this rush.  Tired and delirious, I left the group and went on to Silvergate, Northeast of the Park, where I would spend that night.  I didn't anticipate that there would be no wifi (I sound like a New Yorker right now), so I spent the afternoon in the Visitor's Center of Cooke City-a nearby town-using their wifi to send emails and coordinate the next day's interviews.  I barely made it to nightfall before my eyelids where dragging themselves shut, so I succumbed to my tiredness and fell asleep-only to repeat much of the same the following day.  Lucky me, right?

             After I got back from Yellowstone, I did another round trip to Helena to carry out a few more interviews. I made it back to Bozeman in time to sit in on the public hearing about the possible Wolf Stamp and its potential to be implemented by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  This explanation is a big oversimplification (apologies), but essentially it's a way for nonconsumptive users (aka non-hunters) to invest in the state game management department with funds that will go (ideally) to nonlethal control and conservation of wolves.  Again, this is a big oversimplification, but as you can guess, this proposal is not without controversy.  I sat in on the meeting to listen to the different perspectives, and it gave me an opportunity to see some of the (frustrating) political processes in action. Three hours later and without going into detail, it was an informative opportunity to understand how community members can and do engage with one another over these issues. 

             The last stop on my adventures this week has been to return to Yellowstone for one more visit before I leave for the summer (though I've already planned trips for the fall...thank goodness!).  From here, I'll do some more traveling around to look for wildlife and talk to some folks.  It's hard to think of a better way to spend my time than to come to Yellowstone at the tail end of my travels along Montana's country roads.  Enjoy the photos!

Flying D, Black Bear Dens, Howling Wolves...And Me.

Hannah Jaicks

          The past couple days at the Flying D ranch were at once surreal and terrifically exciting.  We left U of M and drove down to the Flying D ranch, one of Ted Turner's 15 Western U.S. Ranches (makes my small Queens apartment seem absurd).  This ranch and his others are special in that they're designated as what (Montana State Senator) Mike Phillips calls a 'wild working landscape.'  In other words, the bison ranching done on his ranch as well as its other activities like research on Trout in the Cherry Creek drainage are to be conducted in accordance with their mission, which aims: “to manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting the conservation of native species.” This philosophy allows natural processes to take precedence, but still recognizes the “hand of man.”  That aside, everyone involved with the ranch recognizes that Ted Turner is first and foremost a businessman, and a wealthy one at that.  It will be interesting to read the most recent book about him by Todd Wilkinson, of which we all got free copies.

             The ranch itself is near Yellowstone National Park, and you can actually see the snow-capped mountains of YNP from some of the higher areas where we were wandering through.  Our group stayed at Cow Camp, and we dropped all of our stuff off quickly so we could get back out in the fields and look at the bison roaming around in the late afternoon sun.  There are about 5,000 bison on this particular ranch, and the calves will be sent off for slaughter (sorry vegans) next year to be consumed at one of Ted's Montana Grill restaurants around the country.  If you're confused about Turner, conservation, hunting, and bison ranching all being intertwined and connected, don't worry, you're not alone.  The notion that a private ranch can also be seen as an ideal setting for conservation easements, strategic development sensitive to the migratory and predatory activities of local carnivores, and a refuge for endangered flora and fauna is an obvious paradox.  Yet at the same time, I am also inclined to acknowledge Ted Turner and his team for their vision.  They are a ranch that is situated amongst a hostile environment of neighbors that would very much like to see Flying D's Bear Trap wolf pack (and all the other wolf packs) eliminated from the area.  For the ranch to be willing (to an extent) to allow wolves to predate naturally on this private landscape is commendable.  Still, I recognize that some readers may disagree fundamentally with this vision, so I leave you to make up your own mind.

There are 5,000+ bison on this ranch, and I'm pretty sure I managed to take more than that many pictures of each of them.

           On a less politically charged note, my friend and I have an ongoing back and forth tradition where we attempt to document and swap pictures of 'casually beautiful things.'  I'm convinced that my photos this week have put me in the lead (as you'll see below).  At Cow Camp, we spent a few minutes adding layers to gear up for the rapid temperature change that occurs when the sun goes down in the West Yellowstone area, and we trudged through the field of bison to go look for the Bear Trap wolf pack.  Our fearless leader Mike, who had been kind enough to tell us way more than we could have imagined about the ranch, the area's history, and the creatures roaming the 100,000+ acres, decided he would take us to a bear den.  The den, of course, did not have any bears in it.  However, it had been used as recently as this past winter by a black bear.  Even bears have to escape the dreaded polar vortex somehow.  Naturally, I did as any sane person would do; I followed Mike down the rocky and steep cliff and then proceeded to crawl on my belly into the narrow cave space.  I must say, I was impressed by the bear's choice.  Lot's of tunnel space, a nice rattlesnake skin lining the walls (for art I presume), and some sage brush dragged in for decor (I'm still sneezing from inhaling it all).  I had to shimmy my way out butt first and be careful not to keep on shimmying right over the edge of the cliff.  It gave me new respect for those big critters' ability to navigate treacherous spaces.

I'm squinting because the Sage Brush made my allergies seize up, crawling in that bear cave and seeing the view after was well worth it.  That's Cow Camp behind me, and further back is YNP.

            After the bear cave, we toted our sack dinners and parked ourselves on a cliff overlooking the area where the bison were wandering off to find a place to sleep.  That area also happened to be where the radio telemetry indicated the Bear Trap pack was hanging out.  We had Mike do his best wolf howl to see if we could get their attention.  Honestly, I was really too excited to eat.  By this point, I had already caused my eyes to swell shut from crawling around in every known allergen in the state of Montana and had gotten to meet some amazingly interesting people (and animals).  The very idea of seeing wolves, one of my favorite animals (don't tell anyone!), made me practically shake with excitement.  We sat for a long time as the sun set, listening and looking through our binoculars for them.  We didn't hear anything, so we started to pack up.  Then, right as we were leaving, we started to hear this low rolling cry from the hill across from ours.  I'm convinced that the black shadow I saw dart through the trees was one of the wolves returning our call.  Mike reassured me that I wasn't imagining things because the Alpha male of the pack is black.  Regardless, their long rolling howls were unmistakeable.  We sat for about ten minutes, and we just simply listened until the pack tired themselves out and stopped.  After, we all walked back, slightly more mesmerized than before, and chatted with one another about the days events over the spitting campfire and toasted marshmallows.  Michael Soule delivered an excellent talk, and I drifted off to my cabin, stumbling the whole way because I kept looking up at the stars in the sky that I so rarely get to see back in NYC. 

Waiting for the Bear Trap pack to respond to us.

Happy camper

Casually beautiful setting (D.R.E. this one's for you!)

Crackling fire and a clear night in Big Sky Country.

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