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Filtering by Tag: conservation

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…

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.

Arrivals, NACCB 2014

Hannah Jaicks

            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. 

Snow-capped mountains are my favorite way to be greeted.

              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.

Receiving a skeptical glance before I assured her I wouldn't take her dinner in the barn.

          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...

Highway distractions.

        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.

Lapping up the luxury of my temporary accommodations and enjoying the free wifi.


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