Monday, October 31, 2011

Corridors and the Cabinets

Map and panorama of the Cabinet Mountains wilderness. Map is USFS, photo is from Wikipedia. Click on either to enlarge.

A long time ago, indeed a very long time ago, it sometimes seems, I was both a USFS volunteer wilderness ranger and an outdoor activity instructor in Montana's Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, north of Thompson Falls, MT. This was just a few years after getting out of the British military. I helped patrol the wilderness on summer weekends, hiking in with the paid seasonal ranger to dismantle fire pits and pack out trash, and then the rest of the time I would go to work at the troubled youth camp, hiking back in to the same mountains or the Little Bitterroot range across the Clarks Fork River for weeks at a time with bands of troubled teenagers and packs of rice and lentils.

I also loved to hike in by myself when I could, to fish the high mountain lakes for cut-throat trout and wander the high ridges alone.

Those were great days for a leggy kid from Yorkshire who liked to hike the high peaks. I had the place entirely to myself most of the time. No doubt a lot of my current students would love to have that life, despite the fact that I was paid only $1,500 per 21-day backpacking trip.

Later, after I realized I needed a college education to break into some more remunerative wilderness-based work, and began a biology degree at the University of Montana, I volunteered to help with the Cabinet Mountains Fisher Reintroduction Project, an Endangered Species Act-driven project to boost fisher numbers by releasing wild-caught individuals from Minnesota. We hiked in on snowshoes, or snowmobiled in, to "soft-release" our fishers in the deep cedar groves of the west slopes of the Cabinets. The lead biologist on that project was Kevin Roy, who was later killed in an air crash over Wyoming while tracking grizzlies. It took four years to find his plane.

That was big country out there.

But not the Cabinets. The Cabinets were and are a tiny sliver of wilderness, preserved under the 1964 Wilderness Act. At the narrowest point, Rock Creek, the protected area is less than a mile, east to west. They are a natural corridor.

Anyway, long story short, here's a great Yale 360 article on the Cabinet Mountain's role in working out some ideas in conservation biology related to climate change, particularly the need for wildlife corridors.

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