Journalist in Residence

Wilderness at 50

PI(s): Robert Chaney (Missoulian newspaper)
Start Date: 12-May-2014
End Date: 23-May-2014

What happens when a crucial animal suddenly transforms its role in the world? Changing climate and human activity appear to be forcing behavioral and diet changes in many species in the high country along Montana’s Rocky Mountains. For example, artificially introduced lake trout within single lakes have specialized into two distinct strategic forms for deep- and shallow-water feeding, while grizzly bears are going vegetarian in some parts of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Both species are heavily managed, so when they act differently, the ripples of change wash through both ecological and human worlds.
As a journalist covering the environment, I see the temperature of a glacier-fed trout stream affecting everything from the Endangered Species Act status of a stonefly to turnout in congressional elections. And this is happening in a state where a Nobel-prize-winning scientist was dis-invited from a school visit because his climate-change talk was considered “one-sided” by the school board.
This year, I will be working on a 12-month project on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. A large portion of that will focus on how plants and animals in these wild lands have adapted (or failed to adapt) to the changes humans have imposed on the landscape. In particular, the bull trout, grizzly bear, and western glacier stonefly play pivotal roles in both in their local ecosystems and national land-use policy. Their survival or extinction serves as a report card on our national experiment in preserving wilderness.