A painting of a tree and mountains with text saying, "Headwaters, Glacier National Park".



Glacier, Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers Directorate, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, Climate Change Response Program

Headwaters is an in-depth storytelling podcast by Glacier National Park.

Season Two documents the generational effort to restore a species in five chapters. It’s also a story about the purpose of national parks and our relationship with nature. We ask, can people have a positive impact on their environment?


Season 2

Season 2 Trailer

Whitebark Pine | Trailer


Season Two documents the generational effort to restore whitebark pine in five chapters. It’s also a story about the purpose of national parks and our relationship with nature. We ask, can people have a positive impact on their environment? Coming January, 2022.

Peri [00:00:00] If you've ever been to Glacier National Park, you've seen a lot of trees.

Peri [00:00:06] Have you ever heard of a white bark pine?

Hiker [00:00:09] No!

Peri [00:00:10] I'm Peri. And in season two of Headwaters, the Glacier National Park podcast, I set out to understand the most important tree that you've never heard of.

Expert 1 [00:00:19] And we could lose the tree. A lot of forests are in big trouble.

Expert 2 [00:00:23] I'm telling you it was like bombs had gone off all over the whitebark pine stand.

Peri [00:00:30] In this five-part series I'll learn why these trees are so critical, why they're dying, and meet the people trying to save them.

Expert 3 [00:00:35] The musclebound jocks from the university were now carrying cans of poison on their backs and squirting that poison right into the white pine trees, trying to save them.

Peri [00:00:48] All that and more, in season two of Headwaters.

Season Two documents the generational effort to restore whitebark pine in five chapters. It’s also a story about the purpose of national parks and our relationship with nature. We ask, can people have a positive impact on their environment? Coming January, 2022.

Episode 1

Whitebark Pine | Chapter One


Lacy: Headwaters is brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

ShiNaasha: This tree knows a lot about me every time I do come up here, I'll pray to it. I'll talk, I'll cry.

Mike: And you met Ilawye. So that's you know, to me, the other side of that. I mean, Ilawye is not alive, but it still has to me, it's like power or spirit. Just when I talk about it, I mean, I get kinda the goosebumps and the chills. But being able to put your hand on it or even hug it, and just knowing that this tree has been here for over a thousand years.

ShiNaasha: This tree has been here longer than me and knows more than me. It's like a lifeline. It's like a lifeline to that, to that other side, to that spiritual realm, you could even say. Imagine if we were to lose this tree, this species, you lose a lot more than just a tree.

Peri: This story begins on top of a mountain, sitting at the foot of the largest whitebark pine tree I've ever seen. It's called Ilawye, the Great, Great Grandparent Tree. I feel a sense of awe at this tree and what it's seen over the years. And I'm wondering how many generations of trees have grown from its seeds? But this tree is dead, like so many other whitebark pines. More than half of all the whitebark in Glacier National Park and across the western U.S. have died, and we're losing more each day. Meeting Ilawye was my introduction to whitebark pine and the start of a relationship I didn't expect.

Peri: My name is Peri, and this is season two of Headwaters, a five episode story about my journey with a tree over the course of a summer in Glacier National Park, but this story is about so much more than whitebark pine. It's also a story about the purpose of national parks and our relationship with the places we love.

Andrew: Hi, this is Andrew.

Michael: And I'm Michael. We're all rangers here in Glacier.

Andrew: You don't need to listen to season one to understand this story, but if you're planning a visit to the park, last season will be a great place to start.

Michael: This season is all about whitebark pine, an incredible tree that could soon disappear. Over the course of five chapters we'll learn why it matters, why it's dying and meet the people fighting to save it.

Peri: It's about a lot more than just a tree. Let's start simply, though. Here's Claire Emery, who created the cover art for our podcast this year. We went into the park to find and sketch some of these trees,

Claire: One of the things that caught my eyes first about whitebark pine was the silver branches that all reach in the same direction to model what way the wind is blowing, and how they would all just *phewsh*. It's like they're all, it's like they're flying in the wind, but they're... but they're not moving. You know, and how can they be both at once? It's just so amazing to me that something so static can look so alive.

Peri: When I think of conifers, I usually picture a Christmas tree shape that classic spruce or fir silhouette. But whitebark pines aren't really like that. They sort of have a wise old, tough look about them. The tops are bushy, with their branches reaching up like a candelabra, and they're not too big as far as trees go. The tallest ones are about 50 feet tall and their bark is whitish gray--hence, the name. Whitebark is part of a group of closely related trees called five needle pines. Just like the western white pine and limber pine, which also grow in Glacier. What sets whitebark apart, though, is that they only grow at high elevation near treeline, that they have tasty, nutritious seeds, and that they can live for over a thousand years.

Claire: I actually think that's the thing that's the most compelling about it is that it's like... It looks... it is this embodiment of vitality. The shape of those branches, the twist of the wood. It just... they're muscular. They're strong, they're beautiful and they're graceful. They're all of it.

Peri: Like a dancer.

Claire: Yeah, yeah. Like a wind poem. I think seeing their brushiness in life, their tuftiness in life. And then their silver poetry in death. I think that they're kind of a nice combination of both of those things.

Peri: So I'm walking up the Piegan Pass Trail, which is a place in Glacier with a lot of beautiful whitebark pines, and I'm hoping to see how many park visitors have even heard of this tree.

Peri: So have you guys heard of whitebark pine?

Visitor 1: No.

Visitor 2: No.

Peri: Have you ever heard of a whitebark pine?

Visitor 3: No.

Visitor 4: No.

Visitor 5: White pine, for sure.

Visitor 6: Yeah, but I don't know if I could identify it.

Peri: Have you heard of whitebark pine?

Visitor 7: I have not.

Visitor 8: Well, you've graciously pointed one out, however, had you not pointed one out, I would have been clueless.

Kaylin: Ninety nine point nine percent of visitors that attend my program have no idea what a whitebark pine is.

Peri: That's Kaylin Brennan, who's an interpretive park ranger here. She does her evening campfire program on whitebark pine. And for a lot of park visitors, that's their first introduction to this species.

Kaylin: So you come around this corner right when you're getting really tired, you're so ready to take a break. You come around this corner, you see this tree, and it looks like it's floating above the trail and you're like, Whoa. So you sit down underneath this tree. It's about 20 to 30 feet high and you hear this bird, you watch it fly to the top of this tree. That's the Clark's nutcracker.

Kaylin: The trees don't get as much recognition as all the other animals and aspects of Glacier, but yet they're the foundation of all of that.

Peri: Kaylin has been doing her evening program about whitebark pine since her very first season 12 years ago. When she heard we were doing a whole season of the podcast about this tree she couldn't wait to talk to us.

Kaylin: I was wildly excited, like jumping up and down, excited. I was just excited that a bigger audience could learn about the story of this tree.

Peri: So you've been giving this program for, what, 12 years now? What do you hope that visitors take away from this story?

Kaylin: I think it's that when humans choose to make a positive impact on the landscape and come together, we can.

Peri: So Andrew, what do you think about that?

Andrew: It's a really nice sentiment. You know, I think it's a pretty commonly held belief that in nature, humans are a bad influence, that we're a virus on the planet.

Peri: I mean, that was more or less the reason behind creating the National Park Service, right?

Andrew: Yeah. There's this idea that in order to keep a place wild and to keep it natural, you have to keep humans out of it. Right? Like a national park.

Peri: Right, or a national forest or...

Andrew: ...a wilderness area.

Peri: Sure.

Andrew: But this is a fairly recent conception, maybe only in the last hundred years have we started to think this way. Once these areas seemed like a limited resource, it became popular to try to protect them by excluding people. It's an idea called fortress conservation,

Peri: like trying to keep that place quote unquote pristine.

Andrew: Yeah, keeping that human influence out because it's seen as a bad thing. But Kaylin seems to think that whitebark pine tells a different story.

Peri: So as I begin this project, I really don't know whitebark pine very well, and most other people don't either. But those who do know these trees love them. And I wanted to find out why.

Peri: We've been driving south through the Flathead Valley down onto the Flathead Reservation.

Peri: It's my first day working on Glacier National Park's podcast. But the park is in the rearview mirror.

Michael: First field day!

Peri: First field day!

Peri: The stories we tell on this show revolve around Glacier, but whitebark pine doesn't recognize lines on a map. These trees are a key piece of the park, but they also occur throughout the crown of the continent ecosystem, which Glacier is just a tiny piece of, and at high elevations throughout western North America.

Andrew: I think we're going to make a turn in three miles off of the main highway.

Peri: So today we're driving across the Flathead Indian Reservation. It's even bigger than the park, and it covers a lot of Flathead Lake and the Mission Mountains. The reservation was established in 1855 and is home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, or CKST. I'm here because I'm curious what it's like to have a relationship with whitebark pine that goes back thousands of years to find out, I spoke with Tony Incashola Jr., the head of the CSKT Forestry Department.

Tony: Whitebark pine is a first food for us.

Peri: Mike Duglo Jr., who is the head of the Tribal Historic Preservation Department, joined our conversation as well.

Mike: The story that I've heard is that when we went over Lolo Pass, for instance, they would gather some of the cones that had fallen on the ground and put them by the fire. And when those roasted up and were made easier to open, then they would eat those seeds.

Peri: So I asked if they'd tried whitebark pine seeds themselves.

Tony: Yeah, it's it's very, very tasty, very good. And that's kind of our goal is to collect enough seeds not only for our reforestation efforts, but also to help introduce it into our culture feeds again.

Peri: Mike said he hadn't, but...

Mike: I'm looking forward to, you know, having that little bit of a taste someday, too.

Peri: I hadn't heard the term first foods before, so I asked Tony if he could explain that.

Tony: So first food, it's a traditional food for our tribe. Our tribe would follow the seasons nomadically, so to say, and harvest different plants and roots and berries at different seasons of the year. And so first foods would be something our tribe would traditionally use in their diet.

Peri: So in addition to these trees carrying nutritious seeds, they also carry stories and cultural meaning.

Tony: The culture community has hundreds, thousands, of hours of tapes where they've recorded elders and learned from them and their conversations, kind of like we're doing right now to preserve those stories and that history. And they they let us know that historically those were used on hunting trips, camping trips and just generally in those high elevation areas. You know, I like to call our tribe a forest tribe. A lot of our ceremonies, a lot of our traditions happen in the forest and especially at the high elevation forest, it holds a special meaning for us.

Michael: Peri, where are we?

Peri: We're several miles up a forest road towards Ilawye.

Peri: A forester with the CSKT Forestry Department named ShiNaasha Pete kindly offered to take us up to meet Ilawye, the Great, Great Grandparent Tree.

Michael: How would you describe the road?

Peri: It's been pretty bumpy, pretty windy. Some big drop offs on one side, which I didn't love.

Daniel: So you think this is it?

Michael: Must be.

Peri: I mean, I hope so.

Peri: We made it.

ShiNaasha: I know that is such a haul.

Peri: It is a haul!

ShiNaasha: [Speaking Navajo] I am Shinaasha Pete. I am Navajo and Shawnee. I am a reforestation forester for the CSKT tribal forestry. I've been working on whitebark pine since 2014, as an intern graduating out of SKC, which is Salish Kootenai College and I am very blessed to be working for the tribal forestry now.

Peri: I have this mental image of foresters as gruff, no nonsense types of folks who carry hatchets and are covered in tree sap.

Andrew: Were you into trees and plants and stuff even as a little kid?

ShiNaasha: Oh my gosh, yes, I was such a nerd. My friends would be like, Do you want to go ride bikes and go over to the playground? And I'd be like, Do you guys want to go collect mint? I found this really nice patch and we can make sun teas, and they're like, what?

Peri: In a cruel twist of fate for a forester who works on pines, ShiNaasha has a pretty vicious pine analogy.

ShiNaasha: I have a real honker, too. It's like what's that goose in the background? Some goose in the mountain, a mountain goose.

Peri: ShiNaasha is incredibly bubbly, like she jumps back and forth between rattling off scientific names of the plants we're seeing, telling stories about her son, and how different generations of her family are connected to trees.

ShiNaasha: My grandpa, he was a logger. And so, yeah, so on my maternal side of the family, my grandpa had a logging business and everybody worked in it. My grandpa, you know, he'd come home and he'd smell like chainsaw and trees and the forest and I loved it, it was grandpa. He talked about whitebarks, big whitebark back in the day. How huge it was. It was really cool actually to hear his stories about it and him seeing it and and how, you know, even then, he didn't ever cut it. And then my grandma, she would do all the books and stuff like that. So she was always at home. And when I would hang out, we would go for these long walks in the woods. She would teach me all the trees and all the species, and we'd pick flowers and make bouquets. And...

Peri: Now ShiNaasha is the one passing this knowledge on to a new generation.

Michael: How old did you say your son was?

ShiNaasha: He's 12.

Michael: What does he think about what you do?

ShiNaasha: I go, Let's go on a hike. No. No? Come on! Every time we go for a hike, it just turns into a plant lesson. But yeah, he sees that I love it. But what's really cool with him is I can connect it to the cultural side. And then it's more of like, okay.You know, instead of like, Oh yeah, that's cool. That's more just like like understanding or like a realization like, Oh, OK, that that's why then the purpose of it.

Peri: So it's not just trivia, like, that's what this plant is. That's why this matters.

ShiNaasha: Exactly. So, yeah...

Peri: She now focuses her work on whitebark pine.

ShiNaasha: When this project started to come together and they brought elders together to talk about the cultural component of whitebark pine there was an elder from up on Blackfeet country, and it took him a while to remember the name. If you lose the tree, then, yeah, you can lose that story. And then when you lose that story about the tree that you're going to lose the story about the nutcracker.

Peri: That's the bird that feeds on whitebark pine seeds.

ShiNaasha: It continues on and on. So if we lose whitebark culturally, then like, I say, you're going to lose those lessons.

Peri: Glacier is home to Native America Speaks, or NAS, which is the longest running indigenous speaker series in the National Park Service. And like this podcast, NAS is funded by the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The program includes over 100 events each year, bringing together speakers from the Flathead Reservation where ShiNaasha, Mike and Tony live and from the Blackfeet Reservation to the east of the park. I spoke with one of the NAS presenters, Robert Hall, just before one of his talks in Two Medicine.

Robert: [Speaking Blackfeet:] nō´m˝ṫoōṫoō ǎmssk̇ǎaṗiiṗiik̇ǔni, niṫtsiṫō´ṗii iiṫo´nnyō´•ṗ´. My name is Robert Hall. [Speaking Blackfeet] And my white name is Robert Hall, and I grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation and I live in Browning, Montana.

Peri: Robert works on Blackfeet Language revitalization, and I wanted to get his perspective. And the first thing I wanted to know was the word for whitebark pine.

Robert: The pine tree is [In Blackfeet:] ṗǎa˝ṫo´k̇ii. What it means, it just means pine tree, and then the woodpecker [In Blackfeet:] ṗǎa˝ṫō˝ksissis.

Peri: Is that the same as Clark's nutcracker?

Robert: Pretty much, and if you want to get more specific, you know, and someone would say, [In Blackfeet:] tsǎ ǎnissṫǎapsii ṗǎa˝ṫō˝ksissis, what kind of woodpecker? You just say [In Blackfeet:] sikssk̇ii, it's got a black face, right? And what it means is, all it means is like a pounding nose.

Peri: Very appropriate.

Robert: So again, there's a kind of a little insight, if you will, of how our language is focused on what things do, to an extent.

Peri: I only had a few minutes to speak with Robert before his program, but I was curious how your language can shape your relationship to nature. I asked about the Blackfeet language, but Robert flipped the question on its head.

Robert: Really, I think the question more so that we need to look at is why is English so separate from the earth? It's kind of obvious why most indigenous languages would be entwined with the earth, because that's our natural state is to be with the earth. That's who we naturally are, right? It's the English language that is kind of odd.

Peri: The hike up to Ilawye isn't long. But there were a lot of fallen trees after the winter.

Michael: Yeah, I'm worried that people listening to this will not be sufficiently impressed with us. Can you describe what we're doing?

ShiNaasha: We are dying on the side of the mountain. Scrambling over blowdown of dead trees and getting swatted by false huckleberry, and wishing that these berries were ripe. But the tree is not very far from here.

Peri: So this is Ilawye?

ShiNaasha: Yes, this is her. It's definitely, definitely gorgeous. All the green in the background and then just like this one big, huge white skeleton against all this black tallus, yeah, it's pretty.

Peri: I squinted in the midday sun and I could see Ilawye standing alone with distant peaks beyond. We walked across the loud clanking slope of rocks and kind of nestled among Ilawye's huge silver roots. It was very quiet and it felt sacred. This is how I am first introduced to whitebark pine to a tree that will totally upend how I see the world around me.

ShiNaasha: The base of it is so huge and just the way the branches are so big and it's like, like lazy octopus arms, like they're too big, they can't pick em up. But then you're like, Well, you know, is, is that the branch or is that the root system, you know? If it was the root system, then imagine how to do even more big this tree was.

Peri: I didn't even think about that.

Peri: It's sad to meet the species through a dead tree, but it's also kind of fitting. But even in death, Ilawye is a pretty great ambassador. Even though only the bottom 15 feet or so is still standing, the trunk and branches are enormous, bigger than any tree I've ever seen at this elevation, which is almost 7000 feet.

ShiNaasha: But I can't imagine like what this looked like back then. This tree had to be huge, like redwood status for Montana, it really had to be. And I can't imagine like how much it stretched out.

Peri: I think a lot of people would probably say they love trees, especially big, tall, ancient ones. But asking people to articulate why they feel this way or trying to do that myself kind of hits a dead end. ShiNaasha was the first person I talked to who was really able to answer that question.

ShiNaasha: Think of all of the energy that they have absorbed from everything that has happened over that time, whether it's bad or good. But then even when you have an opportunity to come to something so old and filled with wisdom from all of that energy absorbed, if you were to take that time to go to it, it's going to share energy with you.

Peri: My science education emphasizes learning about the natural world. So I saw Ilawye as something to study or observe. But ShiNaasha sees Ilawye almost like a friend or a family member, someone to learn from. And a tree can teach you a lot if you're willing to listen.

ShiNaasha: Perseverance. That's what I see. You go through hardships, but you keep going. Sometimes in life, you have setbacks. Sometimes you get the strength yourself to continue going by adapting or you have a helping hand. You take that helping hand and move forward. You know, what's funny is like this, I love this place, and I always want to bring my family here, but I have not yet got to got the opportunity to bring them here. I really wish I could have brought my dad.

Tony: Traditionally, that's how, you know, a lot of our stories have always been told as we watch the animals. We watch how they take care of the land. The land was here, put here, and the animals took care of it for us and they prepped it and we watched them and how they do it. And so after watching them and learning from them now, it's kind of our duty to continue it. And so all of our stories, all of our values come around keeping everything together as a whole, as a system, so it can function correctly.

Peri: Even for those of us who've grown up without this worldview, one of the reasons I think we all feel that sense of awe around ancient trees is how old they are and how much they've seen. Trees are rooted in the same spot, sometimes for thousands of years as the world changes around them.

Tony: And you look at the site it sits, the view it has, it looks over the Mission Valley. You know, it's seen a lot of things. It's seen a lot of change, a lot of shape.

Peri: When Ilawye was young over a thousand years ago, Tony and Mike's ancestors were living in the valley below as they had since time immemorial and Ilwaye watched as settlers arrived and everything changed. Now, Tony and Mike are working to revive and pass on traditional knowledge to new generations.

Tony: And that's part of our success story we wrote about, too, is we're bringing this to our younger generation now. You know, I'm a little younger than Mike and whitebark pine traditionally hasn't, I haven't learned about it until until recently, and so there is a little gap in there. And it's awesome to see, you know, groups of children out there on field trips, hiking trips and starting to show them the importance, not just for you, said ecology for restoration, but introducing that culture back into the young generation.

Mike: And bringing kids up there to meet Ilawye is, you know, pretty special for them. They're not just learning about the importance of the tree and the seeds, they're learning the importance and the significance of our great, great grandparent and how, you know, throughout history this has been part of our lives.

Peri: Where did the name Ilawye come from?

Mike: I named that tree.

Tony: Yeah.

Mike: And I got to touch the tree and I was like, this is a special tree. It's kind of like my medicine tree.

Peri: Most relationships begin when you learn someone's name, and I guess that's true of the natural world, too. For me, learning the names of wildflowers and birds started out as trivia. But eventually, in addition to just asking, What are you? I started to ask, Who are you and why are you here? I started to notice which birds live, where, what time of year glacier lilies bloom or raspberries ripen, and when animals migrate in or out of my neighborhood. Species became individuals, not just a hummingbird, but the rufous hummingbird that zips around my flowers every day. Not just a huckleberry plant, but the patch I visit and pick each year. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous author and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer says that paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, and that learning names of the beings around you is a sign of respect, the first step toward that reciprocal relationship. Which is why meeting Ilawye, the Great Great Grandparent Tree felt like a fitting introduction to whitebark pine.

ShiNaasha: You know, trees and plants and medicines are here to help us. That's why we help them.

Peri: In the past, it never occurred to me to frame the relationship with nature or a tree in this reciprocal way where we take care of each other. The National Park Service mission is to preserve and protect this place, but until now, I had thought about that relationship as mostly one-sided, people protecting nature. It didn't occur to me that the natural world could take care of me too. And Tony explained to me that the CSKT Forestry Program incorporates that kind of thinking. It's not just about growing and harvesting timber as a crop. It's about restoring the ecosystem.

Tony: And that's something I've always learned from my father's-is what I do now is not for me, it's not for my kids, it's for my kids kids. And that's why forestry and our tribe is connected with forestry so much. I think it's because whatever we do and whatever restoration efforts we do, it's looking down the road and the future. And with climate change, that's really why we've looked at our future.

Peri: And Tony mentioned this idea of thinking seven generations down the road.

Tony: It's we're learning from generations past. We're applying it now for generations future.

Peri: I set out on this journey to meet a tree, and I discovered a lot more.

ShiNaasha: This tree is the oldest that I know, so it has a lot that I have learned from it already. It has a lot that I still will learn.

Peri: This is not just a story about a species and the efforts to save it. It's a story about how we relate to the world around us, what we stand to gain if we can think of that relationship in a new way and also about what we could lose.

ShiNaasha: Imagine if we were to lose this tree, this species. It's like losing a whole nother soul, you lose all of that knowledge, you lose the culture, you lose a lot more than just a tree.

Peri: And this is a very real possibility. And in addition to their spiritual and cultural significance, they also hold together our high elevation ecosystems.

ShiNaasha: You're going to lose that tradition. You will lose that cultural component of that piece of nature that makes your tribe, your tribe.

Michael: Next time on Headwaters, we explore the ecosystems tied to whitebark pine, including grizzly bears, birds, and squirrels, but it all starts with a puppet.

Brad: Piney is like an artificial Christmas tree that's been truly gussied up.

Michael: So she's about three and a half feet tall, three feet tall, green sequin dress.

Brad: She's a little mysterious, sassy. Oh no, her base fell off.

Michael: That's next time on Headwaters.

Peri: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from our partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Peri: Glacier is the traditional lands of several Native American tribes, including the Aamsskaapipikani, Kootenai, Selis and Qlispe people. Headwaters was created by Daniel Lombardi. Andrew Smith, Peri Sasnett, and Michael Faist, produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music, and Claire Emery let us her woodcut piece titled "Wind Poem" for this season's cover art.

Peri: Special thanks this episode to Bill Hayden, ShiNaasha Pete, Tony Incashola Jr., Mike Durglo Jr., Robert Hall, Sierra Mandelko, Claire Emery, Kaylin Brennan, Debby Smith, everyone with Glacier's native plant program, the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, and so many others. If you enjoyed the show, we love it if you'd rate, review, and subscribe and share it with a friend.

Lacy: This is like for the end?

Daniel: This is in it, yeah. You saying that? That's gonna be in it.

Michael: [laughs]

Lacy: The Glacier Conservancy is the official fundraising partner of Glacier National Park. To learn more, visit glacier.org.

Peri: I think that's the best time you've done yet.

Lacy: OK, do I need to get one more time?

Michael: I think we're good.

Journey across the Flathead Indian Reservation to the most important tree you’ve never heard of.

The Glacier Conservancy: https://glacier.org/

Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation: https://whitebarkfound.org/

Pictures of Ilawye, the Great Great Grandparent Tree: https://flic.kr/p/2mtQsSH

Ben Cosgrove Music: https://www.bencosgrove.com/

Claire Emery Art: https://www.emeryart.com/

See more show notes on our website: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/photosmultimedia/headwaters-podcast.htm

Episode 2

Whitebark Pine | Chapter Two


Lacy: Headwaters is brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Peri: If you've ever driven the length of Going-to-the-Sun Road, you've crossed the Baring Creek Bridge on the east side of the park. You might have been staring up at the mountains and not noticed it, but it is worth checking out. Built in 1931, the bridge is huge. One of the largest on Going-to-the-Sun Road. It's so big that there's a path you can work on that takes you under it next to the creek. And if you look up, you can see all the beautiful red and green local rocks it was built with. The rock stack on top of one another to form a single long arch that touches down on each side of the creek. And at the apex of the arch is a single stone that's bigger and more prominent than the rest. And that's called the keystone. If you pull out the keystone, the rest of the stones would collapse into the creek.

Peri: Well, not really. In this case, the rocks on the Baring Creek Bridge are just a facade for a concrete arch. But Keystone's have held bridges and arches together for thousands of years. One iconic stone that transforms to unstable stacks of rock into one of the strongest and most important shapes in all of architecture.

Peri: In the late 1960s, ecology borrowed this concept and started using the term keystone species. The idea is that some species, like white bark pine, are so important that they hold up the rest of the ecosystem, the way the keystone holds up the arch. If whitebark pine go extinct than all the other species dependent on them, could go extinct as well.

Peri: My name is Peri, and you're listening to Headwaters Season Two, a story of a tree over the course of a summer in Glacier National Park. Of course, this story is also about a lot more than whitebark pine. It's about the purpose of the National Park Service and our relationship with nature.

Michael: I'm Michael.

Andrew: I'm Andrew. And the three of us are Rangers here in Glacier.

Michael: You're listening to Chapter two of five, although we'd recommend starting with Chapter One. And if you haven't already, you could listen to season one of this podcast for an introduction to Glacier National Park.

Peri: Last time, I met whitebark pine, I spoke with foresters, rangers, artists and more to see what we can learn from a tree. Today, I'll meet the plants and animals that depend on whitebark pine.

Michael: Could you introduce us to Piney?

Brad: Yes. So I so yes, I have a puppet here with me, I'll pick her up. Piney is like an artificial Christmas tree that's been truly gussied up, whose trunk has been painted white because she is a whitebark pine. She has been giving a beautiful sequined evening gown with some pretty profound pine cone... A pine cone bosom situation, which I will say...

Peri: Glacier has an artist in residence program, a way for the park to invite and host artists to visit for a month at a time, while working on a project about the park.

Michael: So she's about three and a half feet tall, three feet tall, green sequined dress looks kind of like a–

Brad: I would say, like a lounge singer, perhaps. She's got one hand that's perpetually on her hip and one hand that she gesticulates with.

Peri: This year, one of our artists was Brad, who came to our studio with a handmade whitebark pine puppet named Piney, whose plastic needled branches have been squashed into a quasi-feminine form.

Brad: My name is Brad Einstein and I am a federally recognized forest comedian.

Peri: Brad and his friend Kyle Neimer started Tree Huggers Comedy where they make nature documentaries that they describe as a little John Muir and a little John Oliver. One of the videos they're working on explores a relationship, specifically one between whitebark pine and a bird called a Clark's Nutcracker.

Brad: So the whole play with this noir was that the detective was a Clark's Nutcracker, who had a very good memory for triangulating and finding things.

Peri: Clark's nutcrackers are a beautiful gray bird that's related to crows and ravens, and they have black wings and a huge black beak that they use to crack into white bark pine cones. They extract their seeds and then cash them for the winter. Here's a clip from Brad and Kyle's video.

Video Clip: The name's Clark. Clark S. Nutcracker. From nine to five, I'm a private detective. The rest of the time. Why am I a detective? I have a nose for it. More specifically, a beak. There's not a case this thing can't crack. More specifically seed cases. More more specifically, pine cones. And while I cracked lots of cases from lots of pines, there's only one case that cracked my heart into two.

Peri: In this bit, Clark S. Nutcracker is a detective, sporting a three-piece suit and a felt fedora. The joke is that, like a detective, these smart birds use their excellent memory to remember all the places where they've cashed whitebark pine seeds.

Brad: He was a private eye, and we kind of had a Beautiful Mind sort of conspiracy theory wall of him doing this triangulation. And of course, in that relationship, the whitebark pine was the stemme fatale.

Video Clip: Of all the mountainside she could grow on for centuries. She had to pick this one. She had a voice like the wind–Hey there Clark–which on second thought it probably was. Holy Crow...Three hundred years old. She had roots for day. In short, a real stemme fatale...

Brad: And hence, hence she's a little mysterious. Sassy. I don't know. A tragic female protagonist. Oh no. Her base fell off.

Michael: What would I after watching this bit? You know what? What would you hope I would get from it?

Brad: Hmm. One, I... I think the whole goal always is to kind of remove the otherness of the natural world, and use irreverence in a variety of different ways to promote reverence. Whether that is a feeling of all towards the grandeur of the natural world or a feeling of intimacy that like these creatures, these relationships, this inner-species union is not so different from the relationships that we as humans have.

Peri: When I think about relationships, I see my loved ones, my family, my friends. I don't usually think of the natural world. The way plants and animals interact, the food chain we're all taught in high school, it can feel very transactional, kind of unfeeling. But is that really true? How do the bonds between plants and animals compare to our human ones? How can we relate to them? Or, as Brad said, share a feeling of intimacy with the world around us.

Peri: Biologists call an intimacy between species symbiosis. The literal translation from its Greek roots means living together, and that describes most life on Earth. Depending on one another. As humans, we depend on plants and animals to survive and to add richness and beauty to our lives. Symbiotic relationships take many forms. Sometimes, like a tick on a deer, only one member of the pair benefits. But when both benefit, like with whitebark and nutcrackers, it's called mutualism. They each gain something and they help one another.

Lisa: I'm Lisa Bate. I'm a wildlife biologist here at Glacier National Park. I mean, I've talked with some other biologists when we mentioned Clark's Nutcracker. They're like, Oh, what's that? And it's like, Oh, OK, you know, not everyone is aware of birds. And the important role, ecological role they play in ecosystems.

Peri: While she studies a lot of other species, including Clarks Nutcrackers. You've already heard a bit about their unique relationship with whitebark pine and how they use their specially adapted bills to open cones, extract the seeds, and cache them in the ground.

Lisa: But you mentioned that bill, and it is stout. It's powerful, but it has to be for a reason because most pine cones open on their own to disperse seeds, not whitebark. The only way it opens is with that Clarks just clobbering it, and it's just amazing to watch. And so when it opens it, that allows it to become available to all these other species, too.

Peri: One of the fun things about talking to Lisa is her enthusiasm for the animals she works with.

Lisa: And the amazing–OK–this is like the most amazing thing about Clark's nutcrackers to me when I first started working on this proposal. They are the only bird in North America with a sublingual pouch. That means a pouch under the tongue. It's and they have co-evolved with whitebark pine to collect those seeds. They put him in that little pouch. And if you're lucky enough to see that start bulging, you can actually see the definition of the individual pine seeds.

Peri: I have to say I've talked with a lot of people who love these birds, and no one has been so excited about their sublingual pouch.

Andrew: No kidding. So it's basically the bird version of a squirrel stuffing food in its cheeks.

Peri: Pretty much.

Lisa: But then they use that little pouch to go fly off, and then they bury those seeds like two or three at a time. And they are, their memories are phenomenal. Then they can remember, like 98 percent of the places where they...

Peri: Each individual can cache anywhere between 30 and 100,000 seeds in a year. And in a win-win scenario, the birds like to cache the seeds and open areas like recent burns, where the terrain is easy to memorize and there's no shade to block the growth of young trees.

Lisa: They are so smart that they can remember where 98 percent of those seeds have been cached. But it's the two percent, the one to two percent that they can't remember or they don't get to. That's what germinates into the next generation of whitebark pine. So it is. It's just this fabulous mutualistic relationship that's evolved over the millennium.

Peri: So whitebark pine depends on Clark's nutcrackers to reproduce. They need the birds to distribute and plant their seeds for them, but it might go the other way too. Nutcrackers can survive without whitebark pine seeds, they can eat other foods and get by, but the fewer whitebarks there are, the fewer nutcrackers there tend to be. And scientists have observed that in years with very small cone crops, nutcrackers are less likely to reproduce.

Peri: You've probably heard of the birds and the bees, but this is the birds and the trees. It's a beautiful thing, these birds and trees in this ancient, balanced and mutualistic relationship. In a way, I almost feel jealous. I'd love to have that close connection with the world around me. And I don't think I'm alone in that... Humans need community, and we all want to feel like we belong. But being part of a community means that you need to give back as much as you receive, whether with friends and family or with your natural environment. There has to be taking and giving, or else you slept for mutualism to something else... Instead of the bird and the tree, it's the tick on the deer. Like any relationship, it's a balancing act. When there aren't enough whitebark pine cones, nutcrackers can end up eating every last seed, turning them from seed dispersers into seed predators.

Andrew: Clark's nutcrackers and Whitebark Pine have this mutualistic relationship where the bird feeds on the seeds and the tree depends on the bird to plant the seeds and to sow the next generation. But lots of other species depend on whitebark too.

Kate: Whitebark pine seeds are an excellent food source for a variety of birds and mammals; woodpeckers, jays, ravens, chickadees, nuthatches, finches feeding on white pine, as well as grouse, ptarmigan, chipmunks, ground squirrels and, of course, the Red Tree squirrel, mice. I've I've found whitebark pine seeds in coyote scats, and I've even seen evidence of deer feeding on them.

Andrew: That's Kate Kendall. She worked for decades studying grizzly bears here in Glacier, as well as all around northwest Montana and in Yellowstone National Park. In addition to all those birds and mammals that will eat whitebark seeds, bears and especially grizzly bears love to eat too.

Kate: It's a highly preferred food. I even know of a study in northern or central British Columbia, where there are spawning salmon, bears choose to go up and feed on whitebark pine seeds when they're available, even when there are spawning salmon in the creeks below.

Andrew: How did you realize that grizzlies were using whitebark pine seeds?

Kate: Well, first of all, in Yellowstone, we had a lot of radio collared bears, and we could see their movements moving to whitebark pine stands in the high elevation, uh, late summer and fall. We also had a lot of attention to bear scats, or their feces, and it was very obvious when bears had been feeding on whitebark pine seeds. There's almost nothing else in their scats, and so it's very easy to tell what they've been eating.

Andrew: But while Kate knew that bears were eating white bark pine seeds, there were still a few mysteries. For starters, how were they getting the seeds out of whitebark pine cones? No one had seen it happen in person, so Kate took a bunch of whitebark pine cones to the Boise Zoo to find out.

Kate: So I took a bunch of cones and then individual a pile of seeds that I had laboriously extracted from the cones to the Boise Zoo, where there were two 10 year old grizzly bears that had been orphaned when their mother died in Yellowstone. When they were just cubs, they had gone through one year of feeding with her. And then the next spring, the mother died and they were put into a zoo, so they had been in captivity for nine years.

Andrew: Kate hope these two orphaned cubs would show her how bears accessed whitebark pine seeds.

Kate: And they still had their regular food which were apples, carrots and out there. And as soon as they release those bears into the enclosure, they just absolutely made a beeline to the pile of cones, sat down and started crunching them up. They break them up by biting them, and then they'd let that fall to the ground and they rake out the debris and just very dexterously lick up just the individual seeds. And if they got a cone scale in their mouth, then it would come get ejected out of the side of their mouth. It was just unbelievable that that...

Andrew: This behavior couldn't have been learned in captivity. The bears remembered the trick that their mom had taught them that one fall nine years earlier. However, they didn't touch the seeds that Kate had carefully extracted from the cones.

Kate: And I don't understand this, but they never touched that pile of seeds, and sadly, that all got washed down the drain at the end of the day.

Andrew: All your hard work?

Kate: All my hard work, and it was really hard to extract the seeds. Whitebark pine cones are extremely resinous, and I would get my fingers completely glued together and I have to pry them apart with solvent in order to continue.

Andrew: And the bears don't get their lips glued shut by the pine resin?

Kate: They don't! But I have pictures of bears and they had been feeding on whitebark pine cones before The Big Die Off and they had no hair on their bellies because so much resin had collected. And then when they tried to get the resin off, they like pulled out all their hair. They had clubbed feet. Their front paws were just completely matted with resin.

Andrew: It's that good? They wouldn't stop?!

Kate: They wouldn't stop. Nope.

Andrew: But even knowing how bears opened the cones, it's hard to imagine grizzlies getting to the cones in the first place. Whitebark pine cones are kind of unique because they sit way up high in the tree at the very end of the branches. Black bears are excellent climbers, but grizzly bears are not.

Michael: As it turns out, grizzly bears rely on another animal to do their dirty work and retrieve all the cones for them. You recognize that sound, right?

Peri: Of course, they are all over my yard right now. Red tree squirrels.

Michael: Oh, my gosh.

Peri: Yeah, I know! There's these piles of cones.

Peri: Yeah, so they chatter outside very dramatically all the time, and they've made these piles of cones all over the yard.

Michael: Oh my gosh, yeah, look at them.

Peri: They're just stacked up under these bushes like hundreds of them very neatly, all in little rows, all stacked up. And there's more over here, too. I've never noticed squirrels doing this before.

Michael: But you know why they're doing it, right?

Peri: I mean, I assume they're to eat over the winter.

Michael: Yeah, these are these are piles that have a specific name. They're called middens

Peri: Like for your hands?

Michael: No, it's middens with a D. M I D D E N S.

Peri: Oh, OK. I have heard that before.

Michael: Yeah. And middens are these stashes of food preparing for the winter that they build on all summer, especially here in the fall, when the trees cones are mature and middens are more than just piles, they look like piles. But they're actually kind of like a refrigerator that preserves these cones all through the summer and into the winter. Yeah. If they just left all these cones out willy nilly, a lot of them would spoil would rot because the cones would start opening. Some of them might even start to germinate and turn into a new tree, which wastes a lot of the nutrients that they could easily get out of the seed. And so it's easy to see why all of this hard work that this squirrel puts in, it's something they get very protective over. That chattering you're hearing is them saying–

Peri: Squirrel yelling!

Michael: Yeah, back off. Get away. I've worked hard on that. Don't take my food, which we get to hear all over the park. It's probably not quite as effective when they do it at a grizzly bear because this is what grizzly bears raid. They raid these middens. That's how they get whitebark, pine cones. In fact, early in the spring, when other foods like huckleberries aren't ready to eat yet, bears can still dig up and access these cones. And Kate had seen this sort of thing in real life.

Kate: This whitebark pine stand is cratered by bears that have come out of the den and been able to smell these caches of cones six feet under snow. Dig them out. Feed on them. There's cone debris all over the place. Bear scats full of seeds. And I'm telling you it was it was like bombs had gone off all over the whitebark pine stand.

Peri: Why do you know so much about squirrels?

Michael: OK, well, when I worked as an interpretive ranger, the guided hikes, that sort of thing, we were asked to come up with a 30 minute talk about animals, and a lot of my colleagues gave talks on mountain lions and mountain goats, grizzly bears, megafauna. Charismatic. I gave my nine squirrels. Oh, so cool. Yeah, I mean, I really think they are an underappreciated critter in this park. Just because they're common, it's easy to overlook them. But one adult squirrel could have easily cashed all of these cones in your yard.

Peri: Honestly, I definitely have a newfound appreciation for squirrels this summer, watching them run around like tiny lunatics and build up these huge piles all over the yard. It's been really fun to watch.

Michael: To quantify it: it's like 10 to over 150 hundred and fifty cones stashed a day for the average single adult squirrel, which, very industrious, over 15,000 in a summer. Wow. So by stashing that many and remembering where most of them are, they are able to stay active all through the harsh Montana winter. Honestly, like looking at these piles in your yard, it's a wonder between squirrels and nutcrackers and bears that whitebark pine have any cones left, any seeds left at the end of the summer.

Peri: So whitebark pine trees know that birds and mammals will eat their seeds, but they have this trick called masting that they use to outsmart them, and masting is when a tree that produces fruit or seeds, nuts, chooses to produce them at kind of unpredictable intervals. And so if a squirrel or a nutcracker knew they could come to whitebark pine every year and just eat as many seeds as it wanted, there would be way more squirrels and nutcrackers that could eat so many seeds that the tree would be totally picked over with no seeds left for it to reproduce.

Michael: So the trees don't produce cones every year they like, take a vacation.

Peri: Yeah, kind of. They take some years off, which prevents these seed predators from having a reliable food source, which then controls their populations. So then, after one or two or three years, the tree will have amassed a year and produce a ton of cones way more than squirrels or nutcrackers could ever hope to eat.

Michael: Wow.

Andrew: Evolution is giving these trees a great strategy for dealing with seed predators. It's almost like they've outsmarted these animals.

Peri: Yeah, it's almost like they're saying, Ooh, nice try.

Peri: So it's clear that this relationship between a tree, a bird, a bear and a squirrel. It's really complex, and it's something that people have studied year after year to understand better.

Kate: I was hiking up one morning and there was this black bear that was digging at the base of a tree, and it just ran off immediately. And so I think, Oh, I need to see whether it's digging up cones or maybe it's finding little seed caches. And so I am down with my butt and they're digging up trying to carefully see that there seed caches here? Yeah. Well, I'm behind the trunk of the tree and the bear didn't see me, and it comes back and poked its head around and we both kind of go whooo-eee-aaah, really.

Peri: Hearing Kate's stories of her time spent in whitebark stands and learning about all these interconnections made me want to go, try and see them for myself. I have had the chance to visit the trees themselves, but I never paid much attention to what was going on around them. But now that I know the stories of the nutcrackers and bears and squirrels, I want to watch those relationships in action.

Greg Glacier Dispatch, this is Greg.

Vlad: Hey, Greg, this is Vlad Kovalenko. Would you please initiate my backcountry tracking?

Greg There you are... And out by 7:00 tonight? Right?

Vlad: Yeah, right. Well, thank you. Awesome. Thanks Greg!

Peri: We're driving to the East Side with Vlad Kovalenko. He's a grad student at the University of Montana, studying Clark's Nutcrackers and their relationship with whitebark pine. And like this show, Vlad's work is supported by the Glacier National Park Conservancy. This summer, he's working with Lisa Bate.

Vlad: I wouldn't say the hike up is pleasant. It's pretty bushwacky, and it's hard to find the path. But once you're up there, it's quite nice.

Peri: And if we don't find it?

Vlad: Then all hope is lost.

Peri: Great. The goal high coverage and try and find some birds.

Michael: And not by just blindly stumbling around with binoculars.

Peri: No higher tech than that. So eight birds, eight clerks, not crackers, were equipped with little transmitters that emit a signal Vlad can pick up and follow.

Michael: And that's one thing I had a really hard time wrapping my head around like nutcrackers are related to crows and ravens, famously smart birds, like how on earth did they catch them?

Peri: Well, it took a lot of planning and a lot of patience to try and outsmart them. They used a bait called suet to lure the birds into a trap called a bownet.

Lisa: But we had suet strung between this tree and all the way over to that tree. And there was probably what, five feet of snow here. So it hung there and hung there. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. We were hiding way back in the trees. But you know, he makes it sound really easy. It was anything but easy. No, we spent like hours. We spent days sitting there in a chair and we had to learn to just hold perfectly still, didn't we? Yeah.

Peri: This is the middle of winter. Snowy, cold, windy. And this went on for months with no luck. Staff and volunteers alike were checking for signs of birds on the bait every week or two, driving several hours and skiing several miles until finally one day when Lisa was running errands in town. She got a text from a volunteer.

Lisa: Bird on suet. Bird on ground. And like the first thing I did, I just got goosebumps. I called Vlad, I'm like, What are you doing tomorrow? He said, I don't know. What am I doing? I'm like, We're trapped in a bird.

Peri: The obvious question is, what do they do with the birds once they've trapped them? The first step was just to hold on to them, which wasn't always easy.

Lisa: Every single bird that we handled had a different personality. There was the one that we came away with bruises all over our knuckles. And then there was another one that was just cool as a cucumber, and I don't think we got pecked...

Peri: Vlad and Lisa explained that they tied a tiny backpack with a transmitter onto the birds, which they secured around their wings and across their chest with a Teflon ribbon. It only weighs five grams, which is just four percent of the bird's body weight. And apparently the trick to distracting the birds enough to get this done was giving them a stick to hold on to with their toes.

Lisa: And that was so invaluable because otherwise, you know, we'd be processing on a towel on a table and they were just picking it up, grabbing anything, anything and everything. But you gave them a stick. It gave them some obvious sense of security and it would calm them down.

Peri: And once the backpack with the transmitter was tied on, they let the bird go and sent it off with their gratitude.

Lisa: But, you know, we just kept saying things, you're doing this to learn more about your species and you know you're paying one forward, hopefully for the species.

Peri: So the cool thing about the transmitters is that they'll let Vlad see where these birds are throughout the year, even if they leave the park, or Montana altogether.

Lisa: Other biologists have learned when the probability of survival reaches zero in a certain habitat, the bird will leave that area to go somewhere where the probability of survival is much greater. And we were wondering if that's happening here in the park. We don't even know of Clark's breed here anymore in the park. But without Clark's to bury seeds to initiate that new generation of whitebark pine, there will be no natural regeneration of whitebark pines. That's the only way it regenerates is with the Clark's nutcrackers. So without Clark's, no more whitebark and without whitebark, will we lose all of our Clark's? We don't know.

Peri: That's the downside of this mutualism. Sure, when things are going well, they support one another and they both thrive. But when the scales start to tip out of balance, they all pay the price.

Vlad: We're about to enter the whitebark zone.

Peri: It was a pretty steep climb up the ridge, but luckily there were plenty of thimble berries to distract me. Picked too many berries, fell behind. Here I am. But as we crested the ridge, the forest gave way to a wide open meadow. The high peaks of the continental divide rose up above us to the west and to the east. I could see all the way out onto the rolling plains of the Blackfeet Reservation. As we hiked, we were very aware of Kate's stories about running into bears in whitebark pine territory. So we were sure to make lots of noise all day and we never saw a bear in person. But we did get to see in sort of a roundabout way that they are eating whitebark pine seeds.

Vlad: Oh, that's fresh. Yeah, look at those berries, didn't even chew.

Peri: We used a stick to poke through the bear poop. I mostly see berries...

Michael: I need a better stick.

Vlad: So that could be it.

Andrew: Yeah, that's cool, but also kind of gross. The way Kate put it, it would be pretty easy to spot evidence of whitebark, pine seeds in bear scat.

Kate: It's a combination of these woody coats and then the pine seeds like pinion pine nuts crunched up coarsely, and it's just packed in the bear scat. And it's actually a good source of food for birds and small rodents. They'll quickly consume a bear scat that's full of whitebark pine debris because there's so much undigested pine seeds in there.

Peri: It was a pretty cool moment, and I got to see proof of this relationship without having to get too close to a bear.

Unidentified One zero three.

Vlad: Woo, that's good news.

Peri: So it's trasmitting?

Vlad: Yeah, someone's transmitting.

Peri: The robotic voice means that Vlad's receiver is picking up one of the backpack wearing birds that's part of his study. Basically, the higher the number, the closer the bird is.

Unidentified One five six

Peri: The receiver pointed us downhill, so we kept walking that direction. It will just keep transmitting as we go?

Vlad: Yeah, it should keep increasing.

Unidentified Two. Zero. Eight.

Vlad: There's our friend the Clark's Nutcracker!

Peri: Oh, that's right. Oh yeah. Oh, there's a ton of them.

Peri: We found a whole flock of nutcrackers, but we couldn't be sure that any of them were part of lab study without seeing an antenna.

Vlad: Alright, give me an antenna, please...

Vlad: Yeah, that's an interesting variation of their call on that one.

Peri: Their calls are so harsh, distinctive and loud that it was really easy to hear them, but we still needed binoculars if we wanted to see which one was wearing a backpack with a transmitter.

Michael: It's at the top of this really thin tree.

Vlad: That's got an antenna!

Michael: It does?

Peri: Yeah. A big fat one.

Peri: Oh! I see a bunch of opened cones. It's perched on top of that whitebark. I haven't yet seen it drill open the cones to get the seeds, but there's a bunch of already open cones at the top of that whitebark.

Peri: Seeing a bunch of nutcrackers frolicking around at the tops of whitebark pine trees started to make these relationships more tangible, more real to me. It's not just a set of connections I might describe scientifically, but these trees, and these birds, right in front of me. Having a great time, it seemed like.

Vlad: Gosh, they're fun to watch.

Peri: Whitebark's importance to the landscape and the plants and animals that live there is pretty impossible to overstate. But I was surprised to hear that fewer whitebark pine cones in the mountains might mean a bear in my yard.

Kate: And when when the cone crop is low, or it fails, those bears tend to migrate down to lower elevations in search of alternate foods. That's where there's more human activity.

Peri: Bears looking for food and human spaces usually ends badly for the bears, and the fewer whitebark pine seeds there are in the fall, the more often this happens. But the web of relationships stretches even further than that. Big whitebark pine trees at high elevation with their poofy canopies, shade the snowpack and slow down spring runoff, so their presence has an impact way downstream.

Kate: So it just has this huge effect, not just as a wildlife, food and shelter, but it affects even human drinking water is higher quality and more of it because of whitebark pine's presence.

Lisa: I was camping at Lower Quartz one year, where there was a loon nesting. And then the next day I went up to the Upper Quartz. It got really, really hot. And when I came back down, that nest was a foot underwater in 24 hours. I mean, we have done research showing that Harlequin duck reproduction success is intrinsically linked to stream flows. And in years where we have real, chaotic stream flows, you know, high ones, more than one rise and fall, and we lose a lot of nests.

Lisa: Black Swifts, as far as we know, the only nest on persistent waterfalls, those waterfalls that are fed by glaciers or snowpacks. So as we lose snowpack, so we're going to lose black swift colonies? We don't know. It's like a spider web. You pull on one little strand and it's going to affect the whole web in some form or another.

Peri: As ShiNaasha said when we visited the Great Great Grandparent Tree; if we lose whitebark pine, we will lose a lot more than just a tree.

Peri: There's this game you can play with kids to teach them about ecosystems and these interconnections. You have the students stand in a circle and each one gets a card with a different species. Whitebark pine, a grizzly bear, huckleberries, maybe even a squirrel. And then you pass a ball of yarn back and forth across the circle to connect each one that provides food or shelter for another. You end up with this crisscrossing web of yarn. And then you have the students lean back just a little bit and they're kind of skeptical. But the web of yarn supports them. But then you take out your scissors and you snip the strands, holding just one species to the others. And the web comes apart and everyone falls down.

Peri: It's a little silly. Everyone ends up on the ground giggling, and there's yarn everywhere. But I like it. I think what I like about it is that it puts people into the web. It reminds me that the word symbiosis means living together.

Peri: What kind of relationship do I have with the world? It really changes when you realize you're living together and sharing a home.

Peri: In this crisscrossed web of yarn. I've often seen humans as the scissors cutting things apart. But maybe it doesn't have to be that way.

Andrew: Next week on Headwaters, we learn what whitebark pine is up against and the lengths that previous generations went to try to protect it.

Doug: The musclebound jocks from the University, building up for the football season, were now carrying five gallon cans of poison on their backs and squirting that poison with a little hatchet hose right into the white pine trees trying to save them.

Andrew: That's next time on Headwaters.

Peri: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from our partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Peri: Glacier is the traditional lands of several Native American tribes, including the Aamsskààpipikani, Kootenai, Séliš, and Qìispé People.

Peri: Headwaters was created by Daniel Lombardi. Andrew Smith, Peri, Sasnett, and Michael Faist, produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music, and Claire Emery let us use her woodcut piece, titled Wind Poem, for this season's cover art.

Peri: Special thanks this episode to Bill Hayden, Brad Einstein, Kyle Neimer, Piney the whitebark pine puppet, Lisa Bate, Kate Kendall, Vlad Kovalenko, Taza Schaming. Everyone with Glacier's Native Plant Program. The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, and so many others.

Peri: If you're enjoying the show, send it to someone else who loves squirrels.

Lacy: This is like for the end?

Daniel: This is it. Yeah. You saying that? That's going to be in it


Lacy: The Glacier Conservancy is the official fundraising partner of Glacier National Park. To learn more, visit glacier.org

Peri: I think that's the best time you've done yet.

Lacy: Okay, do I need to get one more time?

Michael: I think we're good.

Peri: Yeah, I think this is good.

An entire ecosystem held together by one tree.

The Glacier Conservancy: https://glacier.org/ Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation: https://whitebarkfound.org/ Tree Huggers Comedy: https://www.treehuggerscomedy.com/ Picture of Clark’s Nutcracker: https://flic.kr/p/2mqRdzH Ben Cosgrove Music: https://www.bencosgrove.com/

See more show notes on our website: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/photosmultimedia/headwaters-podcast.htm

Episode 3

Whitebark Pine | Chapter Three


Chapter 3

Lacy: Headwaters is brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Emma: They kind of look a little bit like nicotine patches for trees like sugar packets, I guess might be a nice thing to say.

Peri: Wait, what is going on here?

Michael: Well, recently, Andrew and I tagged along on a hike to Scenic Point with the veg crew, the park's plant people. And shortly after reaching the top, I was handed a Bosstitch heavy duty stapler and a small white packet.

Peri: The nicotine patch, a.k.a. sugar packet.

Michael: Yes, which turns out it's actually a packet of a synthetic pheromone called verbenone, which is a defense against one of the west's most infamous forest pests: mountain pine beetles. We don't want them killing our white bark pine trees, so we were sent out there to staple verbenone packets, these synthetic pheromones right onto the trees themselves. Here's re-veg crewmember Annie Gustavson walking me through it.

Annie: OK, you're going to take the packet of verbenone and you're just going to put two staples up top and then one down below.

Michael: OK. How hard do you have to swing this thing to get it to.

Annie: Five miles an hour.

Andrew: [Laughs]

Michael: That's impossible to judge, my hand? Oh, it even says "staple here.".

Andrew: Here we go.

Michael: Don't hype it up. [Staple]

Andrew: Nice. [Staple]

Andrew: Ok, now here's the tough one, bottom staple. [Staple]

Michael: Is that good enough?

Annie: Yeah

Andrew: So what grade would you give him?

Annie: You got a B-plus.

Michael: Easier said than done. [Stapling].

Andrew: Oh no!

Michael: That was a misfire. There was no staple, right?

Annie: That one was a D.

Peri: So how do these packets keep the beetles away?

Michael: Well, I'll let Rebecca Lawrence explain. She runs the re-veg program around here and is an excellent verbenone stapler, I might add.

Rebecca: Well, it tells The beetles that other beetles have occupied that tree—no, no vacancies—so that they'll go somewhere else to another tree.

Peri: Very clever. So they're using the beetles' own language against them.

Michael: Exactly. And the goal is to place these no vacancy signs at the outer edges of important high-elevation forests, a sort of great wall of sugar packets that keeps the beetles out.

Peri: OK, I like it. And did it work?

Michael: It seemed like it. I mean, we never saw any beetles when we were up there. But we did see evidence of a different threat. Here's Rebecca again.

Rebecca: This is active rust where the cankers are opening up and releasing the spores. And it's a bright orange that looks like your Kraft Mac and cheese powder.

Michael: Throughout the Rocky Mountains, whitebark pine trees are dying, and here in Glacier, beetles are far from the largest problem.

Rebecca: Basically, the bark starts to just erupt open and then the spores pop out.

Michael: These trees are being protected from beetles because up until now, at least, they've been doing great at surviving an entirely different disease. White pine blister rust, which has already killed over half of the white bark pine trees in the park. These big, mature cone-bearing trees have been showing resistance to the disease for decades, and the crew has been visiting and verbenoning them since 2007. But today, the crew noticed blister rust on several, turning what should have been an annual wellness check into a sort of inevitable goodbye.

Rebecca: It's it's sad to see, you know, I don't like to see them dying off, but it's not surprising even if just a fraction of them survive. Hopefully, we can maintain a little foothold up here.

Peri: My name is Peri, and this is season two of Headwaters. We're calling this season Whitebark Pine. But this story is also about so much more than a tree. It's about the purpose of national parks and our relationship with the places we love.

Andrew: I'm Andrew.

Michael: I'm Michael.

Andrew: Hopefully, you've already listened to Chapters one and two. But if you haven't, those are a great place to start.

Michael: This is chapter three of a five part season.

Peri: So far, we've introduced you to whitebark pine, learned about its cultural significance, and heard about the intricate web of life that's connected to this tree. Now we meet the things trying to kill it. So, Michael.

Michael: Mmhmm?

Peri:: Hearing about your field day with Rebecca makes me think of this quote by Aldo Leopold, the famous conservationist. He said "one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds." I'm realizing that a lot of this whitebark pine story is invisible, something that a layperson wouldn't even notice, but that's a catastrophe to an ecologist and the world's they study.

Michael: Definitely. I mean, I would have never noticed the blister rust on those trees if Rebecca hadn't pointed it out.

Peri: And I'm no ecologist. But as I learn more about whitebark pine, I think I'm starting to get a glimpse of what it feels like to see these hidden tragedies unfolding. In chapter one, I asked hikers on the Piegan Pass trail if they knew what whitebark pine were, and most of them didn't, even though we were standing right next to a ghost forest of dead whitebark. I felt like I was seeing a world they weren't. Professor Diana Six is an ecologist at the University of Montana who studies the threats facing whitebark pine. And today, I'm going to hike back up the Piegan Pass trail with her. We're going to find a big, healthy whitebark pine and core it, to look at the rings, see what it's been through, and ask why it survived.

Diana: So, yeah, my name is Diana Six, and I'm a professor of forest entomology and pathology. I really did start my love of nature in insects as a little kid. I was camping when I was in diapers. I've been out in the forest, in the desert, you know, all my life.

Peri: So I'm just envisioning five year old Diana. Did you bring all these bugs into the house? What did your parents think about it?

Diana: Oh yeah, everything came in the house. I collected, the most famous thing that put some controls on me was I brought home all these little wigglers and put them in my aquarium. And of course, they were mosquitoes. And when they hatched, I was in big trouble, and after that I wasn't allowed to bring live stuff in the house anymore. You know, I begged for a microscope for years and I always got these stupid dolls. I am old enough that in those days, women were not encouraged in science. We weren't even allowed to be in the science club, so I never, ever considered that it could have been a career that I could have gone on to do science or bugs, for sure.

Peri: You might think of a forest entomologist and pathologist as a bit of a nerd, but Diana is very cool. She has all this amazing, insect-themed silver jewelry and listens to heavy symphonic metal, works all over the world and is very far from the stereotype I imagined. As we hiked up the trail, I asked her what whitebark pine is up against.

Diana: So the three main threats really to whitebark are climate change, blister rust, and mountain pine beetle. And the fact that we have those three, and they're all big, makes this a particularly wicked problem. And wicked problems are those kinds that are not only difficult to solve, but they have multiple facets. And so one aspect could be really difficult to fix. But if you come up with a solution for that, you're still going to lose what you're focused on, because you still have these other threats that have to be dealt with.

Peri: And the other thing that makes this a wicked problem is that these threats interact. For example, climate change is enabling beetles to attack whitebark pine

Diana: Mountain pine beetles are native, which surprises some people because they've killed so many trees. They act like some invasive, but they're native

Peri: In a way. Mountain pine beetles are new to whitebark. Beetle larva are killed by really cold temperatures, which used to be common in the high elevation areas where these trees live.

Diana: But with climate change, it's allowed things to warm up, the beetles could move up the mountain now, and now they're—it's warm enough on the tops of the mountains all of the time that the beetles can persist there, pretty much as residents now. And this is a big problem because whitebark, having been protected for so many years, has never really had to evolve strong defenses against this insect. And so when this insect shows up, it doesn't have a really good way of fighting back. So if you go to lower elevation trees, they've got all this resin they produce. They drown the beetles, they produce all these toxic chemicals. Whitebark doesn't do that. It's a sitting duck. And the beetles just bore in, they don't get drowned. Doesn't take very many beetles to kill the trees, and it's just a disaster—because, well, so many of the trees are so susceptible, and we've seen millions of acres now killed by the beetles just in in the last 10 years.

Peri: I feel like you could definitely see pine beetles as the villain in this story, or the bad guy. Do you see it that way or no?

Diana: Ultimately, they're just doing what they do, right? They're native. They have, in the past, always been actually good guys because they regenerate forests, they're a natural disturbance agent, just like fire. And so the forests that have evolved with them really need them periodically to kind of stay vigorous and healthy. Now that we're seeing these really big outbreaks, this is outside their norm. And the root cause of that is not them. It's us. And with a changing climate, these beetles are responding to warmer temperatures, weaker trees, by blowing up.

Peri: Mountain pine beetles have killed a ton of white bark pines, especially where they grow in mostly uninterrupted stands of just whitebark, like in the Yellowstone area and in parts of Idaho. And they kill them really dramatically and quickly. Whole hillsides of whitebark will turn red and then die within a couple of years. But here in Glacier, blister rust is an even more insidious threat.

Diana: This is a really serious situation because of course, it's a it's an invasive disease. It is not meant to be here. The tree really has very little resistance. This is this is a tough one.

Peri: Blister Rust is a fungus, but not like mushrooms you might picture on the forest floor. Blister rust grows inside the living tissue of other organisms, and its spores are spread through the air, entering through pores on the trees needles.

Diana: So when a tree gets blister rust, the infection begins in the needles and then will move down through the branches. And at that point, it's really not a big deal. It might kill a branch or something, but once it gets into the main stem of the tree, that's the problem, because there will begin to move horizontally around the tree, which causes something we call girdling. And it will kill this phloem layer that conducts the nutrients for the tree. And once it does that all the way around the tree, everything above that point on the tree dies. And so even if, like the bottom half of the tree is still alive, it's not going to produce cones anymore, so it becomes what we call ecologically dead. It's still alive, but it's not reproducing, it's not passing its genes on, and it's not helping the population survive. And eventually that part of the tree'll die, too.

Peri: Blister rust spores spread under cool, damp conditions. So Glacier's climate is perfect for it. And it's killed between 50 and 90 percent of the whitebark in the park.

Diana: And there's been a lot of work on it, and luckily people are finding resistance.

Peri: That is, that a small percentage of whitebark pine are naturally resistant to blister rust.

Diana: They're having success at developing trees that can be planted out that have more resistance. So that's promising, but it's a real uphill battle.

Peri: In addition to pine beetles and blister rust, the third threat white bark pine are facing is climate change. Which is a threat all on its own, but it also makes the other two worse.

Diana: I personally think climate change is the very biggest threat because that that's really the hardest to deal with, right? If we could find enough resistance to blister us, if we can find enough for the beetles, if they have that evolutionary adaptive capacity, they could probably persist. But then you throw climate change and makes the beetles worse. It can make blister rust worst in some places if it increases conditions for infection, but it is very much going to affect the range of where this tree can live. And so if you have a greatly changed climate, and it's too warm, it's too dry—even if you had all resistant trees, they can't live under those conditions. And you know, it kind of seems like a no brainer, but the forests that you have in a certain place are what they are because of the climate. So if you change the climate, you change the forest.

Michael: To set the stage, white pine blister rust is a fungus native to China, and it affects white pines, which is a term that describes white bark, pine and all of its closest relatives, like western and eastern white pines, limber pine, etc.. It arrived in North America around 1900, but it didn't cross the ocean on its own. It hitched a ride on American pine trees growing in Europe.

Peri: Why were American trees growing in Europe?

Michael: They were being grown as timber species in nurseries, tree nurseries, which were a new concept at the turn of the century. Many people began to fear that the once limitless forests of North America were being depleted—turned into homes, paper, railroad ties. People like Gifford Pancho, who would go on to become the first director of the U.S. Forest Service, began to advocate for the idea of modern forestry.

Peri: What would make it modern forestry?

Michael: Well really just forestry in general. It was kind of a revolutionary idea to treat forests like farms instead of like mines, you know, replanting things instead of just harvesting them. So in the early 1900s, you could raise seedlings in an American nursery, but it was expensive. There just weren't that many in this country yet. It was a lot easier and cheaper to send them to Europe. So you could send a white pine seed to a German nursery, and they would raise it into a tree and ship it back across the ocean. But a lot of people were cautioning against that because of the threat of blister rust.

Peri: So someone saw this coming from miles away.

Michael: Miles and years, because in 1898, Dr Carl A. Schenck, a German forester, predicted disaster for America's White Pines if we imported nursery stock from Europe, and that warning went unheeded.

Peri: I'm actually kind of shocked that they knew about blister rust and somehow it made it here anyway.

Michael: Yeah. About 10 years later, by 1909, the U.S. had imported millions of eastern white pines that had already, and unknowingly been infected with blister rust.

Peri: Well, hindsight is 20-20.

Michael: It is. Hindsight is 2020, but they didn't need hindsight. This exact story was already unfolding on the other side of the country with a different tree. The American chestnut.

Wendy: Do you want me to say hi or no hi?

Michael: You can say hi, and then your name.

Wendy: OK.

Michael: So I enlisted some help from out east.

Wendy: Hi, my name is Wendy Cass and I'm the botanist at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Michael: Wendy works at Shenandoah, a national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia, and I wanted to talk to her because Shenandoah was home to a lot of American chestnut trees.

Wendy: About 35 percent of the park area was probably pure chestnuts, pure chestnut forest. And then another 40 percent or so of the park probably had chestnuts mixed into the canopy. They talk about how the mountains look like they were capped with snow in the spring because of all the chestnuts flowering here. So they were just enormously abundant.

Michael: They covered a range from Georgia to Maine, and they were enormous.

Wendy: Some of them had trunk diameters of, you know, eight or nine feet. That's diameter, not a circumference. And they would live for 100, well over 100 years. So these were just amazing trees.

Michael: I grew up in the Midwest. I spent time in Appalachia as a kid. I couldn't remember ever encountering an American chestnut. Not that I really knew much about the trees around me. But the only thing my mind kept coming back to was, Oh, it was probably the one referenced in Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song".

Peri: Oh sure. "Chestnuts roasting on open fire?"

Michael: Yeah, I was like, That must be a reference to them.

Peri: Is it?

Susan: No, it was not.

Michael: It wasn't?

Susan: No, because that song was written in the 40s after American Chestnut had disappeared from the forests. Those were not American chestnuts. Those were the same kind of European chestnuts you buy on the street today. They're much bigger. They look different.

Michael: Luckily, I got a hold of Susan Freinkel.

Susan: My name is Susan Freinkel.

Michael: She wrote the book on chestnuts,

Susan: I'm the author of American Chestnut: The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.

Michael: White pine blister was not the first forest pathogen encountered in the U.S., and it wasn't the deadliest, either. Our response to blister rust was informed directly by what we learned from another fungus. Chestnut blight.

Susan: The blight that decimated chestnut trees is sort of the touchstone for anybody who works in forest pathology because it was such a devastating epidemic.

Michael: Like blister rust, chestnut blight was discovered in North America at the turn of the century in 1904.

Susan: A guy who worked at the New York Zoo noticed that some of the chestnuts in the zoo were dying. That was when people first became aware of the blight.

Michael: And just like blister rust, chestnut blight was invasive.

Peri: Well, where did the chestnut blight come from?

Michael: Well, it took a while, but scientists were able to determine that it was native to Asia.

Susan: This fungus had come from Asia and had probably arrived in the U.S. on Japanese and Chinese chestnuts that had been imported to the U.S. as sort of ornamental trees. But it doesn't kill the chestnut trees in China and Japan. They've sort of co-evolved with the fungus and are able to withstand it.

Michael: The blight's arrival to the New York Zoo was just the beginning.

Susan: You already had outbreaks that were taking place, but unrecognized in Virginia, in Pennsylvania, in New Jersey.

Michael: It's not like there was a proverbial patient zero, and everything stemmed from that. It was on all these different fronts across the nation at the time.

Susan: Exactly. There were, you know, thousands of patient zeros.

Michael: From each of these initial hosts. The blight, in the form of fungal spores spread incredibly quickly.

Susan: And it's spread by air. It's spread by water. It's spread by, you know, squirrels paws, birds claws.

Michael: Once it infects a tree, it takes over.

Susan: It's a very, very lethal fungus. The trees died quickly. They would turn silvery, kind of gray color as the bark fell off and the wood died and people talked about, you know, coming across stands of these great ghosts or hearing the trees crashed to the ground at night

Michael: And contrasted with whitebark pine, a tree most folks have never heard of, American chestnuts were present in people's everyday lives. It was a cradle to grave tree, meaning it was used to make everything from cribs to caskets, pianos, railroad ties, telegraph poles.

Susan: Chestnuts were a source of the lumber from which people built their homes. The bark would shingle their houses.

Michael: They were an especially important resource for the people of southern Appalachia.

Susan: They would stuff their mattresses with chestnut leaves. They would brew the leaves into poultices to deal, you know, as a remedy for colds. And the nuts were a really important source of both food and cash for them.

Michael: So when chestnuts started dying, people took notice.

Susan: When the blight first started killing trees, there was a lot of sort of sadness. There were headlines in the newspapers about chestnut trees dying.

Michael: "Goodbye, Chestnuts" grieved one 1923 article in American forests. What was formerly a majestic, soul inspiring landmark is now but a rotting stump, no more are they seen on Main Street. No longer do they stand in battalions in the forests. They are as few as the veterans of the Civil War and just as decrepit. And nobody really knew what to do. The blight would shrug off all the normal sprays and fungicides used to treat individual trees before, which led other people to envision more drastic solutions.

Susan: There was this idea that may be the way to stop the blight. You might not be able to rescue trees, you might not be able to rescue forests where it was already infected. But if you could sort of quarantine them, maybe that would be a way to stop the blight. And that's sort of a classic way to deal with, you know, what is essentially an infectious disease.

Michael: This was an attempt at preventative care. If you can't cure the blight, maybe you could stop it from spreading.

Susan: Sort of the most sad, heroic, but sort of misguided was the Pennsylvania effort, I think, is

Michael: Pennsylvania took the idea of a quarantine zone to its logical extreme and set about dividing their state in half.

Susan: And they said, OK, you know, the eastern part of the state Philly region area around there, that's beyond salvation. All those chestnuts, we can't save them. But we're going to set up essentially like a firebreak in the middle of the state and every

Michael: Pennsylvania decided to inspect everything west of that line. All of western Pennsylvania. Inch by inch, cutting out anything diseased, in the hopes of blocking the blight from spreading westward. But it didn't work.

Susan: Now you're talking about a tree disease that may first appear as a few tiny little orange specks 70 feet above the ground. And the guys who are tramping through the forest looking for the fungus, they're surely transporting the spores on their shoes, on their axes, on their backpacks.

Peri: Wow. So this seems like a pretty overwhelming epidemic.

Michael: Right.

Peri: But were any of the trees naturally resistant?

Michael: That was my thought, too. And when I asked Susan, she said that politicians and scientists eventually came to the conclusion that the only way to salvage any value from chestnut trees was to cut them down before they got the blight.

Susan: They just started chopping down the trees everywhere.

Michael: Many believe that this practice may have erased whatever natural genetic resistance existed in chestnuts.

Susan: So it's probable that there is some innate resistance in chestnuts, but we actually never got a chance to discover that because so many of the trees either died by the blight or were chopped down by people trying to staunch the blight.

Michael: In the end, we couldn't stop it. The blight won. In just 40 years, it killed three to four billion chestnut trees. Here's Wendy Cass again, botanist at Shenandoah.

Wendy: I think we've mainly learned not to take the forest for granted that the stable state of things around you is the way it will always be. They were surrounded by these, these enormous trees and everything seems stable and wonderful. And and then in a matter of, for Shenandoah, you know 10 years, every chestnut tree in the park was dead or dying.

Michael: Today, only small stumps remain. Occasionally sending up new shoots, just to have them get knocked back once again by the blight.

Peri: So there are still chestnuts trying to grow, but they're always killed after a few years before they can grow to maturity or reproduce.

Michael: Yeah, exactly. Which means that the American chestnut is functionally extinct. It's been erased from the landscape. And with each passing year from our nation's cultural memory, the story of American chestnut and the legacy of chestnut blight—these are the stakes in our story. This is why people like Diana are worried about whitebark pine.

Peri: They fear the worst, because the worst has happened before.

Michael: And in a very direct way, chestnuts also influenced the fate of Glacier's trees. The same people that tried to stop chestnut blight were placed in charge of the fight against Blister Rust.

Peri: So we know how it got here and we know what can happen. What did we do about it?

Andrew: Before we get down to business today, Peri, I have something for you to try and do a little sampling

Peri: Treats?

Andrew: Uh, sort of. Pour you a little bit of this. [pouring]

Peri: Great. All right. It smells very vegetal.

Andrew: Oh, OK.

Peri: Very sweet.

Andrew: Very sweet. Yeah, because it's a concentrate.

Peri: It tastes kind of like grape juice, but more mild, less acidic.

Andrew: So what you're drinking is Ribena. It's a currant juice from the United Kingdom, and it's actually a super popular beverage over there, but you've probably never heard of it. And that's because of blister rust. So this juice Ribena is made from currants, the name, of course, comes from ribes, which is what scientists call currant plants. And these are really important to our story because they are the alternate host for the white pine blister rust.

Peri: OK. I remember Diana talking about that.

Andrew: Yeah. You'll remember, she says that white pine blister rust is a fungus, and it uses currants as part of its lifecycle. So it'll grow part of the year on the currants. And then when it's ready, it moves over and infests the whitebark pines. In 1911, the federal government banned the sale, cultivation and transport of black currant. And this ban was in place for over 50 years. It wasn't till 1966 that the federal ban was repealed.

Peri: Now,.

Andrew: And to this day in three states New Hampshire, West Virginia and North Carolina, it's still illegal to grow your own currants.

Peri: So this is probably why I have not had currant juice before.

Andrew: Exactly.

Peri: And so the thinking was, if we didn't have currants, we wouldn't be able to spread blister rust.

Andrew: Yeah, blister rust needs currants to continue its life cycle. It can't just grow on the trees. It needs to spend part of its life on the bushes and part of its life on a pine.

Peri: So they figured ban currants and we're rid of blister rust..

Andrew: Yeah. And that seemed to make sense at the time, but there were also a ton of wild currants in the United States.

Peri: Uh oh.

Andrew: This was not really a thing in Europe. Most currants there were cultivated, but you go out hiking in Glacier National Park, you'll see currant bushes all over the place.

Peri: Yup.

Andrew: So even with the ban on cultivated currants, whitebark pines were not safe. There were all sorts of wild sources for this white pine blister rust.

Peri: So what did they try to do about it?

Andrew: Well, to save America's White Pines, the blister rust control, or BRC program was created. And from 1939 to 1965, the program operated here in Glacier National Park. And their goal was to save white bark pine and western white pine by eradicating currants entirely.

Peri: They tried to completely remove a native plant from the ecosystem.

Andrew: Yeah, it sounds pretty crazy in retrospect, but there is a certain logic behind it. It basically became clear that currants and white pines couldn't coexist. You had to pick one or the other. And white pines are so important here that people wanted to choose them and eliminate the currants.

Peri: I see. And so what did they try to do?

Andrew: Well, they hired these crews of young men. They would go out in the park and try to just remove all of the currants that were near white pines. They would do it manually, chopping them or pulling them, or by spraying herbicides onto these bushes. In total, they removed 4,630,900 ribes or currant plants just from Glacier National Park.

Peri: Four million plants is so many plants.

Andrew: It's pretty hard to even comprehend or picture how many plants that is. It was a huge undertaking, and we can learn more about it because one of our own, Ranger Doug Follett, actually joined one of these crews in 1942. Doug is a local legend here, now in his 90s, he spent over 50 summers as a ranger. But his first job in the park was on one of these blister rust crews.

Doug: Well, I was 16. I think. I was part of a blister rust crew, and the blister rust is the white pine disease. And the government agencies Forest Service Park Service, to my knowledge, they all had anti Blister rust pograms. And blister rust is a spore disease that goes from the white pine tree and matures—it is blown on to the ribes bushes which are wild currant and gooseberry bushes. And there it ripens and blows back and kills the White Pines. And so in the beginning, the programs were to pull that intermediate part of the equation pull out the gooseberry bushes. And that's what I did.

Andrew: So Doug calls them gooseberries there, that's another name for rabies or currant plants and the work he's describing, this is really tough, backbreaking work.

Doug: Oh God, I look, we didn't think anything about it. I look back now and I say, How did I do it? I can't pull carrots out of a garden now.

Peri: Oh man. Doug is the best. But how did this all work?

Andrew: Well, to make sure that they got every single plant out of there, they would set up these grids with string.

Doug: We threw string balls, about 30 feet apart and two guys worked between the string balls and the mountains were covered with that very, very fine butcher-shop string that all the grocers and the butchers used in those days, a very fine string that disintegrated. But temporarily, all the animals were running around wrapped in grocery store string because the mountainsides were covered with these string lines.

Andrew: Ribes plants could either be pulled by hand, or sprayed with herbicides. The herbicides that the blister control program used were 245T and 24D. When you mix these chemicals together in equal proportion, you get the famous chemical agent orange.

Peri: Wow, that's wild.

Andrew: Yeah, but their methods changed over time. In 1944, Doug turned 18 and joined the Air Force. By the time he got back to his blister rust control work, glacier's ribes eradication program was mostly given up on in favor of directly applying fungicides onto trees.

Peri: So they were trying to directly kill the blister rust fungus?

Andrew: Yeah, they came up with these really interesting techniques for applying it. I'll let Doug describe that again.

Doug: And at that time, the musclebound jocks from the university, building up for the football season were now carrying five-gallon cans of poison on their backs and squirting that poison with a little hatchet hose right into the white pine trees trying to save them.

Peri: Did I hear that right?

Andrew: Yeah, they were actually cutting into the trees with little hatchets and then injecting poison fungicide into the trees. There were also aerial fungicide programs where helicopters would drop these chemicals out onto whitebark forests in the park. In Glacier in 1965 alone, which was the last year of the bluster US control program, 124,000 White Pines were sprayed using Fungicide Phytoactin L 440.

Peri: OK, that's a huge effort. And so did it work?

Andrew: Not exactly. Kate Kendall, the bear biologist we spoke with in the last episode, also studied the BRC program. And she said the main thing it accomplished was putting some men through college. In 2001, when she studied it, almost 88 percent of the park's whitebark pines had either been killed or infected by white pine blister rust.

Peri: So what were they doing wrong?

Andrew: Well, for one, these fungicides they were spraying had basically no effect, they didn't really kill the blister rust. But there were also problems with the ribes eradication. It was easy enough to find and remove the first 80 percent or so of these currant bushes. You only need a few ribes plants to make it through this process to keep spreading that disease. But one of the biggest issues was that it turned out ribes were not the only hosts of the white pine blister rust. People eventually realized that paintbrush and lousewort plants were actually spreading white pine blister rust as well.

Peri: Paintbrush is one of our most common wildflowers. I mean, if I picture high elevation meadow like one that would have some white bark pine in it, it probably has paintbrush all over the place.

Andrew: Yeah. So even if you wanted to get rid of it, you probably couldn't. But people also started to think, maybe it's not a good idea to try to remove all of these pieces from this ecosystem. What other effects might that have if we have that level of intervention? So as the blister rust control program wound down—and blister rust continue to ravage the park's whitebark, western white and limber pines—a different approach was badly needed.

Peri: Listening to these stories of people cutting down all the remaining chestnuts or trying to pull every ribes plant in Glacier, the dramatic irony is really strong. We know now that those efforts were never going to work. But, while it may be easy to dismiss these projects based on how they turned out, you have to admire how much these people cared—that they would go to these lengths just to save a tree. And nearly 80 years later, Doug Follett is still writing poems about the trees of Glacier. Today, people are working just as hard, though they have the advantage of some extra decades of science and technology. I'd like to think, then, that we're better off—but we also don't know what the future holds. Will our grandchildren look back and think we were just as naive? So we just stepped off the trail into a little kind of clearing where there are a ton of subalpine fir, the kind of Christmas tree looking ones, and then there are a whole variety of whitebark too—a lot of them are dead. There's a few bushy looking live ones and some kind of in between half-alive, half-dead or some red blister rust flags on them. We're pretty close to a popular trail or just just stepped off the trail so I can hear people hiking by on the trail, and they probably don't even know that there's whitebark here. So we hiked all the way up here to core a tree.

Diana: I'd like to core one of these living trees that looks pretty healthy. Take a look at its life, basically, because when you take a core out of a tree, every ring is a year that that tree has survived on the landscape. And that little ring, each one of those rings will tell you how it responded to that year. And so it's really like pulling all these pages of a book out of a tree and being able to read its autobiography. And so I would like to take a look at that really big tree over there that looks really good. It's been around for a long time. It's, you know, a lot of stuff. And so I think it'll be really interesting to take a peek inside that tree.

Peri: Coring a tree means boring into the center of the tree, ideally, and pulling out a thin piece shaped like a dowel. It's an ideal way to learn about the tree because you get lots of information from a core, but it doesn't hurt the tree.

Diana: I can't tell if it has blister rust from here. It might have some dead branches, but overall it looks really good. So let's take a look at this one.

Peri: The tool Diana uses to copy the tree is basically a long, hollow screw that she twists into the tree, using a T-shaped handle on one end.

Diana: And kind of the trick is you want to get it perfectly aimed into this tiny little spot in the tree called the pith. That's probably a few millimeters wide, and you want to hit that.

Peri: Easy.

Diana: Yeah, I'm remarkably good at doing it. But today, when somebody is watching, of course I'll be way off, but we'll see.

Peri: That clicking you're hearing, that's the sound the core makes each time Diana turns it 180 degrees.

Peri: Cause people have probably seen a, you know, a cross section of a tree, looked at the stump.

Diana: Right.

Peri: And so you're aiming for is the center

Diana: That little dark spot in the middle? Yeah. And you don't have to have it for every kind of research you do. But if you want to know the true age of the tree and what is experienced its whole life, you really do want to get all the way into that point. Now we just stick this little thing in here. We call a spoon all the way down the core center and flip it over, and that breaks the core off inside. And then hopefully the core comes out and it did. OK, let's see what we've got here.

Peri: Wow. So cool. So you can see the rings going. So they start out kind of horizontal. And then as you get towards the center of the tree kind of curves around it and you can see.

Diana: Right.

Peri: That's where the heart of the tree would be?

Diana: Right! Right.

Diana: Wow, that's amazing!

Diana: So I just to missed the heart by a few millimeters. So it would have been right here. And then these are those that are wrapping around it. So that's the the center, or the heart of the tree.

Peri: It's really beautiful.

Diana: It is. This one has really tiny rings. It's been slow growing its whole life. Even when it was young, it was very slow growing.

Peri: So we're looking at a couple hundred years, probably of growth?

Diana: Oh yeah, easy.

Diana: So like the first knuckle on my first fingers, maybe 30 years.

Diana: Uh-huh.

Peri: So to go four, five, six seven. So that's 250 years. Maybe,.

Diana: Yeah,.

Peri: Wow.

Diana: Yeah. The beetles like the fast growing whitebark pine. Invariably when we record trees that the beetles killed and compared them to the surviving trees. The survivors were slow growing whitebarks, and they also, we think, are more tolerant to drought because if you're slow growing, have less demand for water and so you have some resistance to beetles and you can probably survive in a warmer, drier climate.

Peri: It's like the tortoise and the hare.

Diana: Yes.

Peri: Don't overextend yourself.

Diana: And it's genetic. They can pass it on to their offspring.

Peri: And so I keep looking at the core. So if we start like, is this the dust bowl? Like we probably wouldn't know.

Diana: Don't know! Yeah. And boy, I've looked at some. Trees with dustbowl signatures, you look like, my god, how did you survive that you? You can see the struggle going on in that tree and then you look at this and it's like you've had a very boring life, haven't you? You know, it just kind of plug along, you know, but you're alive and these guys aren't. So yeah, yeah.

Peri: I spent a lot of time looking at that little core of wood, all the little lines, each marking a year of survival. What Diana sees when she examines a tree and what she shared with me is the life lived in those lines, the good years and bad and the hardships it's overcome—drought, years, avalanches, wildfires. People that walk by might notice the dead trees, but they wouldn't get to read the tree story this way. This ecological education I'm getting is a double-edged sword. The more I learn about these trees, the more I'm starting to love and admire them. But it's also painful to understand what we're losing.

Diana: And I took an art class, and it was identity in America, and I had to pick an identity and then express myself with my art. And that's when I named myself a coroner rather than an ecologist and knew that I had a job shift. And that day nailed me to the wall, and I'm actually getting emotional right now. I'm having a very hard time with it. And I don't even know if I want to do science anymore. And that's my passion, because why? You get into ecology, because you love life and you want to know more about what makes it tick and how it works. And because you find the intricacies and everything just so magical. And anymore, uh, it's hard to go to work because what I see is all the things I love falling apart around me. I study symbiosis and I see them being pulled apart. You know, an ecologist is going to see a lot more than just a regular person walking around in the forest, you're going to see a lot of things that nobody else notices and it's it's traumatic.

Peri: Like what is the worst-case scenario? Like, how bad could things get?

Diana: Personally, I think we will have a lot of environmental destruction, massive extinction and societal collapse. I think we have a real ethical and moral dilemma with how we treat life around us. I think we have an obligation to support everything that's living on this planet and not just for our own benefit. Everything has its own right to exist.

Peri: So one of the questions that we're exploring is whether people can have a positive impact on the world around us, on the natural world.

Diana: I think we can, but will we? I guess, is the right question because so far we're not doing a very good job.

Peri: Even if we can help save the species, we've lost a lot and we will lose a lot. And I think a lot of conservation looks back at, we've broken things. How do we fix them? How do we put them back to how they used to be? And maybe that's not a helpful frame anymore because we can't put them back.

Michael: Next time on Headwaters, we meet the people trying to save whitebark pine, and they can be found climbing trees.

Doug T: You get a really unique perspective being in the top of them, looking at these like big beautiful cones, nothing like a whitebark pine cone.

Michael: Reaching all the way out to the ends of their branches to place cages over their cones, keeping them away from all the animals that rely on their seeds.

Peri: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from our partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Glacier is the traditional lands of several Native American tribes, including the Aamsskáápipikani, Kootenai, Séliš, and Ql̓ispé people. Headwaters was created by Daniel Lombardi. Andrew Smith, Peri Sasnett, and Michael Faist, produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music, and Claire Emery let us her woodcut piece titled "Wind Poem" for this season's cover art. Special thanks this episode to Bill Hayden, Annie Gustavson, Rebecca Lawrence, Diana Six, Wendy Cass, Susan Freinkel, Glenn Taylor, Stacy Clark, Tara Carolyn, Doug Follett, everyone with Glacier's Native Plant Program, The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, and so many others. And if you liked this episode, share it with someone else who loves Glacier.

Lacy: This is like for the end?

Daniel: This is in it, yeah. You saying that? That's gonna be in it.

Michael: [laughs]

Lacy: The Glacier Conservancy is the official fundraising partner of Glacier National Park. To learn more, visit glacier.org.

Peri: I think that's the best time you've done yet.

Lacy: OK, do I need to get one more time?

Michael: I think we're good.

Mountain pine beetles, an invasive fungus, and climate change—is whitebark pine doomed?

The Glacier Conservancy: https://glacier.org/ Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation: https://whitebarkfound.org/ American Chestnut book: https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520259942/american-chestnut Documentary about Ranger Doug: https://www.instagram.com/rangerdougfilm/ Pictures of whitebark pine: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWJ2S4F Ben Cosgrove Music: https://www.bencosgrove.com/

Episode 4

Whitebark Pine | Chapter Four



Lacy: Headwaters is brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Doug: You get a really unique perspective being in the top of them, looking at these like big, beautiful cones. Nothing like a whitebark pine cone.

Peri: Back in July, I found myself high on a ridge on the east side of the park overlooking the Blackfeet Reservation, listening to climbing gear jingle like wind chimes.

Annie: Doug has nice long arms to reach out on those branches.

Doug: You think I have nice arms Annie?

Annie: You have nice arms, Doug.

Peri: Doug Tyte is a member of Glacier's revegetation crew. Every summer, the park sends Doug, with his long arms, and the rest of the reveg crew to find and then climb healthy whitebark pine trees that have lots of cones. And because whitebark pine cones grow way at the end of the top of their branches, Doug had to climb way up and reach way out to get them. Dangling from Doug's harness were homemade wire mesh cages, the size and shape of a gallon Ziploc bag that he slid over the ends of cone laden branches, crimping down the edges and locking the cones off from the world.

Reveg Crew: Three. Three!

Peri: Each time he put on a new cage, Doug would shout down to everyone below the number of cones in it.

Reveg Crew: Five. Five! Five.

Peri: But that was back in July. It's a few months later now in September, and I'm revisiting the tree with Doug only to find that not all of the cages did their job.

Peri: Yeah, you can see the claw marks all the way up the trunk.

Peri: The fresh claw marks showed that a bear had taken interest in this tree and its cones.

Levi: See how deep the nails went in.

Peri: Yeah, wow.

Levi: Dang.

Doug: It's pretty cool.

Peri: It is impressive.

Doug: You can see there's tons of old claw marks too on this thing.

Levi: Yeah, this one has claw marks every year, it seems like.

Peri: After confirming that all bears had vacated the tree, we got set up to climb the tree again.

Doug: Alright. Lanyards,.

Carleton: Four inch, you good?

Doug: Got my four inch.

Carleton: Some webbing?

Doug: I got webbing. New fancy one.

Peri: And how long have you been climbing trees

Doug: Since I could walk. [laughs] But for the government for two years.

Peri: So Doug's climbing up the tree, he's making it look pretty easy, actually.

Peri: How many cones do you think are on this tree?

Doug: Total? I think we got an estimate when we climbed it.

Carleton: 215. He caged 107.

Peri: Wow.

Carleton: Using twenty two cages.

Peri: How does that compare to other trees? It's just like...

Carleton: It's pretty -- it's a high number. I think our highest number of this season was 200...

Peri: The trees they climb are special. Most whitebarks I see around the park do not have hundreds of cones. It's pretty rare for these trees to start producing cones before they're at least 50 years old. And even then, the younger ones usually only manage to grow a handful.

Doug: I mean, this tree isn't that large.

Peri: No.

Doug: But it's like a good cone producer.

Peri: After all we've learned about how many species rely on whitebark pine seeds, it seems a little strange that we're actively preventing animals from accessing them. But even on these trees, only about half the cones are caged.

Peri: Doug actually, told me a story on the way up that once he was caging cones on a tree that had sort of two main trunks coming up, and this nutcracker landed in the one next to him and was just kind of harassing him -- [caw caw caw] -- like, "What are you doing? Those are supposed to be my cones!"

Peri: Perched in the top of the tree. Doug pulls off the cages with the cones inside, then carefully tosses them down to the crew waiting below. Kind of like a bride tossing her bouquet to the waiting bridesmaids.

Doug: Okay, this is gonna be a tricky throw.

Levi: Yup.

Doug: Ready?

Levi: Yup. [catching sound]

Peri: So everyone is kind of packing up all their gear and someone hands me this big burlap sack with all of the cones in it from this tree. And it's pretty light, but it kind of makes me think that there's a lot in this bag. The seeds in these cones are our answer to blister rust -- they're the hope for our future forests, and they have a long journey ahead of them.

[Theme music]

Peri: Hi, I'm Peri.

Andrew: I'm Andrew.

Michael: And I'm Michael. This is Season Two of Headwaters, a podcast from Glacier National Park.

Andrew: This is Chapter Four of a five-episode season, which is all about whitebark pine. In the past three episodes, we've learned about why this tree is important to people and our cultures, how so many pieces of our ecosystem are connected to it, and why it's at risk.

Peri: Now we're going to meet the people trying to save it. The world of whitebark pine is full of giants. Everywhere I turn, I encounter another brilliant ecologist who's been studying these trees for longer than I've been alive. Luckily for me, a group called the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation has gathered all of these giants together. In 2021, the High Five conference, as in five-needle pines, was hosted virtually, and with help from the Glacier Conservancy, I registered to attend.

Rob: We have a terrific conference planned for you...

Peri: The conference is a three-day event with over 100 different talks, all in service of saving a tree. Sitting in to listen, I got to hear about all the work still being done to shape the future of whitebark pine restoration.

Diana T: I look forward to seeing you all at the question and answer panel discussion, after...

Peri: All, and who better to talk with about the history of whitebark pine restoration than two leaders in the field?

Diana T: I'm Diana Tomback

Peri: Diana is a professor in Integrative Biology, and one of the foremost names in whitebark pine

Diana T: [laughs] pulling it off my shelf

Peri: Reaching up to grab it early in her video call, Diana literally wrote the book on whitebark restoration. But when she started her career in the 70s doing research on whitebark pine and Clark's nutcrackers,

Diana T: There was nothing on my radar screen, nothing on the horizon to indicate that this species would be in the trouble that it is today. We have to thank Steve Arno and Jim Brown for the foresight back in the 1980s to realize that the Northern Rockies was losing its whitebark pine.

Peri: I also connected with Bob Keane, a now-retired Forest Service scientist that has worked on whitebark for decades.

Bob: I was working with Steve Arno and his research that he was doing in the high elevations, and well, what I saw was the fact that there were many whitebark pines that were dead. And I just thought it was this is what happens up high when plants grow, they often die because it's so cold and icy and snowy up here. But Arno said, no, no, these plants can easily handle the ice and cold. These trees are dying because of an exotic mistrust

Peri: There was no single turning point that woke everyone up to the decline of whitebark pine. Instead, it was this slow accumulation of new science and growing concern. That said, one moment did stand out. In 1998, Bob, Diana, and other leaders in the field gathered for a conference, and presented data that showed just how rapidly whitebark was declining. But it was what happened after the conference, after the talks ended, and the posters were packed up, that Diana said was pivotal.

Diana T: And that conference, Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems, is the one that really made a bunch of us think, Where do we go from here? So I recall when the conference was over, it was that afternoon and everyone had picked up and gone home except us. We were sitting around with a can of beer or something asking each other, Where do we go next? And a suggestion was made by Dana Perkins, who's with the BLM, that perhaps we should consider forming a nonprofit.

Peri: That casual brainstorming turned into the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, which has been a key advocate for whitebark pine science and restoration for the last 20 years. They're the central guiding organization for whitebark pine restoration, and the group hosting this conference.

Diana T: A number of us who came out of that era came to realize that the ecosystems that we were studying, they were deteriorating from various anthropogenic problems.

Peri: So once you recognized that blister rust was kind of the key problem and you knew you needed to take action, how did you know what to do? Did you have to start from scratch?

Diana T: Well, the tools were there already.

Peri: A stroke of luck, if you want to call it that is that blister rust affects most five-needle pines, not just whitebark, including some important timber species like sugar pine and white pine. So people had already been thinking about how to fix this problem as early as the 1950s. So there was a bit of a road map for how to address this problem. What Diana and Bob: had to do was adjust it to work for whitebark.

Diana T: Bob Keane was lead author, I was second author, on what became the restoration manual for whitebark pine.

Peri: The key was that some whitebark pine showed natural resistance to blister rust, just as scientists had observed with other five-needle pines back in the 50s. So the plan was to identify those resistant trees, grow their seedlings, and plant them back on the land, increasing the overall amount of resistance in the population. Bringing in all these different agencies and different disciplines is key to get the restoration plan right, especially considering that whitebark pine could soon be listed under the Endangered Species Act. As of fall 2021, it's already listed as endangered in Canada and is proposed for listing in the U.S.

Diana T: Well, my attitude is this is important work. It's probably a capstone piece of work for all the work that I've done on Whitebark Pine. But it's it's not over until the nutcracker caws or whatever, cracks. [laughs] You can't assume that things are going to tick along just fine. You have to keep putting that energy and that push there. So it's these kinds of things that have galvanized a number of us to actually act to do something.

Bob: I think it would be sad that for a person who's worked in that ecosystem for so long, if we didn't do anything, I would feel unbelievably guilty that I spent my career studying an ecosystem that was doomed to be absent from the landscape in the future. And I think we have a responsibility to actually restore this because we humans were the reason that the rust is actually here.

Peri: I also asked Bob what other conservation efforts could learn from whitebark pine.

Bob: It takes the zeal of others, in order to get things done. And of course, I worked for the Forest Service all my career, I've seen this big agency and saw how things get done, and it's glacial. And if I look at all the great things that the Forest Service has done, it is all because of some dedicated zealous individual that went out despite everybody else, and on top of their regular job, went out and did something good for the land.

Peri: But having a plan is just the start. For every Diana Tomback and Bob Keane, who are figuring out how these trees work and creating a plan to restore them, you also need people like Doug Tyte, with his long arms, to climb the trees and harvest the cones, and Rebecca Lawrence, to shepherd the seeds on their journey and get them planted back on the landscape.

Peri: This is a bag of cones that we collected the other day.

Rebecca: Yes.

Peri: Cool.

Rebecca: Yes, it is.

Peri: These are very sappy.

Rebecca: They are starting to dry out a little bit.

Peri: Oh yeah, you can see some of the--.

Peri: So you can you can peel off the scales and then you see the seeds sitting right in there.

Peri: Oh, cool.

Peri: That's Rebecca, who's been coordinating Glacier's native plant restoration program for years. I met with her at Glacier's native plant nursery, this remarkable garden-like compound and greenhouse where they grow thousands of native plants. Rebecca: and her team raise dozens of different species, which allows the park to restore plants after disturbances like construction projects. And like so many things at Glacier, the native plant program benefits from the support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Harvesting the cones is just the start of these seeds' journey, and Rebecca: helped take us through the process. We send most of our whitebark cones, like the ones we collected at the start of the episode, to a Forest Service nursery in Coeur d'Alene Idaho, which is about four hours west of here. That nursery has special expertise in growing whitebark pine seedlings, and they can grow 300,000 of them a year, from all across the Rocky Mountains. After the cones arrive, Rebecca: explained that the first step is also the messiest: opening the tough, sappy cone to get the seeds out.

Peri: What's that like to open up a whitebark pine cone and get the seeds out? [laughs]

Rebecca: I really wish I had a beak to do the same thing that the Clarks Nutcrackers do very effortlessly, so it's definitely...

Peri: Without beaks to rely on, nursery workers have another solution: heat. They store the cones at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes them to dry and helps the scales open up a little bit, so the seeds can be shaken out. [shaking sound] The most challenging part is simulating the combination of environmental factors you need to get the seeds to actually germinate.

Rebecca: They're trying to mimic what it would go through in nature. They found that if they put the seeds in a warm stratification and then a cold stratification...

Peri: Figuring all this out wasn't easy. It was kind of like having all the ingredients to bake a cake, but not knowing what temperature to bake it at or for how long. After 30 days in the warmth and 90 days in a walk-in cooler, seeds are ready to be planted in a little carrot-shaped pot.

Rebecca: They will plant that into the cone. Usually, they put one to two seeds per cone.

Peri: And so when you say cone, you're not talking about pinecones, you're talking about the little...

Rebecca: Right. Sorry, that's confusing, isn't it? Yes, it's the cone-tainer [Peri: laughs] is what it often gets called.

Peri: The seeds stay in their cone-tainers in the nursery for two years while they develop a root system strong enough to survive in the wild.

Rebecca: At one year, they don't have enough roots, they're not strong enough really to go out and be planted.

Peri: Oh, okay.

Peri: Finally, Rebecca: and her team pick up the two-year-old seedlings from the nursery and bring them back to the park to plant. All told, the process from caging to planting takes almost two and a half years and the seeds will travel at least 500 miles.

[music plays]

Peri: So, Andrew. If we're following Diana and Bob's plan to restore whitebark pine, then we're maybe like halfway through?

Andrew: Yeah, it's a pretty long and complicated process. So far, we've identified the problem. We've collected the cones and then we've sent them off to the nursery in Idaho. There, the seeds were extracted from the cones and planted in growing pots.

Peri: So on a really basic level, the plan is to restore whitebark by planting more of them in areas where they've died out, which seems simple enough. Want more whitebark in the park? Plant more whitebark. But we learned last episode that these trees are threatened by blister rust, which is an invasive fungus, and by pine beetles, which are native, but climate change is making them more deadly. How do we know that those won't just kill these new seedlings when we plant them back out in the park?

Andrew: Right. If the little seedlings we plant can't survive, then this whole effort doesn't get us anywhere. The whole restoration project centers on the fact that some trees are more resistant to these threats, and those trees are called plus trees. Simply put, plus trees are those selected for breeding because of their exceptional genes. The term can be used to denote trees that are special for a variety of reasons, like ones that produce a lot of fruit in an orchard. But for us, a plus tree would be one with genetic resistance to white pine blister rust.

Peri: So like an A-plus tree?

Andrew: Right.

Peri: So they only harvest cones and plant seedlings from trees that have demonstrated that they can survive. But walk me through this -- what does genetic resistance mean?

Andrew: A tree is going to have all sorts of different characteristics. It might be tall or short, could be wide or narrow, fast growing, slow growing. It will have a color and a scent to it. Some of these traits are going to be determined by the tree's environment: how much rain and sun it gets, how cold or windy the location is. But trees also inherit some characteristics from their parents.

Peri: Trees have parents?

Andrew: Yeah

Peri: I guess I never thought about it that way.

Andrew: Yeah, a whitebark is going to have a mom and a dad, although not quite in the same way a human might. Whitebark pines are monoecious, which means that male and female cones grow on the same tree, so there's not separate male and female trees. Pollen from a male cone is blown by the wind onto a female cone on another tree, which fertilizes it and creates a seed. So if you picture a pine cone in your head, what you're probably imagining is one of the female cones. The characteristics that a tree inherits from its parents are called its genetic traits, and they're stored in the tree's DNA and can be passed on from generation to generation.

Peri: Okay, I'm remembering this from high school biology.

Andrew: Yeah, so some of the tree's characteristics might make it less susceptible to certain threats. For example, a tree might generate a lot of resin and be able to drown beetles that invade it. And if this resin-producing trait is genetic, then all the seeds that this tree produces could also have that trait. But if there's another tree that's also unaffected by beetles, but it's unaffected because it lives in such a cold environment that the beetles can't live there, that's not genetic. If its seed is planted in a warmer location, or if that location starts to warm up due to climate change, the beetle can still kill that tree -- that protection doesn't last from generation to generation. So finding trees with inheritable resistance is really important. And luckily, there are some whitebark that are naturally resistant to blister rust. Here's Professor Diana Six, who we cored a tree with in the last episode. She's an expert in whitebark pine genetics.

Diana S: Why genetics are so important is that information is what can be passed on to offspring. Because if it can't be passed on to offspring, it's not going to help future populations or future generations. And so we get super excited if we can say it's genetic, because it means that it influences the future. And that information, that resistance can be passed on.

Andrew: People have been breeding plants and animals for desirable traits as long as agriculture has existed. That's the reason that things like corn or domestic dogs exist. So this concept is not new, but the application to conservation and specifically for whitebark pine restoration is a more recent technique.

Peri: Okay, so plus trees are important for their ability to create offspring that have resistance to rust or beetles. But how does genetic resistance work? Is there just a gene that kind of turns the resistance on or off, like a light switch?

Andrew: Well, first of all, it can be really difficult to locate specific whitebark pine genes because their genome, which is the sum total of all their DNA, is so huge. It's almost nine times larger than the human genome.

Peri: Wow.

Andrew: And to make it even more complicated, each pine might have quite different genes than its neighbors.

Diana S: The amount of genetic diversity in conifers is some of the highest in the world. And so when you look at these trees around here, they all look the same. They're all really different. They're more different than if we looked across a crowd of people at a concert -- way more different.

Andrew: So if blister rust resistance came from a single gene, that would make things a little simpler.

Diana S: That makes it simple, or it makes it sound simple if there's one gene. But it's also dangerous because that means that the fungus or the beetle can evolve to overcome that. Most resistance involves a whole bunch of genes, a whole lot of mechanisms. And so it means that you're having to deal with a real mix, and that makes it more complicated to be able to select trees, maybe if you want to do replanting or things like that.

Andrew: Blister rust resistance appears to be one of those more complicated things, it's influenced by a handful of genes

Diana S: Blister rust, there's been so much work on it, they're really beginning to narrow down five or six different aspects that produce resistance.

Peri: And so what about for beetles?

Andrew: Not as much is known about the genetic beetle resistance. Diana's research has found that beetles prefer to attack fast growing trees, although it's not really clear how they would know if a tree is fast or slow growing.

Diana S: You know they're not out taking a core and going, okay, this one, you know? [laughs] So that's our question right now, and we're looking at things like non-structural carbons and sugars. But it is surprising that we know so little about the resistance. We know it's out there, but we don't know what's driving it quite yet.

Peri: Okay, that's getting pretty complicated. What are non-structural carbons?

Andrew: Yeah, I thought you might ask. It got a little bit confusing there. So trees, as I'm sure you know, are mostly made of carbon, and most of that carbon is in their wood. But wood is really tough. It's not very good to eat, even for a beetle, and the carbon that makes up the wood is called structural carbon.

Diana S: But then the carbon that's not structural is like sugars, carbohydrates, and these are things that fungi or insects going into a tree can use as food. And so we're looking to see if that isn't something that drives beetle choices of trees, and that somehow they use that to distinguish between these fast and slow growing trees.

Peri: Okay, so this is pretty cool. So the beetles can essentially taste how fast growing the tree is.

Andrew: That's right, a slow growth habit might confer resistance to beetles, and the beetles might be able to sense that through taste. But let's not get too far afield here. For our purposes, plus trees are those that are selected for breeding because they are, or at least likely to be, resistant to blister rust. And in turn, their offsprings are likely to be resistant to the rust as well. These plus trees make up the backbone of the whitebark pine restoration program in Glacier National Park.

Peri: So by picking which trees we collect cones from and then replant, we're kind of shepherding the genetic future of this tree.

Andrew: Yeah. Conservation genetics is really a big part of our strategy with whitebark pine restoration. We can shape the gene pool to include more rust resistant trees by being selective about the seeds that we use.

Peri: And so if we're trying to shape the genes of this species is new technology like gene editing being used?

Andrew: Technology can definitely help us, but gene editing is not one of the tools currently being considered. Whitebark pine has so much genetic diversity on the landscape -- diversity that might increase its resilience to climate change and beetles. So using the seeds of wild trees is still preferred, but technology could have an impact on this strategy. A scientist named David Neal is working on creating a 23 and me type test for whitebark pines

Peri: one of those at home genetics tests to learn about your ancestry?

Andrew: Exactly. But this test could help biologists quickly and cheaply identify the trees that have those rust resistant genes. And then we can focus our limited resources on planting the seeds from trees that we already know for sure are rust resistant.

[music plays]

Peri: So we harvested cones from trees that show resistance to blister rust. And now we have seedlings that have grown from those seeds. But where do we plant them? It turns out that recently-burned areas are the perfect place, which is why I talked with the park's fire ecologist, Summer.

Summer: I'm Summer Kemp-Jennings

Peri: Pretty much anywhere you get up high in Glacier, there are incredible sweeping views of the park, and you can almost always see evidence of past fires on the land around you.

Summer: I love it when you get up to a point like this in the park and you can really see the effect of fire on a big landscape and it just really is a mosaic across this entire landscape. In the Northern Rockies, fire is the primary disturbance agent, and as long as there has been vegetation in Glacier National Park, there has been fire in Glacier National Park because we have this ignition source called lightning. So fire is a part of this ecosystem.

Peri: While whitebark seedlings grow well in burned areas, fire is a bit of a double edged sword for these trees,

Summer: Whitebark pine don't have as thick of bark as larch

Peri: Which is a famously fire resistant tree here in Glacier.

Summer: Their survivability of fire is a lot lower. However post fire, the whitebark pine seeds do well in bare mineral soil and a high light environment, especially compared to, you know, other subalpine tree species.

Peri: So it seems like, on the one hand, whitebark pine need fire because that's one of the primary places where they regenerate. But on the other hand, it seems like the mature trees are pretty easily killed by fire.

Summer: Yeah, that's definitely true. So it's kind of almost a little bit of a clash, right?

Peri: We kept hiking along this high ridge, which had just burned in the Sprague Fire four years earlier. And we kept an eye out for little whitebark seedlings, less than a foot tall.

Peri: There's some before the lookout and some after the lookout.

Summer: Well we could -- [gasps] -- there's one!

Peri: Oh, it's so cute.

Michael: I like how you whispered, like being loud would scare it away. [laughs]

Summer: Shhh! We have to approach it quietly. Oh yeah.

Peri: So how do you think this one's doing?

Summer: It looks great to me. There's no yellowing. It looks vigorous.

Peri: Yeah, this one -- that other one was just a single stem, with a big poof. And this one has a bunch of different stems coming up.

Summer: Yeah, that one's got some personality, for sure. Yeah.

Michael: A little tree coming up through literal pieces of charcoal.

Summer: Yes. Yeah. I mean, it's a tough life up here. You got to have some serious stamina. It's almost like this juxtaposition of death and new life. Kind of old forest and hopefully new forest. I like whitebark pine [laughing]

Peri: We do too!

Peri: With this bird's eye view from high up on these slopes, I could see in one glance these vulnerable little seedlings, alongside the still-standing burning trees from the fire four years ago, and the footprints from at least half a dozen past fires on the land around us.

Summer: You know, we're coming around to the idea that there's going to be more fire. So more fire means more whitebark pine are going to burn, and we can use Waterton as an example of that.

Peri: Our sister park in Canada, Waterton Lakes National Park, saw this firsthand. More than a third of Waterton burned in the 2017 Kenow Fire

Peri: So I talked to Rob and Genoa, who work on whitebark up there, and they said it burned. They said it basically took out a good portion of the work they've done to last 10 or 15 years. That's about half the whitebark pine seedlings, all the limber and about half their plus trees. In one fire.

Summer: Yeah, it's devastating.

Peri: Yeah.

Peri: Waterton has had their own whitebark and limber pine restoration program for decades, in close partnership with Glacier. And to me, the losses in the Kenow Fire kind of symbolize what whitebark is up against and how climate change can so easily overpower the work that we're doing to combat pine beetles and blister rust. But Summer had a more encouraging perspective.

Summer: You know, it's really just a numbers game. And yes, some of them unfortunately might get burned. Or maybe it'll be a really bad winter, et cetera. But some of them will survive, and then you extend that through time, too, and it kind of becomes like a self-perpetuating legacy.

Peri: For future generations.

Summer: Yeah

Peri: Yeah, because we won't see it, but it's a nice legacy to leave behind.

Summer: Yeah, and it'd be great to come up here, you know, when we're retired from the Park Service and, you know, see some of the whitebark pine that were planted still surviving.

Peri: Because if we came back in 50 years, I'll be in my eighties.

Michael: Freshly retired.

Peri: I'd like to think I could still hike this trail...

Summer: I'd like to think I'd be retired before then, but...

Peri: For the best shot of seeing cones.

Summer: Yeah, totally.

Peri: Those seedlings that we looked at would be taller than us. Maybe a few cones, little young for cone bearing, 50 years, but plausible.

Summer: Yeah, it'd be great.

Peri: We can't save everything, but I hope that we can save whitebark pine. I think we've got a good shot.

Summer: Yeah, me too.

[music plays]

Peri: Whitebark restoration faces a lot of barriers, but that doesn't deter our reveg crew, who are hiking nearly a vertical mile of Mount Brown to plant more seedlings this fall. I was not as excited to follow them up there. But it was a crisp, clear fall day and as I gained elevation, I got more and more expansive views. Across Lake McDonald to the North Fork, south toward the Great Bear wilderness and north toward the Highline. It was fall raptor migration too, so golden eagles kept soaring past just 50 or 100 feet overhead. [footsteps crunching] Fresh snow had fallen the day before coating the mountaintops, and as I reached the crew, it crunched beneath my feet. I felt grateful to be there, and grateful to this crew who were digging in the wet, snowy ground with cold, wet hands and cold, wet feet to get these seedlings in the ground. And they do hikes like this every week to reach whitebark sites year after year.

Peri: It looks like pretty physical work after a gigantic hike up here.

Rebecca: Yeah, it's-- this site's not-- other than the hike up here, it's fairly accessible. Some that we've done are crazy.

Peri: At the time of this recording, the park has planted nearly 25,000 whitebark pine seedlings.

Peri: So like ballpark, would ten percent of these surviving be good or bad? Would eighty percent be... Is that too much to hope for?

Rebecca: So one of our best plantings, we read the 10 year survival last year and it is still doing really, really well with 89 percent survival.

Peri: Wow.

Rebecca: So I think that's that's above what we normally expect. When you average everything out, we have 48 percent survival for whitebark, so that's pretty good.

Peri: 50-50. That's probably better than most tree seeds out in the world.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Peri: Oh, another eagle! Wow.

Rebecca: Oh two!

Peri: Right overhead! So we're really just doing our best to be human Clark's nutcrackers.

Rebecca: Exactly. [laughs]

Peri: With all the work that we've learned about that goes into getting these seedlings to this spot, I wanted to know how many hands have touched these little trees, from cone to nursery to planting.

Rebecca: We usually have at least four people, and if it's a tree with a lot of cones, we'll usually ask for some help from some of the other park crews to help us carry out the cones as well. Coeur d'Alene has five permanent staff, at least one packer, to bring them up

Peri: Shoutout to the mules, too.

Rebecca: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. There's a two person monitoring crew

Peri: That's pretty cool, so it's like twenty five people, 30 people, at least... Five mules.

Rebecca: Yeah. These are expensive little seedings

Peri: A lot goes into those.

Rebecca: Yes. Yeah, they do.

Peri: Well, it's cool to think about.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely.

Peri: Yeah. Feels very hopeful to be planting these up here. Yeah.

Rebecca: I mean, just planting in general is very meditative and I think rejuvenates your soul.

Peri: Yeah. Kind of an act of faith.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think it is, especially when I'm watering them, I'll, you know, wish them well and hope that they survive.

Peri: Yeah, maybe a few of these will become big, healthy, happy whitebarks that help reseed the landscape.

Rebecca: Yep.

Peri: It's pretty cool to see this little seedling kind of coming full circle from, you know, where it was harvested from the cones from one of the plus trees goes to Coeur d'Alene, coming back to the park now. So in a way, it kind of feels like the end of the road for the seedling, at least while it's kind of in our care. But it's also just the beginning. It's, you know, hopefully will grow up to be a big cone bearing whitebark pine that'll help regenerate the species here.

Peri: Caging the cones, harvesting the cones, germinating the seedlings, planting them back on the landscape, doing all the monitoring work and. This is so much work, and it's pretty amazing that-- I guess aside from whether we can save whitebark as a species... It makes me hopeful just for people. [tearful] It makes me feel really proud to be like, a tiny part of. There's so much destruction that people have wrought, and it's pretty cool to feel like we're doing a little bit to fix it. I don't know, I think it speaks well of all these people as humans that.... this is what they spend their time doing. I'm really glad we're trying.

[music plays]

Andrew: Next week on Headwaters, we get our hands dirty.

[Digging sounds]

Peri: Any suggestions on my technique?

Melissa: You could swing a little a little more aggressively.

Peri: Oh, there we go.

Andrew: As we uncover the past, present and future of conservation. That's next time on Headwaters.

Peri: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from our partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Glacier is the traditional lands of several Native American tribes, including the Aamsskààpipikani, Kootenai, Séliš, and Qìispé People. Headwaters was created by Daniel Lombardi. Andrew Smith, Peri Sasnett, and Michael Faist produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music, and Claire Emery let us use her woodcut piece titled Wind Poem for this season's cover art. Special thanks this episode to Bill Hayden, Doug Tyte, Diana Tomback, Bob Keane, Rebecca Lawrence, Summer Kemp-Jennings, Cara Nelson, Rob Sissons, Genoa Alger, Carleton Gritts, Levi Besaw, everyone with Glacier's native plant program, the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, and so many others. If you liked this episode, send it to that friend you have who just loves trees.

Lacy: This is like for the end?

Daniel: This is it. Yeah. You saying that? That's going to be in it


Lacy: The Glacier Conservancy is the official fundraising partner of Glacier National Park. To learn more, visit glacier.org

Peri: I think that's the best time you've done yet.

Lacy: Okay, do I need to get one more time?

Michael: I think we're good.

Peri: Yeah, I think this is good.

Collecting pinecones, planting seeds, and other acts of hope.

The Glacier Conservancy: https://glacier.org/ Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation: https://whitebarkfound.org/ Pictures of whitebark pine: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWJ2S4F Ben Cosgrove Music: https://www.bencosgrove.com/

See more show notes on our website: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/photosmultimedia/headwaters-podcast.htm

Episode 5

Whitebark Pine | Chapter Five



Lacy: Headwaters is brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Peri: This season, I set out to learn about a tree, I started by meeting Illawye, the Great Great Grandparent Tree, and I learned how ShiNaasha Pete, a CSKT Tribal Forester, views that tree as an ancestor, with knowledge and power to share. I followed Clark's nutcrackers, red squirrels and grizzly bears and saw how everything in this place is tied to everything else. I caught a tree with Professor Diana Six, and she showed me what we have to lose and how close we are to losing it. And I followed a whitebark pine seed on its journey through the park's restoration program. Witnessing the passion and dedication of the people trying to save this tree. Now I want to explore how our relationship with nature has changed over time. To understand how we got here and how I might build a deeper relationship with the world around me. Welcome to Headwaters, a podcast made in Glacier National Park, which is the traditional lands of many Native American tribes.

Andrew: That's our host, Perry, and I'm Andrew. This is Chapter five, the last in the season.

Michael This season is called Whitebark Pine, a whole series about a special tree, but it's also the story of Glacier National Park and how we relate to this landscape, how we protect it and how we fit into the world around us.

Peri:: I've grown up with this idea that people are bad for nature, that we are the scissors snipping apart the strands of the ecosystems around us, and then we have to keep people out of nature to protect it. But where does that idea come from?

Michael We have spent all season with whitebark pine on top of mountains. But this story, Peri, takes us to the lowest elevations in the park—to the lakes, rivers, creeks and streams that fill our valley floors, and that make up much of the park's boundary. So I want to start off asking, are you much of an angler, are you good at fishing?

Peri: The last time I went fishing, I was five with my granddad and an alligator ate my bobber. I have not fished since.

Michael: Ok so, so no. And to be honest, me neither. I'm not very good at it, but I think the story of fish and fish management here in Glacier is interesting because it shows how we're always re-examining how much to intervene in natural processes. The park's mission has always been to preserve and protect this place. But how do you actually do that? What is our role here? Let's start in the very first years of the park over 100 years ago, a scientist named Morton J. Elrod, who would later become a naturalist for the park, started the first aquatic research project here. And as he studied our lakes and streams, he saw a problem: not enough fish.

Peri: Not enough fish?

Michael: Not enough. So he took depth measurements, and samples of possible fish foods, to determine which lakes people could add fish to.

Peri: What do you mean?

Michael: Add fish, introduce them to take them from somewhere else and stock them in lakes where they weren't previously found, or to add to an existing population. All with the goal of enhancing recreational or sport fishing opportunities.

Peri: Gotcha.

Michael: When Glacier was founded in 1910, virtually anyone could apply for a fish docking permit with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. If they approved your application, the bureau would provide you with fish and the necessary permission to place them throughout the park.

Peri: So correct me if I'm wrong. But this wasn't unusual at the time, was it?

Michael: No, not at all. Fish talking, with the intent of improving sport fishing, was extremely common in mountain lakes across the West. Stocked by state and local governments. Individuals, even environmental groups like the Sierra Club. And Glacier, too, was fully on board with the practice. The park cooperatively managed the Glacier National Park Fish Hatchery with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which raised in captivity all the native and non-native species that would be introduced to park waters.

Peri: But doesn't this clash a bit with the whole preserve our national parks unimpaired idea?

Michael: Well, they didn't think so. Our mission, the NPS mission, is to preserve and protect these places for future generations to enjoy. So the park wanted to make sure that if you came here hoping to catch a fish, you would. The thought was the more fish you and your kids hook while you're here, the more you'll enjoy and appreciate the park. And it's worth noting that this is the same time that the park was poisoning coyotes to ensure that the wildlife people like to see like deer would survive. So we were protecting the things about this place that people liked and that they could easily see on their visit.

Peri: Ok, I guess I see the logic in that. But couldn't I use that same logic to build a roller coaster at Logan past?

Michael: Hmm.

Peri: How does this all tie back to Whitebark Pine? Are you saying that planting nursery raised whitebark seedlings is the same as stocking hatchery raised fish?

Michael: Well, no. For one thing, whitebark pine is a native species that we're careful to only plant in areas that we know they used to grow, using seeds that come from this ecosystem. There was nothing at all careful about our fish stocking program. Native species, non-native species. It didn't matter. They put them all over the place, often into places that never had any trout at all. So by 1945, nearly 50 million fish had been introduced here, averaging more than a million fish a year every year since the park was founded.

Peri: Wow.

Michael: This was massive in both scale and ambition, attempting to bend our fisheries to our will.

Peri: Well, we don't do that anymore. So what changed people's minds?

Michael: Well, the first reason people began to question this practice was that from a sport fishery perspective, it wasn't really working.

Peri: Which was the whole reason they were doing it in the first place, right?

Michael: Yeah. Despite introducing millions of fish here, they had not created the recreational fishing utopia that they'd long dreamt of. But on top of that, there was a growing understanding that stocking was a harmful practice to native species, and that losing native fish could have negative consequences that extend far beyond our waterways. Glacier has 21 native fish species, and few are better known than the bull trout. Bull trout are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened—one step below endangered because they've declined so dramatically over the past 100 years. In Glacier, the practice of stocking non-native fish is one of their biggest threats. Lake trout were stocked outside Glacier in Flathead Lake, and despite never being introduced directly into the park, they migrated here and have become bull trout enemy number one. They are bigger, the largest member of the salmonid family, and reliably out-compete bull trout for food and for space.

Peri: That kind of sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Michael: Yeah. And in the 1970s, the park began to realize that an iconic Montana fish, and an important link in our ecosystem, could disappear. So it prompted a bit of an identity crisis.

Peri: It sounds like we had to decide exactly what we're protecting here native species or just things people enjoy.

Michael: Exactly. And the park decided that our sport fisheries, while important, couldn't take priority over our native biodiversity, let alone harm it. And in 1972, Glacier ended its fish stocking program, adopting a do no harm approach to our fisheries.

Peri: But they were stocking fish in the park for, what 60 years? Wasn't the damage kind of already done?

Michael: Yeah.

Peri: Cat out of the bag, the fish out of the net?

Michael: Oh gosh. Biologists recognized at the time that these impacts from fish stocking would be hard to undo, and things continued to get worse for bull trout. By the 21st century, lake trout had found their way into well over half of the lakes were bull trout are found, which in the park, is only 17 to begin with. Nearly 40 years after ending the fish stocking program, it became clear that do no harm wasn't going to cut it if we wanted to preserve bull trout. So in yet another reexamination of our mission, the park decided that preserving this place required undoing the harm of our predecessors.

Peri: How do we go about doing that?

Michael: Well, just like whitebark pine effort to restore native fisheries goes way beyond Glacier's boundaries. Down in Yellowstone, in Flathead Lake, lots of other places, biologists are undertaking a years-long project to physically remove lake trout from waters where they threaten native species. Around here, Quartz Lake is kind of the prime example. Every year, with funding from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the fisheries crew heads up to Quartz Lake in the North Fork, hops on a boat and lowers gill nets into the lake. If they catch a bull trout, they let it go. But if they catch a lake trout, they kill it.

Peri: And it seems like it's working.

Michael: It has been well in courts like they haven't removed Lake Trout entirely. They have successfully suppressed their numbers, which has allowed bull trout populations to stay steady where before they started this, they were collapsing. But to me, perhaps the most interesting technique to restore bull trout is taking fish from one place and adding them to places where they weren't found before,

Peri: We're fish stocking again?

Michael: Well, almost Glacier and the USGS have worked together to conduct what's called conservation introductions, so kind of stocking by another name. Conservation introductions take the same premise, moving fish to a new place, but instead of enhancing a sport fishery, the goal is to create a safe haven for a threatened native species. The NPS even made a video about these efforts this year following a crew monitoring one of these introductions.

NPS Video: We are headed up to Grace Lake, which is upstream of logging lake, protected by a barrier falls to sample some bull trout that were introduced in 2014 as part of a conservation introduction.

Michael: There's a natural barrier, a waterfall between Grace and Logging lakes, so they know the bull trout they introduced there won't have to compete with lake trout.

NPS Video: We've seen nothing but benefits from this project to see big fish that we're seeing in different age classes that we're seeing that we know we put here and that are doing really well. And it feels good knowing that we're doing good.

Michael: And this is important because like whitebark pine, bull trout are threatened by more than just invasive species. They are also faced with climate change.

Peri: Of course.

Michael: Bull trout require cold water, but climate change is altering our watersheds, and our lakes and streams are slowly warming up. This isn't great for bull trout, and we know that if they have any chance of adapting to these changes, it's in a place where they're not also fighting with lake trout to survive. Because I get so excited about this stuff, I was invited even to be a part of this NPS video.

NPS Video: The goal of this is to provide a refuge knowing the threats of these species face: warming waters, decreasing runoff for changes to our peak runoff times. The lakes that were selected to place these fish were deliberately chosen, carefully chosen for where they sit, what influences them and the risks posed by non-native species.

Peri: Look at you, your film debut.

Michael: Yeah, I mean, I wish I'd trimmed my beard a little bit, but—I think the big takeaway for me from the story of bull trout and what connects this to the rest of our series is that it is a story of us deciding what the National Park Service is really here to do. We have always had the mission of preserving and protecting this place for future generations, but how we interpret it has changed over time. That used to mean introducing millions of fish so that anglers who visit Glacier would leave happy, and it meant focusing on recreation. But today that means saving a native species like bull trout, even whitebark pine and undoing the harm we have done in the past, fighting to save entire ecosystems at risk.

Peri: So the park isn't working from a list of rules set in stone. It's actively deciding what it means to protect these million acres.

Michael: Exactly.

Peri: I guess in one way, this story seems like a lesson about how messy it can get when we meddle in the ecosystems around us and how much work it takes to undo that. So it's easy to see where I got this idea that people are bad for nature. When we started interfering with the fisheries here and introducing new kinds of fish, things went totally awry. The story about fish looks at the past and how we got to where we are today, but what's next? Where might the future lead?

Andrew: There are about half a dozen species native to Glacier National Park, including bull trout that are currently listed under the Endangered Species Act or ESA. Lynx, grizzly bears and meltwater stoneflies are other examples,

Peri: And whitebark could possibly join that list.

Andrew: Now, every species listed under the ESA gets a recovery plan, and the goal of every recovery plan is the same: save the species from extinction. But how you actually go about doing that can vary wildly depending on the species. By looking to other restoration efforts, I hoped I could better understand what the future has in store for whitebark pine, and for conservation more broadly.

Ben: My name is Ben Novak.

Andrew: Ben is the lead scientist for a conservation nonprofit called Revive and Restore, and I called to ask him about ferrets.

Ben: She was 21 days old. She only even opened up her eyes. Yeah, that's really the only time where you can hold them without them tearing your flesh off because they're small, but they're ferocious little predators,

Andrew: Not just any ferrets. Black-footed ferrets.

Sound Effect: [ferret chattering]

Andrew: Up to two feet long with black feet and a cream-colored body, they look somewhat similar to domestic ferrets that people might have as pets. But the Black-footed Ferret is the only one actually native to North America,

Ben: which lived on the Great Plains from North Dakota, Kansas and those areas out west to the foothills of the Rockies, including the Blackfeet Nation, right next door in Glacier National Park.

Andrew: And they're specialized predators of prairie dogs, who make up 90 percent of their diet.

Ben: They preyed on prairie dogs, they were ubiquitous across the Great Plains.

Andrew: But in the middle of the century, things started to change for the black-footed ferret.

Ben: By the 1950s, due to agricultural land conversion, predator control and a government campaign to eradicate prairie dogs had dwindled to virtually nothing, and it was thought they were extinct.

Andrew: In 1964, there was a small glimmer of hope when a population was discovered in South Dakota, and they even made the first endangered species list in 1967. But none of these individuals that were discovered ultimately survived.

Peri: Why not?

Andrew: Well, just like with whitebark pine, Black-footed ferrets are faced with a non-native disease called sylvatic plague, on top of all this external pressure like habitat loss. Scientists even tried to take a few into captivity and raise them there, but it just didn't work.

Ben: And so the world thought again, that was it. No more black footed ferrets.

Andrew: But in 1981, a Wyoming game and fish biologist got a call that a ranch dog named Shep had found one.

Ben: And fish and game biologist got out to the area near Meeteetse, Wyoming. And over the course of several months found about 100 Black-footed ferrets, 100 of an animal that was supposedly extinct. And that really was the final stand for black footed ferrets that was the last population in the world.

Peri: All thanks to Shep.

Andrew: This time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was ready. They founded the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center and started a captive breeding program in 1987 that has been wildly successful.

Ben: They have bred, since '87, over 10,500 Black-footed ferrets, over the course of thirty generations, and they have reintroduced nearly 5000 into the wild.

Andrew: Today, if you visit Badlands or Wind Cave National Parks in South Dakota, and if you happen to be nocturnal while you're there, you can see these ferrets for yourself. These reintroductions have established new black-footed ferret colonies across the Great Plains in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and across many tribal nations as well. The captive breeding program got its start with just 18 ferrets, of which only 16 successfully reproduced. And when you trace back the heritage of those 16 ferrets, looking at their family trees, they're all descendants of just seven individuals.

Peri: Wait, wait. But Ben said that today in total, they've bred over 10,000 Black-footed ferrets, and they all traced back to just those seven ancestors?

Andrew: Just seven. Which means that even if the species can overcome the threats of the sylvatic plague and habitat loss, they've got a very limited gene pool.

Ben: If we can overcome plague, this species has absolutely every reason to recover in the wild, but it has that tiny gene pool and that could become something very difficult long term as this species starts adapting to changes in its environment.

Andrew: Normally, this is where you bring in members of an outside population to try to introduce new genetic diversity. But these ferrets are the last of their kind anywhere on the planet, which is where Ben and his colleagues that Revive and Restore came in.

Ben: Well with Black-footed ferrets, they're all descended from just seven individuals, there's no other naturally occurring population, there's nowhere to go but back to the past to try and get some, some new blood into this population.

Andrew: The answer to increasing genetic diversity wasn't to introduce a new ferret. It was to reintroduce an old one. In the 1980s when they found the world's last ferrets in Wyoming, they did everything they could think of to protect and preserve the species. That meant starting the captive breeding program to keep the species alive. But it also meant taking tissue samples, just some skin cells, and sending them off to a lab was a sort of genetic record of the time. One of those tissue samples came from a ferret named Willa. Willa died over 30 years ago. She has no living descendants today and is 20 generations removed from our modern ferrets. So think about if you went back and met your 20th great-grandparent, which for humans means going back about 500 years. You probably wouldn't have that much in common with that person. And genetically, the two of you would share less than one percent of your DNA, which means that Willa's genes could introduce new and valuable diversity into the existing population, making the entire species more resilient in the face of disease and climate change.

Peri: OK, but how? She's been dead for 30 years.

Andrew: In the form of a ferret named Elizabeth Ann

Ben: Elizabeth Ann has 10 times as many unique, diverse alleles as any other living Black-footed Ferret. So she is, she's incredibly valuable .

Andrew: Using DNA from her now 30 year old skin cell sample, Ben and other scientists working with fish and wildlife, created a clone of Willa, born to a surrogate mother who they named Elizabeth Ann. And Ben even got to hold her.

Ben: You know, as a scientist, it's just a geek out moment to think this is a living, breathing animal that was not created by sperm and egg cells. She was created by from skin from 33 years ago. Like, I was a year old when Willa's cells were frozen at the frozen zoo. And now I'm holding this baby made from them.

Andrew: Elizabeth Ann is the first ever clone of a United States endangered mammal.

Peri: Wow. I guess I had never even thought that was a possibility.

Andrew: Yeah, it's a new frontier in the field of conservation genetics and Elizabeth and is a breakthrough. But she's also an animal. She's an adorable, ferocious little scientific achievement. The agency tasked with upholding the Endangered Species Act is the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Elizabeth and was their idea. They reached out to Ben and his team at Revive and Restore, along with other partner organizations, and started a process that ultimately took seven years. They went through all the steps required for any environmental project, getting a permit, going through a public review period, and ultimately it worked.

Ben: And the Black-footed Ferret was the first real quick where people were like, Oh, this isn't just cloning to clone and see if it can, you can do it. You know, this animal was cloned for a very specific purpose, and it's going to help this species. And it was it just really connected dots for people and people.

Andrew: And Ben believes that this breakthrough, this use of biotechnology could help not only the conservation of endangered species, but maybe even the revival of extinct ones. Which raises the question Where does our duty as conservationists end. What tools can, or should we use to help preserve threatened species?

Peri: The ferret story illustrates what makes this whitebark problem so difficult. Twenty generations of black footed ferrets is 30 years. 20 generations for humans is five hundred and twenty generations of whitebark pine is 1200 years. We're trying to save a species that operates on an entirely different timescale than us.

Andrew: Right, this is still a very new field. We talked in the last episode about how a simple genetic test might help us identify blister rust resistant trees,.

Peri: Right? And that seems straightforward enough.

Andrew: But conservation genetics is a fast growing field, and the possibilities are both promising and provocative. Biotechnology could revolutionize our efforts to restore whitebark pine, or it could create new problems.

Peri: Well, so what do we do? How do we proceed given all this uncertainty?

Andrew: Experts say we should proceed cautiously.

Peri: Yeah, I mean, we still don't know everything, and it will take generations to understand our impacts.

Andrew: We wouldn't have to save bull trout, black-footed ferrets or even whitebark pine if our interference hadn't put them in jeopardy in the first place.

Peri: So when we choose to intervene, that means balancing these uncertainties, knowing we can't completely understand how far reaching our actions might be, but also recognizing that if we don't do anything, these species will probably disappear. As an indecisive person to begin with. These choices can feel paralyzing. Either path seems fraught, and it's easy to default to what seems like the safest option. Just letting nature take its course.

Rosalyn: So as a young child, we would have to climb down a cliff to, like, look for a particular plant. The adults would be like, just go down there and get that, you know, we would be expected to like, Oh, OK.

Peri: People have been here for thousands of years, before this was a national park, which is why I called Roslyn.

Rosalyn: My name is Rosalyn Lapier, and I'm an associate professor at the University of Montana in environmental studies. I'm also a traditionally trained ethnobotanist. I'm Blackfeet on my mother's side and metis on my father's side.

Peri: Talking with her offered a glimpse of what it would be like to have a connection with a place that stretches back for a thousand generations.

Rosalyn: When we think about traditional ecological knowledge, this is women's knowledge

Peri: Like Rosalind is today. Her grandmother was also a teacher and a keeper of ethnobotanical knowledge.

Rosalyn: My grandmother's name is Annie Mad Plume, because she was raised by these two other grandmothers. She was very knowledgeable about plants and the traditional ecological knowledge of the Blackfeet.

Peri: Roslyn was taught practical and cultural uses of native plants.

Rosalyn: So one particular plant, sometimes called Saskatoon berries, sometimes called June berries, sometimes called serviceberry. That particular plant has lots of uses. It is used as a tool. Historically, people used it for making bows and arrows out of, making different types of household products, you can use the bark as a medicine, you can use the berries for food, and it's used in religion and religious practice.

Peri: But on top of learning ways to use these plants, she also learned how to use this ecological knowledge to shape the world around her.

Rosalyn: The Blackfeet didn't rely on it just in the natural world, so one of the things they did do with this particular plant is they cultivated it right. They moved it. They would transplant it if they knew that they were traveling to a certain place every single year, they would either cultivate the area so that it grew in abundance or they would transplant it, move it there.

Peri: The idea that indigenous people lived in harmony with nature, just foraging as they went treading lightly, changing nothing, is a persistent myth.

Rosalyn: You know, the Blackfeet didn't think they needed to "adapt to the world". They changed the world, all the time. They changed nature.

Peri: So you could say the field of study that we know today as conservation actually began millennia ago with the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous communities like the Blackfeet.

Rosalyn: So the common definition of traditional ecological knowledge is that includes three things: knowledge, practice and belief. So knowledge is just understanding, you know, the natural world. And that knowledge usually comes from observation. Practice, then, is how you use that knowledge. Right? How you hunt in a certain way. But then also, practice includes things like cultivation right, and management, land management. And then the third part of traditional ecological knowledge is belief. Is the cosmology of that particular indigenous group, and how they understand the natural world is connected to the supernatural realm. Scholars are increasingly beginning to understand that there's not really any place within historic Blackfeet territory that was not utilized somehow. That was not managed and or that was not cultivated. And so when Americans use the word wilderness to describe certain areas as, you know, kind of untrammeled by man is definitely not true. It's a cultivated space, and it's been cultivated for thousands of years.

Peri: People have been managing this land for millennia, having an impact and shaping the world around them. So just leaving things alone isn't necessarily a more natural course of action. You might even call it a major departure. We've always had a relationship with the natural world, and we always will. So the question is what kind of relationship will that be?

Melissa: We are at whitefish mountain resort, going up the gondola.

Peri: I started this journey outside the park, visiting Illawye the Great Great Grandparent Tree, and I'm ending it outside the park too. Trees don't really recognize park borders, and this restoration effort is a hugely collaborative project.

Melissa: Going up to 6800 feet. Whitebark pine in this area typically starts around...

Peri: And I'm joined by Melissa Jenkins.

Melissa: My name is Melissa Jenkins, I am...

Peri: Who's a bit of a legend in the world of Whitebark Pine? Some even call her the Lorax of Whitebark. Melissa supposedly retired from the Forest Service last year, but apparently she's finding it tough to leave whitebark behind.

Peri: And what are you doing now?

Melissa: Working too much.

All: [laughs].

Peri: We're at the resort today for a very fitting capstone to our season a collaborative interagency restoration project. The Forest Service is planting trees here in partnership with the resort, which put in years of work to be certified as the first whitebark pine friendly ski area in the country.

Karl: ...In the truck, we're going to be showing all that to the top over here. That little knob over there where the towers are at, when we get to the site, that's what you'll need your hard hats and such.

Peri: It didn't fit on the gondola, but they're bringing a grill up to the top to make food for everyone, and it feels like a celebration. And Melissa is the perfect person to be here with, since she knows everyone and seems to know everything. She's leading the effort to put together our local piece of the whitebark pine restoration plan, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

Melissa: There are so many amazing, amazing whitebark that are huge, and you can tell, you know, they're like stalwart soldiers standing against the elements. And and they're big and they're gnarly, and those are really big old trees are my favorite. But then the young trees are hope for the future too, so.

Peri: It took people like Melissa to convince me that whitebark pine could be a hopeful story, and I asked her if she'd always felt this way.

Melissa: There was a point where I would have said there's a good possibility that whitebark won't be able to survive far into the future.

Peri: But she said that started to change when the trees and their nursery successfully produced baby pine cones.

Melissa: That was almost a 20-year process, just to get to that point. And that little conelet, to me, represented all that work that had come before, and all of the people and the dedication and the effort that they had put in to getting to that point. And I cried a little.

Peri: The plan for today is to plant 400 little seedlings, which have come from the nursery in Idaho. Everyone grabs a couple dozen seedlings and a tool and spreads out to get to work.

Melissa: I'm thinking we'll go ahead and try and plant it here.

Peri: And after watching Melissa plant a few trees, Michael and Andrew announced that I was going to plant the next one.

Andrew: So Peri, what do you what do you see about this site? Why are you picking it?

Peri: So there's plenty of sun here.

Peri: The first step is to scrape the vegetation clear from a small site.

Peri: I've never done this before. [scraping] It's not as easy as Melissa made it look. Any suggestions on my technique?

Melissa: You could swing a little a little more aggressively looking looking good.

Peri: Good. Not great.

Melissa: It's it's looking fantastic.

Peri: It's very generous of you.

Melissa: OK, now I'm going to step to one side.

Peri: Now that I had my site prepared, I was ready to plant my seedling.

Melissa: You want to plant it right back up to the same level of the soil on the plug.

Peri: So what do we think?

Melissa: I think it's beautiful. I think you did a great job.

Peri: Thank you. My very first whitebark seedling. Can you take a picture me of me with it?

Peri: Being involved with a project like this that's generations long, it definitely makes me think on a bigger time scale. Several hundred years from now, when everything I know is long gone, that tree that I planted could still be here with nutcrackers cawing in its branches. Aldo Leopold, the famous conservationist, once wrote "Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither God nor poet. One need only own a shovel."

Michael: Does it feel like you're leaving this behind? It doesn't really seem like you have actually retired yet, but retiring from being one of like, the leading people in the field?

Melissa: Well, that's part of the reason that I'm leading this effort to do the restoration plan for the crown of the continent ecosystem, because it's going to set up the people that are coming in after me for success. And I can feel confident that when I leave, they have a clear path forward with what needs to be done to restore the species, and they won't need me. That's the best thing you can give to the people who come after you in your work is the fact that they don't need you anymore. There's a, Nelson Henderson has a, I have a quote from him on my desk that says the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not plan to sit.

Peri: This kind of this whole project of like, we won't really see this. Like, how does that feel to know that? None. I mean, none of us will see the fruits of these labors, really.

Melissa: I can picture it, though. I can picture what they're going to look like.

Peri: If Melissa says she can picture it. So can I.

Melissa: Yeah. These trees are these trees are going to be just fine. We hope so. Yeah.

Peri: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from our partner, the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Glacier is the traditional lands of several Native American tribes, including the Aamsskáápipikani, Kootenai, Séliš, and Ql̓ispé people. Headwaters was created by Daniel Lombardi. Andrew Smith, Peri Sasnett and Michael Faist produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music, and Claire Emery let us use her woodcut piece titled Wind Poem for this season's cover art. Special thanks this episode to Bill Hayden, Roslyn Lapier, Ben Novak, Melissa Jenkins, Karl Anderson, Dawn LaFleur, everyone with Glacier's native plant program, the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, and so many others. If you enjoyed the show, share it with the person you'd most like to bring with you on your visit to Glacier.

Lacy: This is like for the end,.

Daniel: This is in it, yeah. You saying that, that's going to be in it.

Michael: [Laughs]

Lacy: The Glacier Conservancy is the official fundraising partner of Glacier National Park. To learn more, visit glacier.org.

Peri: I think that's the best one you've done yet.

Lacy: OK. Do I need to get one more time?

Michael: I think we're good.

Peri: Yeah, I think that's good.

Trees, fish, and ferrets—what is our relationship with nature?

The Glacier Conservancy: https://glacier.org/ Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation: https://whitebarkfound.org/ Revive and Restore: https://reviverestore.org/ Pictures of whitebark pine: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWJ2S4F Ben Cosgrove Music: https://www.bencosgrove.com/

See more show notes on our website: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/photosmultimedia/headwaters-podcast.htm

Season 1

Season 1 Trailer

Confluence | Trailer


TRAILER TRANSCRIPT ANDREW: When you picture Glacier National Park, what comes to mind?

SARAH: Standing in a forest and there's birds chirping.

NATE: Big craggy peaks is what I see.

MICHAEL: Now known as Glacier National Park, this corner of Montana is renowned for its rich cultural history, charismatic wild animals, and scenic beauty, a place of peace and serenity on the surface anyway. The reality... Well, that's a bit more complicated.

ANDREW: I'm Andrew Smith.

MICHAEL: And I'm Michael Faist, and we're both rangers here in Glacier National Park.

ANDREW: We're going to tell you the story of a paradoxical place, a landscape at odds with itself, where all sorts of forces, large and small converge in interesting and unexpected ways.

LISA: Well, our glaciers are going. They're on a track to disappear now.

BILL: It's just one dangerous, damn hard thing that we were involved in.

BOB: Crazy. We could have died using this, but we had a shaved off wooden baseball bat and we'd shout at the bear and run up and whack it in the butt.

MICHAEL: Brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, this is Headwaters--a seven part podcast exploring the characters and contradictions that shape the park.

ANDREW: Join us as we travel to Glacier's busiest and most remote destinations to see what happens at the confluence of an international border,

MICHAEL: rivers of ice,

ANDREW: grizzly bears,

MICHAEL: more than 10,000 years of human history,

ANDREW: wildfire,

MICHAEL: and pit toilets.

ANDREW: Really pit toilets?

MICHAEL: Even pit toilets.

ANDREW: The result is something creative, destructive, maybe even magical. It's Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park has always been a confluence of conflicting and competing forces that come together in unexpected ways.

Episode 1

Confluence | Two Medicine


EPISODE TRANSCRIPT COOKIES INTRODUCTION Michael: This is Michael. I am currently in my kitchen in West Glacier, because while I am not the most accomplished baker, I learned an interesting cookie recipe that I wanted to make for Andrew before recording tomorrow. Michael: [kitchen] I don't know how much I need to add, but let's start with that. Michael: Again, not the best baker, so I hope they turn out all right. But we'll see. Michael: [kitchen] Into the oven they go. Well, I think that's as good as I could have hoped for. I hope he likes them! Michael: Hey Andrew, before we started out today, I have a surprise. Andrew: Oh? Yeah, what is it? Michael: Well, I made some cookies last night and I was wondering if you'd want to try some. Andrew: Oh, for sure! Yeah. Give me one of those. Michael: Here you go. Andrew: Oh, is that huckleberry? Michael: I had some frozen huckleberries leftover that I put on the top. What do you think? Andrew: [stammering with mouthful]. They're pretty good! Not as sweet as I was expecting, but a really nice, fresh flavor to them. What's the occasion? Michael: While these cookies are simple to make and tasty, what interests me the most is that they're made using only ingredients indigenous to North and central America. Andrew: Oh really? That's, that's pretty cool. Michael: Huckleberries, for instance, are native here. And as you know, have been eaten and used by people for thousands of years. Andrew: Yeah. Lots of people to glacier national park like America as a whole is a place where a ton of different cultures have converged. Michael: In each episode, you'll hear us acknowledge some of those cultures, the ǔmssk̇ǎaṗiiṗiik̇ǔni, Kootenai, Selis, and Qlispe people. Andrew: Because while Glacier National Park has only been around since 1910, this area has long been and continues to be the traditional territory of these other tribes. Michael: On the East side of the park, the Blackfeet reservation is home to the ǔmssk̇ǎaṗiiṗiik̇ǔni South Piegan. Also known as the Blackfeet Andrew: On the West side of the park, the Flathead reservation is managed by a Confederation of tribes, the Kootenai, Selis, and Qlispe or Pend d’Oreille people. Michael: And these tribes aren't monolithic—like any other culture, they are diverse. And reservation boundaries fail to define the extent of their people today, or their place in a vibrant indigenous community that stretches far beyond Montana. Andrew: To date, throughout the United States, there are 637 federally and state recognized tribes. Odds are, wherever you are right now is the traditional territory of one or probably several indigenous groups. Yellowstone National Park, for example, has 26 associated tribes. Michael: And whether here or at home, learning about the people who came before you—whose connection to a place reaches beyond scholarly definitions of history itself—that could strengthen your understanding and appreciation of wherever you are. Andrew: That's especially true here at Glacier. A place still visited and used by native communities today. Michael: But my question is what is the best way to start learning about another culture? Andrew: Uhh. Let me think... Michael: I'll give you a hint. It's not reading. Andrew: Okay. Um... Michael: [whispering] What did I bring in today? Andrew: Cookies? Michael: Yeah, well food. Andrew: Okay. I like where you're heading. Michael: So take as many of these cookies as you like. Andrew: Don't mind if I do, Michael: Because on my journey to learn this simple recipe, I learned a lot, lot more. Michael: Welcome to Headwaters - a Glacier National Park Podcast. Brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and produced on the traditional lands of many native American tribes, including the Blackfeet, Kootenai, Selis and Qlispe people. Andrew: We’re calling this season: The Confluence, as we look at the ways that nature, culture, the present and the past all come together here. Michael: I’m Michael. Andrew: I’m Andrew. Michael: And we’re both rangers here. We had the chance to cover loads of different topics in this season of the show. Andrew: And throughout it all, we’ve tried to seek out tribal perspectives on concepts like wildland fire, the night sky, climate change— Michael: But in this episode, we met with tribal members directly to learn more about their cultures. How they shaped the place as we know it now, and how it shaped them. NATIVE FOODS AND CULTURE Michael: To kick off this episode, I drove to Two Medicine, the Southeast region of the park, Michael: [in the car] Welcome to the Blackfeet nation, Michael: Which means driving through the Blackfeet reservation who shares our Eastern boundary. There are some opportunities for recreation on the reservation, including a section of the continental divide trail, but you'll need to grab a recreation permit from the tribe first. If you're going to the park though, you'll pass through the gateway community of East glacier. Michael: [in the car] Here we are in East glacier, head straight to make it to Browning or turn left, to get to Glacier National Park. Michael: That left-hand turn takes you under the train tracks at the East Glacier train station. One of the first places early tourists, disembarked from. Michael: [in the car] My favorite part—driving under the train tracks. Michael: And a short drive later, you'll find yourself in Two Medicine. Michael: [in the car] Man. The view never gets old. Michael: When I got there, just past the entrance station, I stopped at the first real destination on the drive in: The Running Eagle Falls trailhead. Michael: [outside] ...alright, as you hike around this trail, you see the option to go to Running Eagle falls itself or along a nature trail. Michael: But before we go any farther, have you hiked the Running Eagle Falls nature trail? Andrew: I've definitely been out to the waterfall. I don't know if I've walked the whole loop there. Why? Michael: Well it's a short hike, just under a mile, and it's one of the few wheelchair accessible trails in the park. Now the waterfall view is stunning, but on the rest of the trail, you'll find illustrated signs that teach you how to identify native plants. Michael: [outside] Black Cottonwood can be recognized by the deep, rough, furrowed, gray bark on mature trees... Michael: And they also teach you their traditional names and uses. Michael: [outside] the wood is said to be ideal for TP fires, because it does not crackle and produces clean smoke. Huh? I. Michael: I have one of them here. I just sent to you for Thimbleberry, if you want to look at it. Andrew: Sure. Okay. Oh, wow. This is a nice watercolor illustration here at Thimbleberries one of the best berries in the park. I agree. I'm like a raspberry. Um, okay. This must be the blackfeet name then, otohtoksinii. Michael: Yeah. So there are seven different signs on that trail, all teaching you something about different native plants and foods. And, I said at the beginning, that food is the best way to start learning about other cultures. And I stand by that. I mean, we all need to eat. So you immediately have something in common with folks you may have never met before. You're pretty well-traveled. Do you agree with that take? Andrew: Definitely. Yeah. You learn so much from, you know, having some yakitori in the stall of a Tokyo market, or sharing some fresh mango on the banks of the Mekong, it's—in many cases, it can be hard to know where to begin otherwise. Michael: Yes, precisely, which is doubly true of the tribes in and around Glacier, who have been here for a long time. Darnell: [Speaking in Blackfeet] What I just said is: "hello, my name is lone camper and I am from the South Piegan.. You know, it as Blackfeet, but we call ourselves the ǔmssk̇ǎaṗiiṗiik̇ǔni. Michael: I met with a Blackfeet tribal member whose English name is Darnell Rides At The Door, who told me about the history of the Blackfeet in this area. Darnell: Well, we've been here since time immemorial. We have always been here is what we say as the niitsitapiiysinni, the real people, and creator gave us this, this area to take care of. And, um, we are very unique because we are as the Blackfeet, the Blackfoot Confederacy, we're the only inhabitants that are in the original territory that creator gave us. Michael: Now Two Medicine where I went was an area primarily used by the Blackfeet, much like the rest of the East side of the park. But there are a lot of tribes associated with the land that is today Glacier. Andrew: Yeah. The Kootenai, for example, predominantly used to the area on the West side of the park. I've had the chance to learn some of their stories about Lake McDonald. Michael: That's right. And a lot of these stories were shared with the public and the park by tribal members like Vernon Finley. Okay. Vernon: Uh, my name is Vernon Finley. I am a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes that are on the Flathead reservation, just, uh, South of, uh, Flathead Lake, which is South of Glacier pPrk. There are two culture committees on the reservation and I'm the department head for the Kootenai culture committee. Michael: I had the chance to sit down and talk with Vernon about the Kootenai. And as with the Blackfeet, they've been here for a long time—longer than you could really wrap your head around, which Vernon described using the Kootenai language as an example. Vernon: However, the Kootenai language is a language isolate. Which means, according to linguists, they haven't been able to link it with any of the families of languages that are around. It's a family of its own. For as long as languages have been spoken, the Kootenais have only been here. The Selis, you can link them with other tribes out to the coast and up the coast. You can link for Dene further South. You can link all the other languages everywhere else. The Kootenai has only always been right here. Michael: And you needn't look far to see imprints of this ancient history. Features throughout the park bear the names that tribes gave them thousands of years ago, Darnell: Place names can give you, um, markers, land markers, but it also tells you what our people did at a certain time. Michael: But not all of them. Darnell: In the geographical documentation. They changed the names of LA a lot, especially the mountains got English names, but we already had had a name for them. Michael: And as Darnell mentioned, many names in the Blackfeet and Kootenai languages were more than mere titles, but often served as instructions of sorts. Darnell: You knew which one was the pass to go onto the other side of the mountain. You knew which one that was and how it was named in your language. If you didn't know where you were, you didn't know where you were going. Michael: Knowing where you were going. There's a tremendous importance to the tribes in this area because, they might've used the land in Glacier, but they would travel far beyond its boundaries. Darnell: We were good at it. Very good at it. Because you had to know, we had a runners that would go out in this territory, which ranged all the way from way up on the North Saskatchewan River to the Yellowstone. That's a lot of territory. Vernon: The Kootenais were aware, well aware of the existence of the world. There's coyote stories that describe going across the ocean, and the lands on the other side. An awareness of the entire world was there. Michael: The Kootenai, Blackfeet, Selis and Qlispe, or Pend d'Oreille people all traveled far and wide throughout the course of the year. Andrew: Their routes through glacier in many cases became the routes that roads and trails follow in the park today. Michael: But wherever they went, these tribes had access to similar foods, foods like some of the plants on the signs at the Running Eagle Falls Nature Trail. But I didn't drive to Two Medicine just to read signs. I mean, as we're doing now, I could have just looked them up on the computer. I went to Two Medicine to meet with Mariah Gladstone. Mariah: Name is Mariah Gladstone, and I am a descendant of the Blackfeet nation. I am the founder and operator of Indigikitchen, which is an online teaching tool dedicated to re-sharing information about indigenous diets. Michael: Indigikitchen is essentially like an indigenous food network, teaching people how to cook using native foods. Andrew: Oh, that's such a cool idea! Michael: It is! I also sat down in the studio with Rose Bear Don't Walk. Rose: I am Bitterroot Selis and Crow from the Flathead Indian reservation. And I currently am a Selis ethnobotanist. Andrew: And let's pretend for a minute that I've never heard the term ethnobotanist before. What does that mean? Michael: Well, somebody who studies ethnobotany: Rose: Uh, ethnobotany is the study of different cultures, groups of people, societies, even, and their interactions and relationships with plants, whether it's for tools, for food or religious purposes. Michael: And I wanted to talk to them both, not just because they're knowledgeable (and they are brilliant), but because they have a background in teaching others about native foods. Mariah: Of course middle-schoolers are always interested in any skills that will help them survive zombie apocalypses— Rose: Talking to people about science, and talking about plants, and— Michael: So they can do it all. Outdoors or online, with adults and students alike. I figured they'd be able to help me learn a little bit about native foods. But first, I wanted to know what drew them to working with and advocating for native foods in the first place. And both of them cited the diet related health problems facing native communities: diabetes, heart disease, obesity— Mariah: And a lot of that stems from the decimation of the bison populations in order to control plains people. Michael: Meaning that in the 1860s, the U.S. Government sought to kill bison because native Americans like the Blackfeet relied on them, with one Colonel in the army quoted as saying: "Kill every Buffalo you can, every Buffalo dead is an Indian gone." Mariah: And from that, of course, we see this reliance on government rations like flour and sugar and lard and beef, and things that were not indigenous to our diets. Andrew: So she's saying that after the new eradication of bison Plains tribes, like the black feet couldn't eat or live the way they used to and had to eat government rations, there weren't nearly as healthy? Michael: Precisely. And this switch from traditional diets to rations was a foundational traumatic change with lasting ramifications. Mariah: For the Blackfeet that's especially relevant because our reliance on government food systems led us to make really hard decisions. Michael: Here's Joe McKay and Carol Murray from the video on display at the St. Mary Visitor Center: Joe: In September of 1895, late September, the government sent new treaty commissioners to meet with the people and they called them all together. They said "we come to buy some of that land up there, those rocks, those mountains." And one of the leaders stood up and he said, "well, we don't want to show you any more land." And after four days, looked like no agreement was going to be reached. And finally something happened, that last night, and some kind of an agreement was made. And we ceded the land that you call glacier park to the federal government for $1.5 million. Carol: I think one of the real big impacts of why they sold the land, if they so sold, it is we had a starvation winter in 1883, 84. I believe they thought that the money would provide resources for them to survive. Our people were literally starving to death. Mariah: As a Blackfeet person now, that sees the land that I'm standing on in Glacier Park, and how our ancestors lost that land from our reservation space so that I could exist today. That is something I consider to come with a huge amount of responsibility to take care of these lands. Andrew: Wow. Michael: Yeah. Andrew: And I know stories like that are far from rare across indigenous communities. Michael: Which means that Mariah and Rose's efforts to share knowledge of indigenous foods are resonating far and wide. Andrew: Well, okay. You've set the stage or table so to speak, but what would a traditional indigenous look like? Michael: Well, that obviously varied a lot place to place and seasonally, but I asked Mariah and Rose about that. Rose: A lot of it was shaped by the coming and goings of different game animals. Like when the Buffalo are ready to be hunted the winter kind of like the winter hunt and the summer hunt Mariah: Pemmican mixes. So dry meat mixed with different berries. Of course, in the summertime, we have lots and lots of plant foods that we have access to. Root vegetables like Prairie Turnips to Biscuit Roots, all of which are root vegetables. Fresh greens, things like False-Solomon seal, nettles, which I'm looking at right now. Michael: A lot of these foods could just be harvested and eaten, but some required preparation like Indian ice cream. Andrew: What's Indian ice cream? Rose: Is, uh, made from foam berries. They picked it, they put it in a bowl and they whipped it up with some water and it made just this beautiful foamy little concoction. Michael: Whoa! Michael: And you're familiar with our local plants, you know Camas? Andrew: Oh yeah. It's a beautiful blue flower. Michael: Well, while it has a pretty flower, it was actually their bulbs that were an important food source. Andrew: The bulb being the organ the flower stores food in under the soil. Michael: Yeah. With onions, probably being the most famous example of a ball, Mariah: For really traditional food, we can see things like camas bakes, and the camas bulbs that were harvested and baked in a pit. Michael: And the process of preparing the bulbs, a camas bake, might just be the most complicated recipe I've ever heard of. Rose: One of my workshop ideas was to do a camas bake. And so a couple other young women and I got together and we, we did the thing. Michael: How long did it take? Rose: Traditionally, the camas bake is three to four days in an earth oven. Michael: How do you, how do you make an earth oven? Rose: Okay. So you dig a pit, you need enough space in the hole to lay a layer of rocks. And then you put all their branches and ferns and skunk cabbage in there— Mariah: The proteins in there, which are generally not very digestible if you eat them raw, it takes a really long time to break those things down. Right. Rose: You kind of cover that with dirt. You get those rocks at the bottom, super hot in a fire and you kind of dump them in there and you have a stick in the middle and you build around that stick, pull the stick out and you pour water in there. So when the water hits the rocks, Michael: Oh it steams. Rose: —it starts to steam! Yeah. So it's a steam cook earth oven. Michael: Whoa. Rose: Yeah. Michael: That's complicated. Rose: It is! Mariah: All those sugars and starches in the camas roots would caramelize, and you would get sweet almost potato-like starches. The trial and error process that must have happened in order to recognize how long you have to bake camus bulbs for those to caramelize into something that's really, really good. Michael: Yeah. Trying to just analyze the little examples of trial and error in my own experience, trying to be a home chef. It blows my mind how many iterations that had to have gone through before arriving at that procedure. Rose: Mm-hmm! Michael: Wow. That's really neat. Rose: And the procedure has, you know, existed for probably thousands of years now. Michael: Yeah. Rose: Which is incredible! Michael: Wow. And this intricate process is the sole responsibility of women. I later learned that Kootenai men aren't even allowed near the roasting pit, unless it was to bring firewood. Rose: Women's roles are just so incredibly important to our societies, but also their roles in our food systems were, were huge. They were the main, you know, foragers, processors, cookers, and keepers of all of this knowledge. Michael: The role of and significance of women came up time and time again in our interviews. Andrew: It's a topic really worthy of its own episode. Michael: And it's no wonder they were so respected because even a camas bake could be life and death. Mariah: Um, the problem with identifying camas for harvesting is that it was traditionally eaten after it bloomed. And we also have death camas. Death camas is incredibly toxic, And if you have one death camas bulb in a whole bunch of regular blue camas bulbs, you will get incredibly sick and possibly die. Andrew: Wow. that's really scary. Michael: Yeah. And it wasn't just Camus. Poisonous foods came up quite a bit. Rose: Uh, Rose hips are chock full of vitamin C, Michael: But the seeds are poisonous, right? Rose: The seeds—don't eat the seeds! Don't eat the seeds. Michael: So on top of the knowledge required to prepare food. You also needed to know what things to avoid. And some of that knowledge was passed down through stories. Rose: The Selis have a story about that too, you know, about the seeds. Coyote stories are based on this kind of trickster paradigm that's very prevalent in a lot of indigenous cultures. There's usually a being in our history that, you know, do, as I say, not as I do type guy. Kind of does all the wrong things so we learn from him. And so we do have a story about him eating the berries. But the word for Rose hips in Selis, it does tie to something along the lines of coyotes' berry. And they call it coyotes' berry because, you know, if, if you eat the seeds, you get an itchy digestive system or like, you know, an itchy, butt. Michael: [Laughing] Rose: Because it's not good for your system! So that's how, that's, that's how we learned. Um, and that's why we call it that. Michael: This is a good to slip. In some advice if you're looking to forage for food. A simple rule, no story required, is that if you don't know what something is, don't eat it. Andrew: And even if you think you know what it is, but you're not a hundred percent sure just don't eat it. Michael: And if you're hoping to forage in the park while you're not allowed to pick for commercial purposes, you are allowed to pick a few berries for a snack. And that's a good place to start. Mariah: Looking at the amount of thimbleberries that are ripe in the immediate vicinity— Michael: Now, when I arranged to meet with Mariah, I knew we wouldn't have the time or tools at our disposal to make anything complicated. But I wondered if there was a simple recipe we could make. And after talking for a bit, she asked me to start picking thimbleberries. So I set out to grab as many as I could. Michael: [picking thimbleberries] Oh, that one was good. Michael: Knowing now what we were going to use them for, we spent way longer than we needed to collecting them. But it's fun! Andrew: I know I've found myself carried away, picking berries time, just kind of slips away. Michael: And as I was running around in Thimbleberries bushes, I was thinking about what I know about plants. As a ranger, my focus was often on the scientific side, learning how they work, how to tell them apart... Talking to Mariah and Rose. I was learning about camas bakes, about Indian ice cream—practices that date back thousands of years. And these cultural components of plants are invisible, and often, far more difficult to learn about than Latin names. Rose: A lot of people, when they're bringing up memories of how they started to interact with plants, how they know these plants—it was with their grandma. They, you know, went out into the woods and they learned how to properly make Indian ice cream. Michael: And the connection between people and plants extends beyond fond childhood memories and into language itself. Rose: So the, the word for foamberry in selis is Sx̣ʷo̓sm. And the x̣ʷos in that, in the middle, means foam. Means to like foam up. So in even just naming that particular plant, it's based on how it was used and how it was known. Andrew: Yeah. Wow. So yeah, just like the place names you mentioned earlier, plant names on their own could even instruct you as to how to use them as food. Michael: Exactly. It would be like naming potatoes, boiling-oil-root or something. Andrew: Well, that actually might be helpful to some people. Michael: Now, Rose and Mariah have a wealth of lived and learned experience and knowledge about native plants and have been using new and exciting ways to share that knowledge with others. Mariah: ...different things. Obviously I do cooking videos online so that everyone has access to a lot of the work that I'm doing. But I also go in and I do demonstrations and classes, both for, uh, native and non-native communities. Andrew: Is it easy to teach these recipes? How have people reacted to the ingredients she uses? Michael: Well, she said students often surprise her. Mariah: It's pleasantly surprising. Many students know things that are edible, but don't necessarily know how to prepare it, Michael: Which I feel like that's the camp I'm in. I take the time to learn if a plant will kill you or not, but don't know much anything beyond that. What Mariah does that is pretty clever is incorporate these ingredients into dishes that you've likely had before. Like with nettles. Mariah: I know that we did a catering gig one time where we used that almost like spinach and an omelet there's ways that you can incorporate traditional foods, obviously into foods you may be more familiar with. Michael: And after picking, collecting, and Greeley eating them for a bit, that turned out to be what we were doing with our thimbleberries. Andrew: Oh yeah. So this is where the cookies come in. Michael: Yep. Mariah: I'm thinking that we can make some thimbleberry thumbprint cookies. Michael: Everyone likes a good cookie, and we were going to make some with only indigenous ingredients. Now to be clear, we used ingredients indigenous to North and central America, so not all of this grows in Montana, but can be found at your local grocery store. But what is the first thing you gotta do if you're making cookies? Andrew: I guess make cookie dough? Michael: Exactly. Mariah: The first thing I'm going to do is, I actually have some chia seeds. And I'm going to let the chia seeds soak in water for a second, just a little bit of water, about double the amount of chia seeds that I have— Michael: The first step to make our dough was to soak chia seeds in water, which causes them to get kind of gel-ly. Mariah: Yeah. And that'll help everything stick together. It works just like an egg. Michael: Next comes the flour. Mariah: And while I do that, I'm actually going to take some of these raw sunflower seeds—so the shells are off of these sunflower seeds—I'm going to take these and I'm going to pound the crap out of them. Speaker 1: Once you grind the sunflower seeds into a flour, you add them to the gelled chia seeds, Mariah: So we're going to add our sunflower seeds to our chia mix and stir them together. Michael: And then you are almost done with your dough. Mariah: And then to sweeten everything up for these cookies, because this is a dessert recipe—or a healthy snack? I don't know. Um, we're going to add a little bit of maple syrup into this mix. And obviously the amount of maple syrup you add is dependent on your preferences. It looked like there was going to be an awesome sound for that maple syrup being poured. Michael: Mold it into a desk and press a thumbprint in the middle, and all that's left is to add your toppings. Mariah: We went and picked thimbleberries and we're going to use them as the filling and our little thumbprint cookies. Speaker 1: And lo and behold, they were delicious. Background: So good, I could eat those all day. Andrew: And pretty simple! Michael: Yeah. Mariah: Considering I just did it sitting on the middle of a trail. Yes. This is pretty simple. Michael: Super simple. Mariah: Sunflower seeds and maple syrup are pretty easy ingredients to find. And it's cool to recognize their indigenous roots, even if they aren't necessarily from this area. And then it's fun because we used both huckleberries and thimbleberries, and you can use whatever type of edible berries you could find, even if you're using berries that only grow in your home community and not necessarily in Glacier Park. Michael: So hopefully I did him justice today. Andrew: I thought they were pretty good. And I looked up Mariah's website. She's got a ton of recipes to choose from. Michael: Her website and YouTube channel are a great resource. You could also find Rose's whole ethnobotany paper online, we'll have links in the show notes to both—but while I've used my time so far to argue that food is the best gateway into another culture, luckily for us here at Glacier, that's just the beginning. Thanks to something called the Native America Speaks Program. Background: With no further ado and bologna, I shall turn you over... to Vernon! [clapping] Vernon: Okay. Is this on okay? Can you hear me okay? Andrew: Glacier is home to the longest-running indigenous speaker series in the National Park Service, which has been going for over 30 years! Michael: Native America Speaks programs happen at visitor centers and camgrounds all around the park, giving tribal members the opportunity to share their own stories. Andrew: In 2019, that meant over 100 different events by nearly 20 different speakers. Michael: Including everyone we’ve met so far in this episode! Andrew: I met with Tony Incashola Sr., director of the Selis Kalispell Culture Committee on the Flathead Reservation, who has been involved since the beginning of the program. NATIVE AMERICA SPEAKS - ELDERS Andrew: Here's Tony Incashola Sr. Tony Incashola: They were starting this new program and they were asking if I was interested, and I had seen that it was an opportunity to educate, to share and try to bring understanding. Kelly Lynch: It's such an amazing opportunity. It's just so authentic. And it's from their heart. Andrew: This is Kelly Lynch. New Speaker: I have been working with Native American Speaks for, I guess this will be the fourth year. I heard someone once say, you can't think about Glacier Park and not think about all the tribes, cause they're part of it. It's part of them. And they're telling stories about this landscape. It's just really powerful. I'm a pretty emotional person. And I probably cry at most of the programs because they're just really powerful. Andrew: Here's Darnell Rides at the Door. Darnell Rides at the Door: I was one of the first ones that presented in... 30 years ago. And it was at Two Medicine campground. Michael: Do you remember what that presentation covered? Darnell Rides at the Door: Yes. It covered speaking above the wind next to a rock where people couldn't hear me. Kelly Lynch: This is just a small little opportunity to learn about another culture that very few people know much about because it's not even written in history books. And it's, yeah, giving them the respect and honoring them for this knowledge that they hold. Darnell Rides at the Door: I wanted people to know who we are, the real people, the real us, and where we come from, and dissolve some of those myths about Indian people. And that we're not just what you see in the movies. And even to this day, there's still those misconceived notions as to that we're still here. We do exist. Andrew: Here's Vernon Finley. Vernon Finley: When I tell the part of history after contact, it gets difficult for some to hear because there was, there was a lot of unpleasant things. And so I've had a few people get up and walk away because of the difficulty of it. But early on, when I started doing the presentations, the elders advisory group for the culture committee requested me to come and present to us on what you're telling the white people out there. So I did, I went in and told them what it was all about. The eldest person there finally spoke and said, well, what you say is truthful, but truth is difficult to hear sometimes for some people. And so when you do this presentation, make sure, make sure, absolutely sure that they know how much we appreciate them coming here. And because Glacier Park and Ya'qawiswitxuki, and this whole area, it's kept this way for them not for us. And so I said, okay, I'll make sure they understand that. Darnell Rides at the Door: When we do presentations with the museums, some of the younger kids say, well, I thought Indians were only in the movies. Well, how did you get here? I thought Indians didn't drive cars. Do you live in a house? We thought you just lived in teepees. It's humorous in a way, but it's also very educational for us as well. And dissolving a lot of the myths, a lot of the prejudices that we don't need in this world because we're all people. We're all people, no matter our color, our religious beliefs, whatever. Andrew: Here's Tony Incashola Sr. again: Tony Incashola: To me, honesty and truth is the best foundation you can build. We can't change history. What happened in the past happened, but we use that history to make sure that it doesn't happen again, but also to make sure that that the truths come out on that. We don't want to change history because we can't, for any reason at all. It's always best to be honest and truthful because we're the ones responsible for our elder's stories and information. Darnell Rides at the Door: It's a joyous occasion. I mean, it's just to get close to the mountains is wonderful. And then to mingle with the people that's, that's one of my grandmother's terms mingling. But she'd say mangle. Just being able to see those people from all over the world and, and associate with them. Tony Incashola: And I think for anybody that comes to these, I think they will learn to understand a little bit more about themselves. That's when I try to let people know. That there is a difference and there's a reason why there's a difference. And each one of us in this country have a role to play and a role to carry and responsibility for the next generation. You know, time goes by so quickly, very quickly, and we don't have time to do anything, but prepare the next, for the next generation. And that's what I learned from my, my elders is that everything that we do today is not for ourselves. It's not for us. It's always for the next generations down the road, the next seven generations. Those are the generations that we live for. Those are the generations that we are doing things today for. So the next generation can learn and pass it on. Andrew: We'll hear from that generation after this break. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK CONSERVANCY AD Michael: Each episode, we seem to cover at least one thing that—like this podcast—wouldn't be possible without the support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Andrew: With the help of some friends over there, we got the number of executive director Doug Mitchell, and decided to call him up out of the blue and ask about some of these projects. Michael: For this episode, every time we coordinated the interviews with tribal members, we made sure to let the Conservancy know. Andrew: So we called Doug to find out why. Doug: Glacier national park Conservancy, Doug Mitchell speaking, how may I help you? Michael: Hey, Doug, it's Michael and Andrew, how are you doing? Doug: Hey, it's my audio bloggers. I guess that was the old name before somebody came up with, uh, podcasters—but we don't have iPods anymore either, so I'm not even sure what that's about. Michael: No we don't [laughs] Well, for the podcast this summer, and for this episode, we've had the chance to talk to a lot of Native America Speaks presenters. And every time we schedule an interview, we reach out to let you all know at the Conservancy when that interview is taking place. Why would we need to work with you to plan an interview with tribal members? Doug: Well, we are super privileged at the Conservancy to be the park's partner to help fund these Native America Speaks programs. And in 2019, we were able to have over 100 programs—there was one every night of the summer in the park. To be able to give park visitors access to these very, very important stories about people before the park, the land before the park. Montana's first people. Andrew: It's great. It's a pretty unique opportunity to get to listen in and hear the stories of these people that are still keeping their traditions alive today. Doug: Yeah. I mean, you used exactly the right word: "Listen." You know, these stories are there, but they're only accessible if we are willing to listen. And the superintendent has really set an expectation in his staff, and in our team, that we really want to listen and engage in the story of this place. And that story rings completely hollow without its very foundation, which is the native people. Michael: Yeah. And that we could provide that opportunity for visitors, not just every night of the summer, but uh, in virtually every corner of the park—these programs are offered at some point, whether it's Two Medicine or Lake McDonald or St. Mary—they're all over the place. Doug: The stories are all over the place, and the telling of them is actually now even being able to be extended outside the park. I know there are Native America speaks programs going on right now in schools in Montana. They might not have been able to travel to the park, but now they're going to get that story. So this ability, as you guys are doing, to deliver things digitally is really going to be an interesting new expansion of this program. Michael: And it's something we're really fortunate to be a part of as well. And thank you, as always for that. And for taking some time out of your day, we'll talk to you soon. Doug: Well Andrew and Michael, you guys are a great thing to have to this podcast program is super exciting. We're just so thrilled to be a part of it. Michael: Well, we'll talk soon. Doug: Cheers. Michael: Bye. Andrew: Cheers. NATIVE AMERICA SPEAKS – THE NEXT GENERATION Andrew: Here's Rose Bear Don't Walk: Rose Bear Don't Walk: There's parts in our US history that we tend to think were a really long time ago. But in actuality, I mean the boarding school era was a couple of decades ago, and that still has a lot of imprints on our communities. So for example, my, you know, my grandparents were in boarding schools and so their knowledge of different cultural things was not as robust because of the way that boarding schools were created and carried out. And I have so much respect for my grandparents and all that they've done and all that they've persevered through, but that kind of left a gap. It left a gap in that cultural continuity. And so I think that's kind of what we're seeing in why this younger generation is just so... They just want to learn so much and engage and research and help the community and just do all those things, because we know about those gaps in our history and those particular things that have happened. Andrew: Tony Incashola Sr: Tony Incashola: You know, I, where I work at the culture committee, I have what I call an elders council. I had a question all I had to do, I had 30, 20, 30 elders I could turn to. And, you know, they'd have an answer. And about two years ago, I had a question I turned around. There was nobody there. You know those elders that I depended on, the elders that were knowledgeable, were gone. And then I realized that, Hey, wait a minute, I had to answer it myself. I was next in line. Andrew: And Darnell Rides at the Door— Darnell Rides at the Door: Grandma lived with me off and on, and as well as a couple of the other grandchildren throughout her life, towards the end of her life as well. And I always thought she'd always be here. When she passed it, left a void, a great void. And it made you think, well, who's going to tell us stories now? Who do we go to to ask who we're related to? She could go back 10 generations, and I'm not exaggerating because she could. Tony Incashola: And now I'm kind of starting a new generation of elders that are younger, but I'm bringing them in and I'm sharing, trying to get up to speed so they can take over. Darnell Rides at the Door: It's kind of a rude awakening. I started to realize that when my grandkids started to ask me questions, and then I began teaching the Blackfeet skies or the ethnobotany, or just how to make a lodge. And when I found out that I'm the one teaching that, that reality hit me. And not only that, I never did consider myself old. I am the oldest of my nine siblings, but I never thought of myself as being an elder. Andrew: Mariah Gladstone— Mariah Gladstone: So my dad co-founded the Native America Speaks program. And at the time when I decided to reach out about joining the speaker series, the program participants and the speakers were still primarily elder men. Obviously there is a huge amount of wisdom in our elders, but I also think that as native people, we have always made it a point to listen to our youth as well. Darnell Rides at the Door: Age doesn't matter. They have a curiosity that's untold, but also diversity and uniqueness in that there's no prejudices in their vocabulary. Rose Bear Don't Walk: I think there's a big push for a lot of young people just to get really involved. And they're just so excited about it. They're so excited to learn about the culture and the traditions and things like that. Mariah Gladstone: Being able to share those different stories I think makes the Native America Speaks program far more interesting than if we just had one demographic that was speaking. And I think if you've been to one Native American Speaks program, you should find another one and go to that one and find a different speaker and go to that one because you're going to get different knowledge, not just because you're getting knowledge from different tribes, but because people are coming into it with different experiences and their specialties are in different areas. Andrew: That’s our show for you today—If you’re interested in learning more about the Native America Speaks Program, or learning more about the cultures you met in this episode, you can find links in our show notes to our website. Michael: Thanks for listening! CREDITS Renata: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The show was written and recorded on traditional native lands. Andrew Smith and Michael Faist produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music. Alex Stillson provided tech support Quinn Feller designed our art Renata Harrison researched the show, Lacy Kowalski was always there for us, and Daniel Lombardi and Bill Hayden were the executive directors. Support for the show comes from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Conservancy works to preserve and protect the park for future generations. We couldn't do it without them, and they couldn't do it without support from thousands of generous donors. If you want to learn more about how to support this podcast, or other awesome Conservancy projects, please go to their website at glacier.org. Of course you can always help support the show by sharing it with everyone you know— your friends, your family, your dog... And also leave us a review online.Special thanks this episode to Mariah Gladstone, Rose Bear Don’t Walk, Vernon Finley, Tony Incashola Sr., Darnell Rides At The Door, and Kelly Lynch.

Glacier National Park, a place often celebrated for its natural scenery, offers an equally diverse and rich cultural landscape.

In this episode of Headwaters, food offers an introduction to the area’s indigenous communities. We also explore the longest-running indigenous speaker series in the National Park Service.

Featuring: Darnell Rides At The Door, Vernon Finley, Mariah Gladstone, Rose Bear Don’t Walk, Tony Incashola Sr., and Kelly Lynch.

For more info, visit: go.nps.gov/headwaters

Episode 2

Confluence | St. Mary


EPISODE TRANSCRIPT WIND INTRODUCTION Debby: I know I had a number of moments early on working over at the St. Mary visitor center, as you kind of get to the edge of the building and the building is no longer blocking the wind I've had things that just got sucked right out of my hand. Andrew: That's Debby Smith, she's in charge of among other things, the St. Mary visitor center, Debby: You know, it's also funny, we'll, we'll often get these high wind warnings. I think it was for 40 to 50 mile an hour gusts. And maybe even as high as, as 85. And I've, I've told people that, that don't live around here, that that's our weather forecast. And they're like, Oh no, that can't possibly be right. You know, you couldn't possibly have wind that high, but, but we do. Andrew: This wind affect people's experience when they're visiting the St. Mary area? Debby: Partly, it's just about the sort of obvious things like making sure their tents don't blow away and making sure when you're eating lunch, that you're, you have, you know, a hold of everything that, that you brought with you. And then there's also being able to see what the park is like, and whether it's seeing St. Mary Lake on a day that it's really windy. With huge white caps. Even sometimes at the St. Mary visitor center on really windy days, we'll get the spray from the lake, hitting the windows on the side of the building, because it's just blowing it that far. Andrew: And the visitor center is not right on the edge of the lake there. The wind has to carry that spray over a quarter mile for it to hit the building. When people are hiking in St. Mary, what are some of the effects of wind that they might see in the plants or the landscape? Debby: One would be flagging on trees. When you see trees that basically all the branches on the windward side are broken off, or they're kind of deformed. So that side that's facing the direction from which the wind is blowing. And then it resembles a flag because all of the branches are just on the other side. Andrew: Besides the practical side of not letting things blow away. Do you think you've learned anything from the wind there? Debby: I think a lot of it is just learning about this place. And I mean, there's the obvious challenges that it presents to people like you were mentioning, but I think also the wind is, is something that makes the East side of the park really beautiful, and it makes it, you know, this diverse place and dynamic and harsh and wonderful all at the same time. It just adds to the experience and it, it creates the amazing place that we have on the East side. Andrew: How does wind affect life in your area? Does it invert umbrellas, sculpt dunes, or drive wildfire? Maybe you hardly think about the wind at all. The way you interact with wind is largely dependent on where you live. In tornado alley wind is a life-altering force, but in other parts of the country, it might be more of a curiosity. In this episode, we're going to look at two elements that, perhaps like the wind, have been eliminated as a major factor in many people's lives, but that still find a home in glacier national park. First, you'll hear a story about the grizzly bears in the park, and then about our dark starry night skies. Andrew: Welcome to Headwaters - a Glacier National Park Podcast. Brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and produced on the traditional lands of many native American tribes, including the Blackfeet, Kootenai, Selis and Qlispe people. Michael: We’re calling this season: The Confluence, as we look at the ways that nature, culture, the present and the past all come together here. Andrew: I’m Andrew. Michael: I’m Michael. Andrew: And we’re both rangers here. And today we're in the St. Mary Valley. St. Mary Lake is the second largest Lake here and home to some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the park. Michael: I mean, the view from wild goose Island overlook is even on Montana state driver's licenses. It's so beautiful. Andrew: Really, it is? Michael: Yeah. I mean, look at your own. It's like the, the shimmery thing in the background that they... Andrew: Oh, yeah, there it is. Wild goose Island. Michael: So we're headed to St. Mary because it is a great place to look for experiences that over time have grown harder and harder to find anywhere else. Andrew: Yeah, Glacier is in many ways, the last best place for experiences that the rest of the world may once have taken for granted, but have since faded away. Michael: Today, we're going to focus on two of those experiences. One that it helps to get up early for. And one that it helps to stay up late. Andrew: Yeah. Something for the early birds and the night owls. BEARS Michael: Now, one thing that makes Glacier special is that we are home to an abundant and diverse range of wildlife. Andrew: We have 71 species of mammal, 276, different birds, six amphibians, and even three reptiles live here. Yeah. Michael: I'm curious what your experience has been Andrew, but as an Interpretive Ranger, it seemed like half of the questions I got from visitors were logistical. Like, where should I hike? Is this campground open? Et cetera. And the other half was about wildlife. Do you have moose here? Yes. Where can I see a mountain goat? That sort of thing. Andrew: Definitely. You could make someone's whole trip by just pointing a spotting scope at a herd of bighorn sheep. Michael: But that excitement for wildlife encounters can go both ways, cause some people are thrilled at the prospect, but others are actually scared. Glacier is home to predators like mountain lions and wolves, but the critters most people think about when they're here are bears. Andrew: We have a lot of bears here. Michael: Both black and grizzly bears. Andrew: As of 2018, the population of grizzly bears for the whole Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of which Glacier is a small part, was estimated to be about 1,050 individuals. Of these about 250 to 300 would live in Glacier. Michael: Wow. Andrew: Some bears are gonna spend part of their lives in the parks part of their lives outside of the park. And the black bear population in Glacier was thought to be about 600. Michael: I've heard that that's more grizzly bears per acre than anywhere else in the lower 48. Andrew: Mmhmm. Michael: But how do we even know that this place is huge? It's like finding a thousand needles in a million acre haystack. Andrew: Yeah, it was actually a pretty big undertaking to get those numbers. I actually talked to Tabitha graves, the scientist who was involved with a lot of this research. Tabitha: Hi, I'm Tabitha Graves. I am with USGS, I'm a research ecologist. Andrew: Not only is it a massive area to survey, you have to figure out how to distinguish individual bears. So you don't just keep counting the same ones. Michael: And I know with birds in these sort of situations, biologists will catch them and mark them with a leg band, some other animals with ear tags. Andrew: Yeah. But capturing and marking hundreds of grizzly bears would be super expensive and time-consuming, sounds very dangerous, and would probably seriously disturb the animals. So the scientists use some really cool technological advances to measure the bear population in a different way. Tabitha: Back in 1998, my predecessor in my job, Kate Kendall, started doing research using genetics of bears. She put out strands of barbed wire around some trees in the woods with some stinky lure in the center of it and found out that grizzly bears would go into smell that when they did that, when they walked over or under the barbed wire, a few strands of hair would be pulled out. And in that hair there's DNA in the hair follicle. And from that, you can identify individual bears. Andrew: With the DNA captured in a hair trap. You could tell how many distinct individuals were around. This initial experiment proved the concept, and then they did a much bigger in 2004 where we Tabitha: We got a population estimate, it was the first population estimate that had good confidence intervals and was fairly precise. That was 765 animals was the point estimate in 2004... Andrew: From there, they took the survey even wider. And I cannot overstate how big of a project it is. They were monitoring a ton of hair traps across the whole Northern continental divide ecosystem. Michael, do you want to take a guess at how many rubs sites they were monitoring for bear hair? Michael: Well, I imagine they tried to put them all over the park in the different regions. I'm gonna say, maybe like 500? Tabitha: Um, we had across the whole ecosystem there around 4,000 rub objects per year, Michael: 4,000? Holy crap, that's a lot! Andrew: Yeah. And Tabitha told me that this genetic data is useful for a lot more than just those population surveys. Tabitha: Yeah. That's the cool thing about having genetic data is yet you can not only identify individual bears, but you can actually see who's related to who. Andrew: For instance, they found. Tabitha: One male grizzly bear that had 101 descendants. So that included his offspring, his grand Cubs and his great grand Cubs. Michael: So how's the population doing now? Andrew: It actually seems like it's still growing in, even in Glacier National Park, which Tabitha said is good news. Tabitha: Well, we were actually surprised that the population was still growing in Glacier Park because the protections have been so strong here for so long. We thought it was possible that it would just be completely stable. Because bears have larger home ranges, it could be that changes that are going on on the Blackfeet Reservation or the Whitefish range are also influencing the number of bears here. Michael: Wow. That's amazing. But it makes it all the more frustrating that I haven't seen any in the park this summer. I saw one really early in the spring, but once summer started, I mean, I just haven't been able to find them. Andrew: Have you been out looking for them? Michael: I mean, yeah, I've driven all over. I did a ton of biking and day hiking. I've gone backpacking collectively for nearly 20 days so far and no bears. Andrew: Wow, that's... That's pretty bad luck. Michael: So as a last ditch effort, I thought I'd go to st. Mary along st. Mary Lake is a stretch of open Meadows called two dog flats, a place where in the past I've seen bears before. Andrew: Yeah, me too. It's great habitat. Michael: And a common piece of wisdom is that if you want to see wildlife, it helps to get up early. Michael: So this morning I left the house around five. Michael: Really early. Michael: Let's get this over with Andrew: That's especially true in the summer. When it gets hot in the middle of the day, wildlife like bears are going to be more active around dusk and dawn. Michael: So with that in mind, I drove over to St. Mary from the west entrance, a nearly two hour drive, to make it there before sunrise. Andrew: Before sunrise? Michael: Yep. Andrew: You don't have the reputation of being a... Michael: [stammering] No, I'm not very much of a morning person. Andrew: There it is. Michael: But this was serious business! I can't have gone the whole summer without seeing a bear. Andrew: Seriously Michael: That's a promising sign. I just drove through some bear poop. Michael: So I parked on the roadside pull off, got out my binoculars and scanned the horizon. Andrew: And binoculars will definitely help. At a distance, it's pretty hard to tell the difference between black and grizzly bears. Tabitha: So there's eight species of bears in the world and brown bears, grizzly bears, kodiak bears are all the same species. Grizzly bears and black bears are different species. And some of the differences between them are grizzly bears are more oriented towards digging, black bears climb trees more. Andrew: One of the most common misconceptions is that black bears are all black and that grizzly bears are all brown. The truth is we have brown-black bears, black-grizzly bears. And there are examples of both species that are cinnamon or blonde here in the park. Michael: So don't rely on the fur. Look for physical characteristics. Tabitha mentioned that grizzly bears like to dig. That means they have huge shoulder muscles that give them a really pronounced hump on their back. Black bears, on the other hand, spend a lot of time climbing trees—which gives them really strong hindquarter muscles and gives them a nice big rump. And there are other little things to look for too: grizzly bears have longer claws, black bears have a straighter snout—but to use any of this information, you have to find a bear in the first place. Which was something after an hour I had not managed to do. Michael: Now, the first thing I've seen that isn't a bush, is a deer bounding through the field. Andrew: You can't find any bears there. Nope. How long did you wait? Michael: Three hours. Andrew: Oh, wow. Michael: Parked like on top of a pile of bear poop. So I know that they come through here, but there's been nothing. Michael: But I didn't want to throw in the towel that easy. Just a few miles away, the trail to Otokomi Lake started. A trail I've also seen a bear on. So I decided to try my hand at seeing a bear while hiking. And with very high hopes of seeing bears earlier in the summer, I interviewed one of Glacier's resident bear experts. Could you introduce yourself? Bob: Sure. Well, Michael I'm Bob Adams and I have been here in glacier as a seasonal ranger for, specifically 44 seasons before this. Michael: Bob is a legend in Glacier. After serving in the military, he came to Glacier on a whim in 1966, went on a day hike to the Sperry Chalet and wound up meeting his now wife Carolyn. Bob: And I did a lot of hiking up to Sperry. In fact, I've packed a half gallon ice cream, solid with dry ice and packed it up to Sperry. I think that's the only reason that Carolyn and I ended up together. I don't know. Michael: that ice cream? Bob: The ice cream, you betcha. Michael: More or less, he's been here ever since wearing a variety of hats. He staffed entrance stations, campgrounds done law enforcement, but he spent most of his time as the lead bear management ranger in Many Glacier. Bob: I haven't counted up exactly the number of years, but it's been about 25 to 30. I would say as bear management ranger at Many. Michael: A job that often direct contact with bears, even deciding if a trail needs to be closed for bear danger. But to hear him say it, the job is mostly about people. Bob: My emphasis is in meeting the public and trying to educate the public every day on the trail about bear safety certainly, and safety around the large animals and safety in regard to other environmental hazards of the park. Michael: I figured he'd be the perfect person to ask about how to safely see a bear on trail. Bob: The ideal situation, in my estimation for seeing a bear—black bear or grizzly—is when it's way more than a hundred yards away from you, up in a hillside or down in a valley. It's a pretty exciting experience to get that chance and to have a few minutes to stop and look and get out your binoculars. Michael: Seeing wildlife from a safe distance is obviously the best scenario for all involved. Seeing animals up close can be a different story. Bob: Moose are very large animals, maybe a thousand, 1100 pounds with a brain the size of a Walnut. I mean, nothing could go wrong I'm sure. Michael: [laughs] Bob: So anyway. Michael: If you're in its personal space, any animal or person for that matter will respond more dramatically. So keeping wildlife at a distance is step one. In fact, park guidelines state that you should stay 25 yards from herbivores like deer and mountain goats and a hundred yards from predators like bears. Andrew: Which is easier said than done on a lot of trails in the park. It's pretty rare to be able to see anything, let alone a bear from a hundred yards away. Twists and turns in the trail mean trees and rocks can block your view. Michael: Exactly. And while it's never ideal to be up close and personal with a bear, the worst case scenario is to surprise one. Something you can easily imagine happening around a blind corner. So the best thing to do while hiking is to regularly let them know you're there. Bob: To minimize the likelihood of encountering a bear, or surprising a bear, is to make noise when you travel. That means using your voice to call out. It's not conversation. People say: "Oh yeah, we're talking, we're talking." Okay. Sometimes your conversation carries quite a distance if the wind is blowing, but usually it does not. Michael: [yelling] Coming through. Michael: Bears, have an incredible sense of smell. They are believed to be able to smell things from over a mile away. But their sense of hearing is about as good as ours. Bob: I, in Glacier Park, am just obnoxiously known for my presence, I guess. Every 50 yards or so I'll shout out, especially around a blind corner where there's high noise from wind or a waterfall or a stream nearby. You want bears to know you're in the area, because bears' natural inclination is to move away from people. Even though they are accustomed to our presence, they have no interest in really getting up close and personal with us, so give them that opportunity. Michael: [yelling] Heyo! Michael: So making noise is a must. Even if it feels a little silly, sometimes. Andrew: Making noise has helped me avoid surprising bears, but it won't always prevent you from running into them. Michael: You're right. Sometimes even if they know you're there, you might still see them. Bob: We get reports all the time—every summer, every week—in the visitor center. "Oh, the bear was coming toward me. It was charging me!" It was lots of different things in their perception, but the bear usually is just walking toward them and they are petrified. And you and I can understand how that might be. If you've never been around a bear, maybe even in a zoo, this is, this is daunting. And if the bear for example is walking on the trail towards you, or is coming up behind you on the trail. And that's when they really get excited because they are sure the bear is after them. It's very personalized. It's not the case, the bear is moving where it wants to go, the trail is the easiest way for the bear to travel. Andrew: One time a few years ago, I was leading a ranger hike up to Avalanche Lake, and we were all stopped talking about the trees—and someone very calmly tapped me on the shoulder and said that there was a black bear coming down the trail. It made total sense. Why would the bear want to bushwhack through the brush when there's a trail that's clear right there? Michael: Precisely. And Bob has advice if you ever find yourself in that situation. Bob: What we as visitors hikers should do is move slowly away from the bear, back up slowly. And if you find a spot on the trail that's safe for you to get off, on the downhill side of the trail—not over a cliff, but where you can walk down five or 10 yards and just stand still—the bear is going to walk past you. That's what the bear is going to do. It may turn and look at you. You may feel more comfortable, and it's perfectly okay to get out your bear spray and have it in your hand, but do not plan to discharge it at the bear. Uh, that's just going to stir things up. There's no need to do that. Andrew: That's how it's happened in my experience—just moved my group off as far as we could, and the bear just strolled right past us and kept minding its own business. But he also mentioned bear spray. Michael: He did. Bear spray is the number one recommended deterrent for diffusing or preventing bear encounters. Easier to use, and shown to be even more effective than firearms, but what is it? Andrew: Well, it would be a dangerous mistake to think of it as a repellent like mosquito repellent. You do not want to spray it on yourself. What it is is a high volume, high concentration, high pressure can of what's essentially pepper spray. Michael: And having been on the wrong end of an accidental discharge. It is not fun to deal with personally. Bob: This stuff is very effective, very effective if used properly. Michael: Emphasis on, IF YOU USE IT PROPERLY. Bob: Because most people do not take the time to learn a couple of things about bear spray. One is when one should use it. And how. Michael: So if you're visiting the park, you should get bear spray, but you should also head to a visitor center to learn how to discharge it. Andrew: Yeah. During the summer, we would lead twice daily bear spray demonstrations at the Apgar Visitor Center—using a can of inert spray that doesn't have the pepper in it to show people the ropes. Michael: There are some basics like knowing you've got five to seven seconds worth of spray in there, and knowing where to aim. Bob: You just have to aim it correctly. You want to aim it down so that it hits the ground in front of the Bear that's moving toward you, so it rolls up into the bear's face. You don't want to aim it straight at the bear's face because it comes out in a cone shape pattern—half of that bear spray would go over the top of the bear's head, you don't want that. And you don't want to do this when the bear is 30 yards away or 20 yards away, it is not effective. Michael: Armed with that knowledge, you can prepare for an instance when it would be needed. Bob: If you surprise a bear, which is the most likely scenario for getting hurt by a bear—especially a sow with Cubs— coming around a blind corner, and you have not been making noise or whatever. It didn't work. You're at 20 yards from the bear or less. And suddenly that bear comes at you. That bears moving 44, 45 feet a second. I mean, you don't have time to think about this. While you are aiming at the bears chest and at its paws, you're going to discharge that spray. You could give it a short burst as soon as you get that out of your pack. Give it a half second or so if the bear is at 20 yards—within a very short time it's going to be on you, discharge the whole thing in his face. I mean, just hold it down. Michael: With a face full of bear spray, that bear is going to scamper off in search of a quiet place to wait out its new whole head hangover. In a little while, they'll be just fine and you'll be long gone. The stuff just works. Bob: You have to have that bear spray somewhere where you have actually gone through the physical motions of putting your hand on that spray and ripping the velcro. You should be able to get that out in one to two seconds. It can be done, but you need to practice that. Michael: I have never once needed to use my bear spray, but even still, I had Bob's advice in the back of my head on the way to Otokomi Lake. Making plenty of noise, being observant and keeping my bear spray handy. But I still hadn't seen any wildlife—that is, until I rounded the corner, got to the lake itself... Where all of a sudden, just 20 feet from me—a fish jumped and splashed in the creek. Andrew: Oh, come on. Michael: It kinda scared me! What? Andrew: You knew, what you were implying. It happened. Michael: Okay, believe me, I was disappointed too. I ate lunch there for 30 minutes. Eventually started down to the car with my proverbial tail between my legs. I didn't see any wildlife on the hike out either. Only a few other hikers going the other way. Andrew: Well, don't beat yourself up too much. Michael: Yeah. Well, something else Bob had said was reverberating in my head, the whole hike out, no matter how badly I wanted to see a bear: Bob: Most people are going to walk up any given trail at Many Glacier or elsewhere in the park, and they're not going to see a bear—either a black bear or a grizzly bear—they just aren't. Michael: Just because they're more common here than elsewhere doesn't mean you're going to see one. And even if more times than not you don't see one, you always have to be prepared in case you do. Because normally, you see them when you least expect to. [in the car] I see people stopped! Sure enough. I had given up all hope as I began my long drive back home. I mean, I'd been out for nearly 12 hours. But before I could even drive out of the St. Mary Valley, I noticed cars parked at a roadside pull out. Andrew: Oh? Michael: And I thought back to one more thing. Bob had mentioned. Bear Jams. Bob: And a lot of them are just happy to see them from the roadside, which creates some other problems: Bear jams. Andrew: And not jam like jelly, right? Michael: [laughing] No. Bob: The piling in of cars along the road— Michael: Seeing a lot of cars parked in the road, or at a pullout with no trailhead, is usually a sign that somebody spotted an animal. And animal sightings are exciting, but these bear jams can be problematic. Bob: Preventing bears from even crossing the road to get to water because there are 30 to 40 cars parked, solid. Andrew: People, essentially acting as a barrier between the bear and food or drinking water. Michael: Exactly. Bob: People out of the cars and advancing toward the bears. I mean, it's— It's hard being a bear, I guess you could say. Michael: With a roadside bear sighting, if you're the one driving and you spot it and nobody else has seen it yet: what should you do? Bob: Well, I can tell you what you should do perhaps. And I'll tell you what you're going to do. I know what you're going to do, you're gonna stop—you're going to call the kids to the window, and if it's no more than that, at least you're going to be there clicking from the car. And of course, once you do that other cars pile in and then the thing goes pretty quickly to chaos, or certainly can. What you should do is take a look, slow down, take a look, keep moving. That's what we'd like people to do. It never happens. [laughs] Michael: But amazingly, that afternoon, everyone had pulled safely off the road into a large pull off that didn't interfere with traffic in any way and had binoculars train up the hillside where over a hundred yards away, two Grizzlies were foraging. Andrew: Really? That's awesome! Background: We came across someone else who had spotted him when he was further down the mountain. Yeah. Oh that's huge! [laughing] Michael: I mean, it was the perfect bear encounter. They were enormous, for one, like the one bear was scarily huge. They were far away, and we weren't bothering them in the slightest. Andrew: That's really good to hear. Michael: And people there were clearly absorbed by the experience. One couple set up a spotting scope to share with everyone so you could see them really clearly. And many were seeing a grizzly bear for the first time. Background: I was looking—I thought it was going to be darker. Me too. Well the back is dark, and the front is light. Michael: As fun as it is, to make sure I didn't add to the parking problem—after I got a good look and talk to the few people I got back in my car and I kept driving. Now, I spent all day trying to find a grizzly, and I was mesmerized when I did—along with everyone else at that roadside pull off. But as we hinted at earlier, seeing a grizzly bear, hasn't always been that rare of an experience. Bob: Most people know that the range of the grizzly was vastly larger. I think it stretched back almost to the Mississippi River if you go back 300 years or so. Michael: Through 200 years of hunting and poaching, the grizzly population of the lower 48 was reduced by as much as 99% compared to 1800 levels. Today, thanks to conservation efforts like the endangered species act and even protected lands like Glacier, they're no longer on the brink of extinction—but they are still far less common than they once were. Andrew: And as exciting as it is to find one today, bears aren't just here for us to see. This isn't a zoo. They play a really vital role in the ecosystem. Here's Tabitha Graves again. Tabitha: They have effects on, on lots of different parts of the ecosystem because they dig for roots a lot, particularly in the spring, in the fall, they're actually digging up the soil and that's actually a kind of nutrient cycling. They might eat huckleberries for instance, in one place. And then because they can move such large distances, being large animals, they are really important for seed dispersal. Andrew: They regulate prey populations, breakdown logs—really the list goes on and on. Their role in this ecosystem is enormous. Michael: The fact that we not only have them here today, but that thousands—millions of us each year can share this place with them, speaks to the strides we've made in bear management. Which as Bob put, it used to be... Well, different. Bob: Oh, bear management has changed quite a bit. Oh, will you indulge me a little story? Michael: Go right ahead. A story from Bob's first season as an employee in 1967. Bob: We patrol Rangers, road patrol Rangers, would cruise through the campground in the evening because they invariably had bear problems. Because there were no bear-proof cans, garbage cans. They just had regular 50 gallon galvanized cans and people left their gear, their stoves, their food, their ice chest out. Michael: So bears could get into these things and learned that they had food in them. Bob: You could find out where the bear is cause you hear people shouting and banging on their pots and pans: "Hey bear, Hey Hey Hey!" Bang, bang, bang. So we know where the bear is, so we cruise up. And we had a really fun tool in those days, crazy—we could have died using this. But we had a shaved off wooden baseball bat behind the backseat. We'd jump out with a baseball bat, and shout at the bear and run up and whack it in the, but I'm, I'm not kidding you with a baseball bat a black bear. When it's sitting there at the table, you know, going through somebodies ice chest. Michael: What. Michael: Wail on it. And that bear would take off like a rocket and go up the nearest tree. And we'd say, "okay, job done. We're moving on." Guess what? 15 minutes later, bear's down working the campground again. Now that was bear management in '67. Michael: Holy cow. Bob: Yeah! Andrew: No way. That's, that's crazy. Michael: I mean, I lost, but this era, this technique of bear management is dangerous for more than just the ranger carrying the bat. Visitors were injured or killed by bears that started to see us as a source of food. And more bears had to be euthanized too for this behavior. Understandably things are different now. Andrew: We've definitely changed quite a bit. Michael: Bob covered a lot of ways that we can alter our behavior in bear country. But how can we affect bear behavior? Andrew: Yeah. Well, thanks to the research of Tabitha and a lot of other scientists, we understand bears a lot better today than we did during Bob's story 50 years ago. Tabitha: Yeah. We did a study that we called nature versus nurture. Andrew: And it used that same genetic data that we discussed earlier. Tabitha: We were trying to understand how grizzly bears become habituated. What we did is we looked to see whether their mothers also had a history of conflict and whether their fathers also had a history of conflict. We found that offspring who got into trouble were more likely to have mothers that got into trouble. And this is consistent with what we know about bear life history: young bears stay with their mothers for a couple of years. So there's an opportunity for them to learn how to get into trouble basically, or how to learn those associations of humans and food in the early years. Michael: Okay. So let me get this straight. Cubs with habituated fathers who get into food, et cetera, they don't become habituated, but the cubs that have habituated moms do? Andrew: Exactly. And what this means is that since a bear's father doesn't raise it—its only contribution is genes—the behavior isn't inherited. Michael: Okay. So Cubs must be taught this behavior by their moms. Andrew: Yeah, exactly. So Tabitha told me that this realization emphasized how important it is for visitors here to properly secure their food. Tabitha: Yeah. Our research really highlights the need to prevent food conditioning from happening in the first place because there could be kind of these longer term effects that could be passed down from mother to offspring. So it's really important to put your food away, make sure that you're storing all of your attractants safely at night inside of a hard-shelled vehicle or in a bear box in some place that keeps the foods and attractants away from bears. Michael: Wow. Talk about the butterfly effect. I knew it could affect our bears today, but if it gets in the hands of a—or the paws of a female bear... Andrew: She's going to teach it to her cubs and they'll teach it to their cubs and so on. So it's really important that we always secure our food and trash. It can affect generations of bears. Michael: So as we've learned this information over time, the park's bear management policies have evolved. Given the same situation this summer, you probably wouldn't use the shaved off baseball bat. Bob: No, we wouldn't use the baseball bat. Absolutely not. Michael: Sawn-off baseball bats have given way to a variety of safer and more effective tools that Rangers can use to teach bears, to keep their distance from us. There's cracker rounds, bean bags, rubber bullets, and also infrastructure set up to know how and when to close trails or campgrounds to prevent encounters in the first place. But like Tabitha mentioned the most important tool that has kept our wildlife as wild as can be in a place with 3 million visitors a year is food storage. Bob: All foods, all things that are associated with foods kept away at all times, except meal time. That's the mantra. Michael: And the result of all of this is that today in Glacier, you just don't see grizzlies in a dumpster. You don't see bears in the campground running off with bratwurst or breakfast pastries. You see them up on a hillside foraging for huckleberries, chasing ground squirrels, sliding down snow. And that difference is important. Background: Oh that's huge! [laughs] Michael: The next time you come visit, read up on our food storage regulations by Kerry and learn how to use bear spray and embarrass your friends and family by making noise on trail. Michael: [yelling] Good morning! Michael: Because you might not see a bear. Heck, you probably won't see any. But what if you do? After all, where's the fun in a guarantee? Andrew: After the break, our final story. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK CONSERVANCY Andrew: Each episode, we seem to cover at least one thing that like this podcast wouldn't be possible without the support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Michael: With the help of some friends over there, we got the number of executive director, Doug Mitchell, and decided to call him up out of the blue to ask about these projects. Andrew: For this episode, we wanted to ask about their support of astronomy programs, Doug Mitchell: Glacier Conservancy, this is Doug. Andrew: Hey Doug, it's Andrew and Michael here. Doug Mitchell: Oh, the mad podcasters. How are we doing over there today? Andrew: Pretty good. But, uh, we've, we've got an issue. We were hoping you could help us settle it. We've been arguing all day about whether the morning or the evening is better here in Glacier National Park. Doug Mitchell: Michael, make your case. Michael: So I think that the evening is better because there's nothing worse than having to get out of bed early in the morning. And it's a lot easier to stay up late and the sun doesn't even set it seems like till 10:00 PM at some points in the summer. So that's why I think it's better to stay up late. Doug Mitchell: All right. Very good. Andrew counterpoint. Andrew: Well, I've got to say the morning is the best time to be out in Glacier National Park. You get out early, the sky is all lit up with the sunrise. You really can just get going on your day and enjoy all the beautiful scenery. In the evening it's cold, you're sleepy, you can't see much. So in my opinion, you've got to get out early when you're in glacier. Doug Mitchell: Wrong! Michael, you are the winner. No doubt about it. For those of my age group, that is a Saturday Night Live ripoff. We love the evenings here at the Glacier National Park Conservancy because there's so much programming that goes along with the night sky. So evening is the right answer. Michael: Woo! Told you... Andrew: Well, I should've known Doug would come down on your side since the Glacier National Park Conservancy funds so many dark sky and astronomy programs in the park. Michael: Yeah. I'm going to be holding this over his head for the rest of the day. Doug Mitchell: As you should, as you should. You are the king, long live the king. Michael: All right. Well, thanks for the time Doug. We'll talk to you later. Doug Mitchell: Thank you guys. Call anytime. Cheers. Michael: Bye. ASTRONOMY Andrew : And we're back. One of the things I think is so unique about this place is that people have a chance to interact with wild animals that are in their natural habitats. It's an experience that would have been really common for our ancestors, but to most modern people, it's just really not part of life anymore. Michael : That's interesting to think about. For thousands of years now, knowing how to interact with large carnivores that could kill you would have been an essential skill, but at some point it just stopped being part of most people's lives. Andrew : Yeah, it's so interesting to think about these situations that were part of what it was to be a human for hundreds and hundreds of generations. So long, that knowing how to respond to them is literally inscribed in our DNA. One of the amazing things about National Parks, in my opinion, is that they connect us to universal ideas of what it means to be human. Visiting a place like Glacier National Park allows you to see and feel the same things that millions of other people have seen and felt here over thousands of years. Michael : I think another example of what you're talking about is looking at the night sky and the Milky Way. For millennia, the Milky Way was just what the night sky looked like. Humans that looked up at the night sky, saw the stars and planets and galaxies. In fact, when our nation chose its flag, stars were used, because no matter where you lived in the United States, the night sky was a universal experience. But since then, for most people, that experience has faded away. So I think you should check that out. Andrew : Well, I have been wanting to go stargazing, since the night skies are so well-preserved here, but I'm not sure I can really get myself to stay up late enough. Michael : I mean, it's worth it. The park has an observatory even now. So there's more you can see. You won't regret the missed sleep. Andrew : [Sighs] All right, I'll do it. [Break as music fades in] Armed with two cans of iced coffee, some high energy music, and my microphone, I drove across the divide from my Apgar office to Glacier's observatory at the St. Mary Visitor Center. There, I met Lee Rademaker, the ranger who spearheads Glacier's astronomy program, as he started up the observatory and aimed the telescope. I asked him some questions about Glacier's night sky program. [Talking to Lee]: First of all, what do we mean by dark skies? [Observatory machines humming in background] Lee Rademaker: Dark skies are more than just a night sky. Dark skies are really about a sky that lacks light pollution - straight light that shines up into the sky that creates a sky glow. And they are getting rarer and rarer. Michael : Okay. So light pollution is extra light that is making the stars less and less visible? Andrew : Yeah, that's right. And having dark skies is actually pretty impressive. Lee Rademaker: So in the biologic realm, basically every single organism that lives on the surface of this planet has evolved with a day-night cycle. Our internal workings rely on that day-night cycle to reset the clock. And it's not just, you know, things with eyes. Plants are also impacted by light pollution, or by a lack of dark skies. Michael : All right. That makes sense. Plants and animals are used to dark nights. If light pollution makes the night brighter, it can throw things off. Andrew : Yeah. But there are cultural impacts, too. Lee Rademaker: Culturally, dark skies are really important. Throughout time, societies around the world have relied on the skies to help tell stories, to help know when animal migrations are going to occur, know when the seasons are coming. The sky has really helped them kind of predict the world around them. Andrew : For Lee, the dark skies are one of the best parts of working in Glacier National Park. Lee Rademaker: To me, dark skies are an opportunity to discover. It's an opportunity for things like mystery and awe. Andrew : And sharing that sense of discovery with visitors is really rewarding. Lee Rademaker: It's really kind of fun, because a lot of people that come to the park have never had the opportunity to experience truly dark skies. They often are in a sense of disbelief about what they're actually seeing. And on more than one occasion, people have thought that we were tricking them when we were showing them Saturn through a telescope. They're just kind of blown away and into disbelief. That's a really fun experience for me to be part of. Andrew : Glacier National Park has made a massive effort to expand the opportunities for visitors to experience dark skies here. All of which culminated in Glacier, with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, being designated the world's first transboundary Dark Sky Park. Lee Rademaker: The process of becoming an International Dark Sky Park was pretty extensive. Andrew : Parks started by hosting night sky interpretive programs. Then a lighting inventory was conducted, looking for lights all around the park that unnecessarily shine up into the night sky. These lights were then replaced with less polluting and more efficient lights. Lee Rademaker: And we were able to do that with the help of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Andrew : In the midst of this process, the building we find ourselves in right now, the Dusty Star Observatory, was constructed. Lee Rademaker: We're inside of a SkyShed POD MAX, 12-foot dome observatory. So it's that kind of classic observatory shape that you've seen in pictures. And in the center of the building is a big steel pier. And sitting on top of the pier is the telescope mount. This mount controls where the telescope points. Andrew : As a Dark Sky Park, Glacier has a lot of astronomy programs for people to attend, mostly in the months of July and August, at the Apgar and St. Mary Visitor Centers. Lee Rademaker: And we have astronomers set up that can help people experience the night sky using telescopes, binoculars, and other, even just, kind of, you know, sitting out on a lawn chair and looking up and having an astronomer point different objects out to you, that you might see with your naked eye. Andrew : As we talked, the skies darkened, and by about 11:30, the Milky Way emerged, and stars began to carpet the entire sky above us. It was time for the fun part. Lee pointed the telescope at the planet Saturn. I should note that the telescope in the Dusty Star Observatory is a type called an astrograph. Lee Rademaker: Which is a fancy word for a telescope that you typically don't look through with your eye. And it focuses its light down through the back of the scope, where we have a camera that is able to project, or send, these images off to the computer. Andrew : Which is why you'll hear us referencing a screen rather than an eyepiece. I carefully watched as Lee aimed the telescope. Lee Rademaker: So, right now, Saturn has popped up on the screen. And right now it just looks like a really bright white oblong shape. I'll see if I can fine-tune it a little bit to make those rings come out... Andrew : In no time the planet came into focus. Lee Rademaker: You can very distinctly see the rings. Andrew : Well, Saturn was super cool. I was really hoping I could convince Lee to show me the comet NEOWISE, which was at its most visible the night I was out there. That particular comet only comes by about every 6,800 years. So it's really no exaggeration to say that seeing it in this telescope would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After a few minutes of adjustments, Lee got the comet squarely in the telescope sights and it didn't disappoint. Lee Rademaker: So now you've got the nucleus of the comet on the left side of the screen, and the tail stretching out to the right. Andrew : [Talking to Lee]: Oh my God. Yeah, that's really impressive. He talked me through what I was seeing here. Lee Rademaker: The NEOWISE is a fairly green hue and actually has a greenish ion trail. Every comet has two tails as it approaches the sun. One is the tail kind of made up of the dust and gas that's kind of blasted off of the core of the comet. And then a second one is an ion tail, that's formed from the interaction between the comet and the solar wind. And so the ion tail is kind of this greenish-blue, and then the comet itself is more of a kind of a greenish, emerald-almost color. Michael : Wow, I'm so jealous! I told you it was worth staying up late. Did you get a picture? Andrew : We did! Here, check it out. New Speaker: Oh wow! You could really see the tail and everything! We should put that on the park's website for listeners, too. Andrew : That's a great idea. We can get it up there. By now, as we looked at the comet, it was getting really late. The excitement of seeing the comet had given me a rush of energy, but I knew it wouldn't last forever. And Lee had to work early the next morning. Lee Rademaker: It may be time to call it a night on this fairly successful image, I have a seven o'clock shift tomorrow. Andrew : I gotta drive back to West Glacier. Andrew : You can enjoy the stars on any clear night in Glacier, even if you're not able to make it to an astronomy program. All you really need is a clear view of the sky. Lee recommends bringing some warm clothes, maybe a lawn chair and a pair of binoculars can help too. And he said that if you can't make it to an event, with a smartphone, you can... Lee Rademaker: Download an app and point it at the sky, and learn a little bit more about what there is up there. Andrew : If you decide to check out the stars while you're here, and you definitely should - it was well worth staying up for - it's important to think about leaving no trace with stargazing. Lee reminded me that Leave No trace Principle seven, "be considerate of other visitors," means taking an effort not to shine bright lights where people are stargazing. If we take these simple steps to leave no trace, we can make sure that there's continued opportunities here to be part of this ancient human tradition of viewing the night sky. Lee Rademaker: Today, when you look up at the night sky, you're not just seeing the stars. I think you're really connecting to that, that shared humanity and that shared culture. Michael : It sounds like you had a great night. I'm really thinking now about all the ways that people, and our lighting, clashes with the natural dark skies, and how it hasn't always been that way. So I called Darnell Rides At The Door, an Amskapi Piikani, or Blackfeet, tribal member that I met in another episode, to learn more. And she pointed out the observatory's name, Dusty Star, is actually a Blackfeet term for a comet. Darnell Rides At The Door: Those are comets and we call them dusty stars: iszika-kakatosi. Michael : The concept of a, of a dusty star, might've been especially relevant this year with the comet NEOWISE. My coworker Andrew got the chance to go look at that in the St. Mary Observatory. Darnell Rides At The Door: Oh, how awesome! Andrew : Oh yeah. That makes total sense after seeing it. Comets are, like...just...dusty stars! Michael : Yeah. Darnell told me that the Blackfeet language is a very visual one. Andrew : You know, it's interesting to think about the last time that comet NEOWISE passed by Earth, some 6,000 years ago, Blackfeet people were probably looking at it up in the sky and calling it by that same word, Michael : The things we talked about today, seeing grizzly bears and the Milky Way, are just a few of the countless unique experiences you could have here. Andrew : Yeah. You can also find here some of the last alpine glaciers in the contiguous U.S., endemic plants that occur nowhere else in the world, and opportunities for solitude and quiet that are becoming increasingly rare. Michael : Heck, if you could prove there's a better place on earth to pick huckleberries, I'll eat my shoe. Andrew : These are opportunities for people to connect with the natural world that may disappear forever if we're not careful. Michael : So it's our collective job now to make sure that the types of experiences we talked about today, like seeing a bear, viewing the stars in the night sky, are possible for people for another 6,000 years. Andrew : I think that if we can learn to come together as a community, we can do it, but it's going to be a big job. Michael: Yeah. I think we're up to it. Michael: That’s our show for today—If you’re interested in learning more about bear safety or astronomy programs in the park you can find links in the show notes for more info. Andrew: Thanks for listening! CREDITS Renata: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The show was written and recorded on traditional native lands. Andrew Smith and Michael Faist produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music. Alex Stillson provided tech support Quinn Feller designed our art Renata Harrison researched the show, Lacy Kowalski was always there for us, and Daniel Lombardi and Bill Hayden were the executive directors. Support for the show comes from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Conservancy works to preserve and protect the park for future generations. We couldn't do it without them, and they couldn't do it without support from thousands of generous donors. If you want to learn more about how to support this podcast, or other awesome Conservancy projects, please go to their website at glacier.org. Of course you can always help support the show by sharing it with everyone you know— your friends, your family, your dog... And also leave us a review online. Special thanks this episode to Debby Smith, Darnell Rides At The Door, Tabitha Graves, Bob Adams, and Lee Rademaker.

In this episode of Headwaters, we visit St. Mary, looking for experiences that are disappearing from the world. After hearing about the legendary St. Mary winds, Michael gets up early to try to see a grizzly bear, and we learn how these animals are faring in Glacier’s ecosystem. Andrew stays up late to visit the St. Mary observatory and learn about dark skies and stargazing in Glacier.

Featuring: Debby Smith, Bob Adams, Tabitha Graves, and Lee Rademaker.

For more info, visit: go.nps.gov/headwaters

Episode 3

Confluence | North Fork


EPISODE TRANSCRIPT WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS INTRODUCTION Andrew: In 1940, biologist, Dr. John Craighead, famous for his pioneering work with grizzly bears, wrote a letter for Montana Wildlife magazine, about a raft trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead river, the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. The following is an excerpt from that letter. Alex (as Dr. Craighead): I have rafted most of the large fast water rivers of the mountain west. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most scenic wild rivers in the northwest. One which conservationists should strive hard to save. It is essential to preserve intact a few of the wild rivers of this region for recreation and education of future generations. The aesthetic and recreational values of a river are so very easily destroyed, far more easily destroyed than similar values of hill and mountain country. It is my belief that we should strive to keep intact some wild rivers on the basis that they're essential to our way of life. Michael: This idea, born on the middle fork of the Flathead river, and articulated in that letter became the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was signed into law in 1968. Andrew: Glacier National Park is bounded by two rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. So it's really special that this is where the idea for the act first originated. And while part of the Flathead River is in Glacier National Park, most of it actually lies outside of the park's boundaries. Colter Pence: The three forks of the Flathead primarily flow through the Flathead national forest. Andrew: That's Colter Pence. Among other things she's the wild and scenic river program manager for the Flathead National Forest. As wild and scenic rivers the forks of the Flathead river flow through the park, the national forest, as well as state and private lands, making their management a deeply collaborative effort. Colter Pence: And I would say from my work as a forest service employee, it's one of the more interesting parts of my job. Our common work with wild and scenic rivers has us interacting all the time. And that's why I say some of my closest colleagues are even national park staff. Michael: Of course, the clear clean waters of the rivers make for spectacular recreational opportunities like fishing and boating. Andrew: But the river also makes corridors for all sorts of wildlife from giant grizzly bears to the smallest of bugs. Michael: All of it protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Andrew: In fact, the corridors around the three forks of the Flathead river are home to an amazing array of resources, which the wild and scenic rivers act refers to as outstandingly remarkable values. Here's Colter Pence, again, Colter Pence: Of our outstandingly remarkable values, it's fisheries, wildlife, botanic in some places, recreation, scenic, historic, ethnographic, like that prehistory, and even geologic. We have all of those present as outstandingly remarkable, meaning to say they're rare or even unique. Andrew: The fact that these rivers were protected was not inevitable. Colter Pence: Yeah, you can't take it for granted that a landscape is protected or that it's always been protected or that it always will be protected. Andrew: And it's important to keep protecting these places because rivers bring people together. You might think of a river as a dividing line, but it can also be a gathering place and a place where people and nature can come together. Michael: Welcome to Headwaters - a Glacier National Park Podcast. Brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and produced on the traditional lands of many native American tribes, including the Blackfeet, Kootenai, Selis and Qlispe people. Andrew: We’re calling this season: The Confluence, as we look at the ways that nature, culture, the present and the past all come together here. Michael: I’m Michael. Andrew: I’m Andrew. Michael: And we’re both rangers here. Today, we’re headed to the North Fork, the northwest region of Glacier. Andrew: The North Fork is one of the most rugged, and least developed areas of the park. Michael: Not a paved road in sight. Andrew: Which makes it the perfect place for today’s episode. Michael: Today, we bring you three examples of people coming face to face with the wild and the unknown. FOSSILS Michael: Okay, Andrew when we started this episode, you brought up the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. And you mentioned the phrase outstandingly remarkable values. Andrew: Yeah, I remember that. Michael: Looking at the act itself and the list of values they included, the word fossils stood out to me. When you hear the word fossils, what do you think of? Andrew: Well, I guess dinosaurs is probably the first thing? Michael: Right, me too. Hey Amanda. It's Michael. Amanda: Hi Michael! Michael: So I called a friend, an old coworker from glacier who now works at Dinosaur National Monument. Amanda: Uh, Amanda Wilson, interpretive park ranger, at Dinosaur National Monument. Michael: What sort of dinosaurs do you have there? I mean, it's your namesake. Amanda: So our main like "famous" dinosaurs are dinosaurs like stegosaurus, allosaurus was the dominant carnivore at the time. Michael: Wow. Creatures straight out of drastic park. So you worked at Glacier, were there fossils like that here? Amanda: Um, no. Michael: If I were a visitor, I came up to you and asked about the fossils in Glacier. How would you respond? Andrew: Well, most of the rock in the park is super ancient, like a billion and a half years old. And it predates most complex life on earth that would leave fossils behind. So really we only have fossil stromatolites, which are these clumps of blue-green algae. Michael: So most of the rock in the park is too old for fossils more complex than algae or cyanobacteria called stromatolites. And fossil stromatolites are really cool, and certainly it's true that they're the most prevalent fossil in Glacier... But as it turns out, our fossil record has a lot more in common with Jurassic park than you might think. Andrew: Wait, what? What do you mean? Michael: [Laughing] Andrew: What else is here? I've been telling people for years that stromatolites are virtually the only fossils here I've been lying to all these people? Michael: Alright don't, don't worry—I think you're the clear. The visible rock in the park is overwhelmingly ancient, and the only fossils anyone are ever likely to see are still stromatolites. And because of that, for a long time, it was believed that they were really the only fossils in the area. But this story taught me that no matter how well you think you know a place, there is a lot to learn if you dig a little deeper. Which is where Kurt comes in. Kurt: So my name is Kurt Constenius. Michael: He has a long title. Kurt: I am an adjunct professor at the university of Arizona and a research associate of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Michael: I spent a day In the field with Kurt and with Dale. Dale: My name is Dale Greenwalt, Michael: Who also has a long title. Dale: ...Research Associate the natural history of national museum of, let me start over. Background: [Laughing] Dale: Where do I work? Michael: He works for Smithsonian. Dale and Kurt are some of the foremost experts on a geologic oddity to this area. Outcroppings of fossils unlike anything else in the park. Now, as a ranger here, you learn a lot about the geology of the park, but I'm not a geologist by trade. So I brought a few friends, Emily and Teagan, along as geologic interpreters. To set the stage, Glacier is a mountainous park. The continental divide runs right through it. To the East, you have the great plains stretching flat into the horizon, and to the West, you can see more mountains, but you'll cross valleys or basins to get to them. And this is where I want to challenge you, Andrew. Andrew: Okay. Michael: We often describe Glacier's geologic history as having four stages. Andrew: Yeah. Silt tilt, slide, and glide. Michael: So to make it difficult, I want you to describe each stage in 10 seconds or less. Okay. You think you can do it? Andrew: I think I'm up for it. Okay. So silt. Okay. So over a billion years ago, sediment eroded from highlands and collected at the bottom of an ancient sea called the belt sea. Michael: Nailed it. Tilt? Andrew: Okay. So about 150 million years ago, this sediment had compacted into rock and tectonic movement lifted up a slab of it that was several miles thick. Michael: Great. And slide! Andrew: This is 60 to 70 million years ago, tectonic forces pushed this slab about 50 miles East; this is what we call the Lewis overthrust fault. Michael: Nailed it, and glide. Andrew: Okay. Now we're back to about 2 million years ago, the place to see an ice age and large ice sheets, advanced and retreated repeatedly carving out the valleys and sculpting the mountains of the park. Michael: Perfect. A whirlwind tour of our geologic history. Silt, tilt, slide, and glide represents the deposition of sediments—it turns to mountains, and then glaciers come in and carve it out. The stage most important to our fossil field day was Slide. That slide, as you mentioned, was driven by the Lewis overthrust fault. Kurt: The main structure that dominates the landscape here is called the Lewis overthrust. And it, it started motions about 75 million years ago. And they continued up to about 50. And in that it translated a plat—. Michael: The overthrust took a slab of earth up to nine miles thick and pushed it over another one. Kurt: And a transported it at about 80 to 90 miles to the Northeast. Michael: In the mountains you find on the Eastern side of the park, didn't start out there but were shoved into place. But the Lewis overthrust that shoving force, it didn't last forever. Kurt: And then just about like a light switch, immediately after the Lewis thrust had ceased motions, the mountain belt began to collapse. Michael: When the rock was no longer being pushed upward by tectonic plates, gravity began to pull it back down to earth. The crust broke along fault lines, creating the valleys and basins we see today that separate the mountains in the park from the mountains to the West. One of those basins is called the Kishenehn Basin. Kurt: The history of that collapse are the sediments that were deposited in the Kishenehn Basin. Michael: The sediments collected in Kishenehn basin became the rock of the Kishenehn formation, which is huge. It stretches throughout the western part of the park. You could find it under park headquarters, the apgar visitor center, even the Lake McDonald lodge. The only problem is, something happened more recently that buried the kitchen formation, covered it up. Andrew: The ice age! That slide stage we were talking about. Michael: Exactly. Ice age glaciers carved and carried a ton of rock and debris. All of which got dumped out eventually completely burying the Kishenehn. So the only reason we're able to see it is thanks to the Flathead river. Kurt: The Flathead river and its tributaries have incised down through all the glacial material. And it gives us this window into, into the Kishenehn, some of the best exposure to the tertiary rocks in North America. Michael: Tertiary in this instance, referring to the most recent era of geologic time. Dale: WIth potassium-argon dating and they gave us an age from the middle part of the Kishenehn of about 46 million years. Michael: And we can learn what this place was like 46 million years ago by looking at the fossil record. Now geologically speaking 46 million years ago is actually pretty recent. 20 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. Andrew: Wait. So most of our rock is too old for dinosaurs, but the Kishenehn formation is too new for dinosaurs. So what did you find? Michael: Well, if we wanted to find anything, we had to look really closely. Michael: [Outside] One to two millimeters. I'm just looking at pebbles and like, these are too big. Michael: We found tiny snails— Kurt: Snails, some snails are only like a millimeter two millimeters in size. Those can be adult snails out. Yeah. Michael: Some snail fossils were the size of your thumb while others look like they could fit through the head of a needle. And I actually brought in some of the snails to show you, Andrew: Wait, are you guys allowed to be collecting fossils? Michael: Oh—good question. Like anything else in the park, wild flowers, rocks, heck moose. You're not allowed to collect fossils and take them home. The only exceptions to this rule are for research purposes. Kurt and Dale both have permits to collect fossils in the park, and take the restrictions associated with the permit very seriously. They gave me these few examples, but I could only take pictures otherwise. Andrew: Okay let's see it. Oh cool! There are like dozens or hundreds in here. Michael: And once they were pointed out to you, you kind of started to see them everywhere. Dale: So many times I reach for a white snail and it turns out to be a bird dropping. That's disappointing. Michael: [Laughing] Michael: We found clams, this one was underwater cemented in the rock and just slightly covered by dirt. It was beautiful! Dale: It looks like you can still see the mother of pearl. Michael: We even found a tooth that belonged to a pretty large mammal. Michael: [Outside] Yeah, and it's probably an inch and a half long, from root to top or... Kurt: Yeah, that's right! I'll go get a container for that. Michael: And then on accident, we knocked it loose and nearly lost it. Teagan: So it's in this area right here. Speaker 4: Oh no, now I can't step anywhere. Andrew: Wait, you lost it? How did that happen? Michael: It was very precariously sitting in the cliff face and someone trying to take a picture of it, shook it loose and it fell into the dirt. Andrew: Who was it? Who knocked it loose? Michael: I will not name names. Andrew: Was it? You? Michael: I, I can neither confirm nor deny, but after what felt like an eternity of me being sure that Dale and Kurt were going to ban us from fossil collecting, we found it! Andrew: Oh—hey, found it. Teagan: That's it! Kurt: That's it. We've got the whole thing. Emily: Success! Teagan: I was about to pass out. Andrew: Okay. Well you said the tooth was what, an inch, Inch and a half? Michael: Yep. Andrew: Okay. That's a pretty big tooth. What did it belong to? Michael: With the benefit of hindsight, and Kurt's friend who is a paleontologist, it was identified as a uintathere, an enormous rhino-looking mammal. Andrew: Whoa. A rhino? Michael: Yeah. So on top of feeling lucky that we didn't lose the uintathere tooth. We were also feeling lucky that we even found it in the first place. Kurt and Dale had told us ahead of time that it was incredibly rare to find mammal fossils. Dale: Yeah. What was the chances? Kurt: I wouldn't say slim to none, but. Dale: In fact, we were able to collect it twice! Michael: Finding a tooth like this is about as good as it gets. You rarely find fossils that are completely intact. Dale: Yeah. You never find a whole fossil organism, unless it's an insect. Andrew: Ooh. Dale: There are some places in the world where the insects are primarily just isolated wings, and they identify everything based on the wings. But in the Kishenehn, almost everything is fully articulated: all the wings, all the legs, all the antennae. Michael: This is why I got interested in the Kishenehn in the first place: Its unrivaled preservation of fossil insects. Andrew: Very cool. Michael: And this is Dale's expertise. So for our last stop of the day, he took us to one final location where we first had to ford, or walk across the river on foot. Dale: And there's a place down river, about a half a mile at a site that I call deep Ford because the first time I tried it, I stepped into that pool that looked like it was three feet deep and it came up to my neck and I was lucky that I didn't. Andrew: Could you not just float across the river? Michael: I know, it sounds like that'd be the way to go. But it's not especially easy to get to the spot where we crossed. Uh, Dale had tried one lightweight approach in the past. Dale: Well, you know, I, I bought a big inner tube and I brought it down here, and pumped it up. And had a paddle. And you know what happens when you paddle an inner tube? It goes around in circles and you don't go any place. Michael: But ultimately he found a spot where we could walk across safely. And before I crossed, I asked him how the insect fossils were preserved in the first place. Dale: So the insects are flying around, as you can imagine, buzzing all over the place. And some of them land on the surface of the algal bloom or the wind blows them on the surface. If they're big enough, that's not a problem. They just fly away. But the really tiny ones get caught in the slime. Michael: So small insects will get trapped in the algae, but the algae will continue to photosynthesize and to grow. Dale: And so the insects are entombed inside the algae, which protects them from degradation, from predation, from the waves, breaking them up. Michael: Eventually the algae will die and take all the insects it's entombed down to the bottom of the lake with it, where it's covered by dirt. Year after year, this process would repeat accumulating layers of algae and insects on the bottom of the lake. 46 million years later, it's all turned to oil shale, but those layers of algae and sediment called varves, are still visible in the rock today. Dale: A piece of this material, and look at the edge of it. So this piece here is maybe two millimeters at most, and it probably would have 10 layers. Michael: Thin layers of dark colored, algae, and light thick layers of sediment. Dale: It's within that algal mat that you find the fossil insects. And luckily it's also within that algal mat that the shale will split. Michael: It was like a paleontological scavenger hunt, grabbing pieces of oil shale, getting them wet, splitting them open with a putty knife and finding an insect perfectly preserved inside. Dale: And have everybody look at it. This is a spectacular specimen here, a tiny wasp, uh, of the family, uh, ichneumonoidea. And it has both of its four wings, beautifully spread out and preserved. Michael: I mean, it was a childhood dream come true just hunting for fossils for the afternoon. Andrew: I can imagine. So you found a wasp or what else did you find? Dale: Plants, One beautiful plant. I think Michael, you found that. Several gnats and midges. A couple of beautiful ants, a couple of beautiful love bugs or bibionids. Kurt: Oh really? Dale: Yeah. What else did we find? We found some crane flies, nice crane flies, a number of other flies. Michael: The insect fossils at this site were actually first discovered by Kurt's parents back in the eighties. And while Kurt was studying the subject at the time, his parents were just hobbyists. His dad was a dentist in Whitefish. And on top of finding some of the first insect fossils here, they also found some of the Kishenehn's most important, including the one that drew me to this story in the first place. Dale: They found the first blood engorged mosquito we found—yep. Andrew: Wait, what? Mosquito [stammering]. Michael: [Laughing] Michael: So you remember how they clone dinosaur DNA in Jurassic park? Andrew: Yeah. I mean, you're, you're joking, right? Michael: No! Dale: Uh, the very first one, and we recognized it is a blood engorged mosquito. Michael: The only mosquito fossils with intact blood-filled abdomens ever found—ever! Anywhere on earth! Have been right here along the boundary of Glacier. Dale: And if that isn't crazy enough within the abdomen of the blood engorged mosquito are remnants of the blood. The hemoglobin from the host that it sucked blood from 46 million years ago. Michael: A fossilized mosquito with blood in its abdomen that can still be identified. Dale: Yeah. Michael: That's full-blown Jurassic park stuff. Dale: Oh yeah, yeah. So when, when we published that paper and we got calls from National Public Radio and whatnot, invariably, the first thing they asked was: "Does it contain dinosaur blood?" No, no, it doesn't. 20 million years too late. Andrew: This is crazy. I've been here for years and had no idea that this is a real life Jurassic park opportunity. Michael: I know, I had no idea either, but while this lines up perfectly with the premise of Jurassic park, it doesn't line up in time. By tracking down that mosquitoes living ancestors, we know it was feeding probably on birds, not dinosaurs. Andrew: Having this all in, like, one of the most famous movies of all time gave me the impression that this sort of fossil would be way more common. Michael: Yeah, me too. And Dale said, it's certainly possible that fossils like this one occur elsewhere, but are still buried. And they haven't had a forest like the Flathead river to uncover them. Or that they exist, and we just haven't found them yet. Because after all, they're not that easy to find. Whatever the case, no blood engorged mosquito fossils have been found anywhere else. So Michael Chrichton, who wrote the book that inspired the movie, used a plausible sounding—but in 1990 as of yet unproven phenomenon to bring Jurassic park to life. Andrew: But okay, I can't let it go. Can we extract DNA? Can we clone something with these? Michael: Well, no. As far as we know, DNA cannot survive the fossilization process, let alone for 46 million years. So we won't be cloning, whatever this mosquito had drawn blood from, but that does not mean you can't learn anything from the fossils of the Kishenehn, far from it. Like Jurassic park, but with much less risk of being chased by a T-Rex, the fossils of the Kishenehn have helped reconstruct this prehistoric world in a relatively unknown era in Glacier. Take the snails and clams, for example. Kurt: One of the cool things about the Kishenehn, it has the largest molluscan fauna in North America. So there's 72 different taxa, or different species of snails and clams found in the Kishenehn formation. Michael: Their fossils can tell us things that no other fossils could, their shells can act almost like a map. Kurt: The poor snails, they never get any credit. They're, they're a fantastic window into the paleo-environment because they're very similar... Michael: There were three groups of snails in the Kishenehn: ones that used wet tropical areas as habitat, semi-tropical areas as habitat, and upland or higher elevation areas is habitat. But no matter where they lived, as they slimed their way throughout the day, they'd be forming shells layer-by-layer crystal-by-crystal, from the minerals in their surroundings. Kurt: I've been working with Majie Fan from the University of Texas Arlington. And what she'll do is she has what they call micro mill. And she'll go through and she can drill microscopically each of those individual crystals. Michael: And this is where it gets a little technical. Water that falls at different elevations has a distinct molecular signature. Kurt: Her work is ultimately trying to understand what's what's the paleo elevation? What were the, what were the heights of the mountains and the basin floor? Michael: And because of a snail's limited home range, their shells preserve a record of all precipitation that came to that area. You could read that record to determine how tall the mountains used to be. Kurt: And her work showed that the mountain ranges were probably in excess of four and a half kilometers, high, 12 to 15,000 feet. So basically in the Middle-Eocene, we had a towering mountain range. They're bigger, bigger than we have today. Michael: 12 to 15,000 feet is significantly taller than the mountains in the park today. The tallest peak in the park today, Mount Cleveland is just over 10,400 feet. Andrew: Wow. That's that's incredible. Michael: I have been obsessed with this story all summer long because it took something I thought I knew well and turned it on its head. As it happens, we have way more fossils than just stromatolites here. And we are home to fossils not yet found anywhere else on earth. These snails, uintathere tooths, and blood-engorged mosquitoes show us that even in a place as well-studied and well loved as Glacier, there is always more to learn. And perhaps most excitingly, even in the Kishenehn, we've only just begun. Dale: Published, what, about 20 papers? And we've named about a hundred new species of insects and we've just barely scratched the surface of the potential here. Michael: And what we can discover next is anyone's guess. Michael: We’ll be back with our next story after a quick river safety PSA. RIVER PSA Andrew: Hey folks, since we're on the river today, I enlisted Colter Pence of the Flathead National Forest to give us some tips so we can make sure to leave no trace while on the Flathead river system or any river, really. Tip one: plan ahead and prepare. Colter Pence: You don't just show up and be uninformed. You need to do that research. And we have a great product here, the park and the forest worked together on this. And that is our three forks of the Flathead wild and scenic river float guide. It's a spiral bound booklet it's made of waterproof paper and it shows all of the three forks of the Flathead calls out the rapids by name and all of the river access sites. Some of us who've seen this river a lot, we still use this as a resource. I do want to encourage people to pick up the float guide. Andrew: Tip two: minimize campfire impact. Colter Pence: Campfires. We ask that people use fire pans, fire blankets, and that's particularly important in the wilderness stretch. Andrew: Tip three: dispose of waste properly. Colter Pence: Disposing of waste properly, on the North fork and middle fork of the Flathead. If you're camping in the river court, or you are expected to pack out your solid human waste--cat hole method is not acceptable here, and that's maybe acceptable some other places, but not here. Now, if you're going to camp at a river access site that has an outhouse, you can plan to use that, but if you're camping in a place that does not have that feature, you need to plan how you're going to pack out your solid human waste. Andrew: Tip four: store food properly. Colter Pence: We're in bear country, there's a lot of bears here. And river users need to take food storage seriously. So you need to have a plan that's consistent with the leave no trace principle, that you have a plan on how you're going to store your food properly. Andrew: Tip five: be considerate of other visitors. Colter Pence: It's really important, especially as we have more visitors to this area. Realize you're not going to be the only one there getting ready to go for an hour. You need to do your boat prep and get your gear together on the side so that when you are actually ready to go, you can use the ramp or the slide and quickly get out of there. It is very frustrating when people think that they're going to be the only ones and they clog up the site, so to speak. Being respectful in terms of noise, speaker systems. Many people came here to enjoy the river system and the natural sounds that come with that, that, that flowing water sound, right. We need to be protective of that. Andrew: By taking these steps, you can help us to keep these incredible places clean and in good shape for generations to come. Thank you.

AGGASSIZ Andrew: So Michael, if I asked you how many glaciers there are here, what would you say? Michael: Well, that's a common questions, so I think I actually have this one. As of 2015, the last year we have complete satellite imagery, there were 26 named glaciers, larger than 0.1 square kilometers. But some of those may have fallen below that threshold since our last measurement. Andrew: So you said 26 named glaciers. They have names? Michael: Yeah. There's Grinnell glacier, Sperry glacier, Jackson and Blackfoot glaciers, to name a few famous ones. Andrew: Exactly. Yeah. I've actually got a list here of all 26 names. I'm going to give it to you. Looking at this list. What do you notice about the names in general? Michael: Well, some of them are named after indigenous people or tribes like Piegan glacier. Others are named for non-native people like Sperry glacier, and some seem to be named for their shape or nearby geographic features like salamander glacier. Andrew: Have you ever wondered why these glaciers are called by these particular names? Michael: Yeah. These features must have had many names over the years. Like Kootenai names, Selis names, Blackfeet names, and probably multiple English ones too. Andrew: Well, you might notice that while people use a bunch of different names for a place, all official government publications, like our park maps here, will use the same name. Michael: How did they decide which name to you, I mean, who decides, what name to use? Andrew: To avoid confusion and ambiguity in these place names, all federal agencies use names approved by the United States Board of Geographic Names, which was created by an executive order of president Benjamin Harrison back in 1890. Michael: This board comes up with the names, pulls them out of the hat? Andrew: The board doesn't actually come up with names. They just adjudicate which proposed name should be the official one. Most of the official names of places in Glacier National Park were approved by the board before 1930. So they're pretty old and kind of a grab bag of different things. Michael: Yeah. Some of the features have names that come from native people in the area, but others are clearly names given by homesteaders or other early non-native visitors. Andrew: Yeah. And even the native names are kind of a mixture of different things. Some names are English translations of Blackfeet, Selis or Kootenai words, like Many Glacier. Some places are named after indigenous people by non-native people like Siyeh Pass. There are even some places where there's still debate over whether the name comes from an authentic native story or one concocted to sound authentic by white visitors, like Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. Michael: There are even some places that are named after the indigenous name, given to a white person like Rising Wolf or Apikuni, named for Hugh Monroe and George Willard Schultz, respectively. Andrew: Yeah, so it's really all over the place with these names. Michael: How do you know so much about the board of geographic names? Andrew: Well, I started to look into it when I got curious about the origin of Agassiz glacier's name. Michael: Yeah. Oh, I've seen that one. That there's a phenomenal view of it from the pit toilet at the Boulder pass backcountry site. And honestly, I didn't even know how to say it. Agassiz? Andrew: Yeah. You've got it. It's Agassiz. Yeah. It's up in the North Fork. The glacier's on the seldom seen southeast shoulder of Kintla Peak. Michael: So what did you find out about that name? Andrew: Well, at first it seemed really simple. Agassiz glacier was named for Louis Agassiz. He was a Swiss scientist who is credited with discovering the ice age. Michael: Given the importance of the ice age here, it seems like a natural enough connection. Andrew: Yeah. But then when I looked into the history a little bit further, things got complicated. Michael: Go on... Andrew: Well before he took up glaciology Louis Agassiz had actually been an ichthyologist, studying and classifying different species of fish. And he was really good at it. He had studied under some of the greatest scientists of his time, like George Cuvier and Alexander Von Humboldt. Michael: So how did fish connect to the ice age? Andrew: Yeah. Agassiz was looking for a way to kind of make his own name and step out of the shadow of his mentors. While vacationing in the Bernese Alps of his native Switzerland, he was hiking. And he started to wonder about the origin of the large boulders scattered around the valleys. Michael: Like the ones you'll see along the Avalanche Lake trail, erratic boulders? Andrew: Yeah. And for anyone who doesn't know what is an erratic boulder? Michael: Sure. Yeah. During an ice age, huge glaciers, scrape massive rocks from the mountains, carrying them down into valleys. And as the ice age ends and the glaciers retreat, the boulders are left behind. And we're talking about huge boulders, they could be car or even house size rocks sometimes. Andrew: Exactly. So then in 1837, he made a speech where he laid out his theory that the boulders, like the ones in the Bernese Alps or on the Avalanche Lake trail had been carried to those spots by moving ice sheets that had once covered much of the world. Michael: The ice age! Andrew: Exactly. But this is where the story gets messy. The ice age wasn't really Agassiz's theory. His old college friend, a man named Carl Schimper had already proposed a similar theory, and he'd even used the term "ice age" in a letter he wrote to Agassiz. Michael: Oh, well, I mean, there's still a glacier here named after him. He must've gotten away with like scientific theft, so to speak? Andrew: He did. And to figure out how he managed to do that. I decided to bring in an expert, Christoph Irmscher. He's a provost professor of English at the University of Indiana Bloomington and the author of the book, Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science. Michael: What did you find out? Andrew: Well, Christoph told me that at the time Agassiz announced his theory of the ice age, he hadn't actually collected any data to support it. Was just kind of going off his instincts. So then Agassiz had to figure out a way to quantify this ice sheet movement that he had described. Christoph Irmscher: One of the mountain guides said a little cabin that he built, and Agassiz noticed when he went up to the glacier that this guy's cabin had been traveling, which was an indication that the glacier was moving. Eventually it was entirely gone. So Agassiz started his own field station. He would put stakes in the ice and measure their locations, keep track of their locations. You had a thermometrograph, so you would do temperature readings. So it was sort of a host of things that he would then use, data that he would accumulate. In one particular famous episode that was illustrated at the time, he had himself lowered into one of the crevasses in the glacier, you know, going all the way down. Which of course added to the luster of the famous Agassiz, that he wasn't afraid of doing these things, physically. Andrew: Agassiz wasn't just a scientist. You should think of him as like a celebrity. He tried to cultivate an image of a brave, manly and physical person. Michael: Kind of sounds like his approach to the ice age theory too. He was less concerned with actually coming up with a theory, then he was getting credit for it. It's all branding. Andrew: Yeah. He was very much concerned with his image, but that's not to say he didn't do any good science. Michael: Yeah, I mean, measuring the movement of stakes and taking temperature readings of the area are similar techniques to what glaciologists use today. Andrew: Yeah. So he made some real contributions to the development of the scientific field of glaciology. Michael: I guess the marketing element is important too. A scientific theory doesn't do much good if no one in the scientific community buys into it. Andrew: Yeah. That's true. And Christoph told me that Agassiz was pretty effective at this marketing. He was able to gain acceptance for the ice age theory in not much time. Christoph Irmscher: It was actually surprisingly, as far as these things go, when you think about, you know, how long it took for Darwin's theory really to take hold universally. I mean, again, it wasn't super long, but Agassiz was very, very quick. Partially because he was so charismatic and he was his scientific entrepreneur, meaning that once he has a theory, he just goes around to talks about it. So a year later he's at a gathering of naturalists in France, he talks about it. He travels to England and very, very famous people at the time contemporaries, there was some people who never came around, but famous contemporaries would say, okay, yes. Great, fantastic. Yes, I'm on it. Really within a year, a year and a half, you see people essentially saying yes. And of course it helps that other people have been doing the work too and people knew about it at the time. Michael: What about the other people that were already working on the ice age theory? They couldn't have been happy to see Agassiz get all the credit. Andrew: Yeah, that's for sure. Agassiz burned a lot of bridges in Europe, both in his professional and personal life and not long after he started this glaciology work, he had to pack up and leave for the United States. Christoph Irmscher: It was not so much a move or a planned move. It was Agassiz getting out of Dodge really in a way. Because as I mentioned before Neuchatel had become rather precarious for him, for different reasons. His wife left him, which is really unprecedented if you think of it in 19th century terms. His professional life had become complicated because there were people who resented what he'd done. He was a scientific con man in some ways. Taking other people's ideas is never going to win you many friends. And he was in financial trouble. I mentioned that he had his own printing press. He was broke. There was really not much of a way forward in some ways. And Humboldt managed to help him get an invitation to Boston where he delivered the Lowell Lectures. Andrew: After coming to America, Agassiz never really worked on glaciology again, but at that point, glaciology didn't need him anymore. Once people started thinking about the ice age, they would see evidence all around them. Michael: That's definitely the case here. Andrew: Yeah, can you name some of the features here that provide evidence for an ice age? Michael: Well, I mean, just about every road in the park follows a glacially carved valley. So you could drive through those big U-shaped valleys, looking up at the mountains, you could see the fingerprints of glaciers all over them. There are features like aretes where there's a glacier on either side leaving this knife's ridge. Or horns, like that had three or more glaciers that create these points like the, the Matterhorn. Andrew: Exactly the features of glacier national park were carved during an era called the Pleistocene glaciation, the most recent of Earth's five major ice ages. It started about two and a half, million years ago and the Pleistocene glaciers here probably totally melted out just over 10,000 years ago. So the glaciers that visitors to the park see today, like Agassiz glacier, are probably mostly distinct from the massive 3000 foot thick ones that carved the valleys in the park. Michael: Okay. So I pulled up the fact sheet, Agassiz glacier, like all of the glaciers in the park, is currently shrinking. Between 1966 and 2015, years where we have data from every glacier, it shrank by 213 acres, which is actually more acreage loss than any other glacier in the park for that timeframe. Andrew: Yeah, it's really shrinking. And like the glacier named for him, Louis Agassiz began to shrink as well, but in reputation rather than size. Christoph Irmscher: He was really convinced that science had a public relevance and American naturalists were thinking about race, and were trying to come to terms with it. Agassiz arrived as slavery was being hotly debated. And he felt that science had to play a role there. And he went over to the dark side in terms of what was happening in the scientific discussion. Michael: The dark side... That's ominous. What did he say? Andrew: After moving to America, Agassiz became a proponent of what can really only be called a racist pseudo-science. Michael: He had never been interested in that stuff before? Andrew: No he really never wrote about race in his European work. And it's not like no one in Europe was thinking about these things. Lots of European naturalists of his era had started to develop theories about race, but it was something about his experience here that piqued Agassiz's interest. It's a bit of a mystery, what exactly motivated his racism, but Christoph gave me a couple of theories. Christoph Irmscher: It gave Agassiz in a sense, a chance to affirm or to privilege whiteness and to make himself a little less of an alien than he was. You know, he'd left his own country behind. He was not an American. He spoke with a very noticeable French accent. He was somebody who had come from outside, that sort of emphasizing that European element of American society gave him sort of a way of normalizing who he was. All these explanations of course don't excuse it. And his racism had very, very tangible forms and left a legacy. Michael: What did his contemporaries make of all this? Andrew: When Asa Gray, the great botanist, first heard Agassiz lecture. He was pretty disturbed Christoph Irmscher: Asa Gray said, oh my god, that's not what's going to help us. He said, he doesn't realize how dangerous this is here in America. He doesn't understand it. He's coming from somewhere else. You know, this is not what we need. Andrew: So his views were pretty offensive to many people in his circle. His particular racial theory, which was called polygenism was dismissively summarized by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as the idea that there was a separate Adam and Eve for each race. In fact, Christoph first came to studying Agassiz because rangers from the National Park Service at Longfellow House, National Historic Site in Massachusetts, asked him to look into how Agassiz and Longfellow could have even been friends when they had such disparate views. Michael: Yeah, I guess that's pretty disturbing to think of. Andrew: Yeah, and there's an ongoing conversation about what to make of historic figures with views like this. And it's not just about Agassiz, but also other people that are important to the conservation movement, but who held racist views, like John Muir. Only by acknowledging the dark parts of the past and shedding light on them can we begin the process of healing. Michael: Well I guess with what we know about his life, Louis Agassiz's name itself carries a lot of baggage. Andrew: Yeah. And Christoph told me that some institutions, like schools, that had been named after Louis Agassiz have now changed their names for that exact reason. Christoph Irmscher: Yes. And if people are now saying his name should be dissociated from the museum of comparative zoology, I have no problem with that. The fact remains that he was the one who gave the impulse for that he, you know, implanted in people's minds the notion that science literacy is important. Unfortunately, Agassiz didn't apply it to himself and made himself as literate in everything regarding science as he should have been because that obviously would have educated him about race. But that's something that is also part of Agassiz's legacy. And as you know, we have an enormous, enormous knowledge gap. And when it comes to science today and the public about global warming and so forth, which we always come up against whenever there's opinion polls or something like that. So I would sort of describe these different impulses. If he had not gone to the United States, he would probably be remembered as a great data guy, right. A data collector essentially, but he did his best to destroy that when he came over here. Michael: Well, nature here is sort of taking care of that name question already. As the atmosphere warms and ice melts that outlined around his name is shrinking on the map. Eventually it'll be gone. Andrew: Yeah. It's interesting. Louis Agassiz's reputation and Agassiz glacier have followed kind of a similar trajectory once big and formidable. They're both now reduced to a mere shadow of their former selves. Michael: So it seems like now through his own doing Agassiz's remembered more for his racist beliefs than for his science, if he's even remembered much at all. Andrew: Yeah. Because of his hubris, he failed to recognize the mistakes in his own thinking. He didn't turn the scientific lens back on himself and his own actions and ideas. Michael: But I suppose in his mistake, we can see a better path forward. Andrew: Definitely. One where there's a confluence between a scientific mindset and our collective action. One where we can come together to forge a better future for our planet. Andrew: After the break, our final story. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK CONSERVANCY AD Andrew: Each episode, we seem to cover at least one thing that like this podcast wouldn't be possible without the support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Michael: With the help of some friends over there, we got the number of executive director, Doug Mitchell, and decided to call him up out of the blue to ask about these projects. Andrew: For this episode, we wanted to ask about the preservation of historic documents. Doug Mitchell: Good afternoon, Glacier Conservancy. Doug Mitchell speaking. Michael: Hey Doug. It's Michael and Andrew. Doug Mitchell: Hey fellas. How's it going in the park? Michael: It's going pretty well. And for this episode, we want to learn more about historic fire lookouts. So we're going to put you on the spot. Doug Mitchell: Okay. Michael: Do you happen to know when the Numa Ridge Fire Lookout up near Bowman Lake was constructed? Doug Mitchell: I do not have any idea, but it's a great question. You know Glacier Park has a terrific archives that is really becoming publicly accessible through a digitization project we've been very proud to support at the Conservancy, the Montana Memory Project. And I think that's really going to be a great tool for people to answer these and other great questions about the history of the park. Andrew: That's a good idea. I've heard that they've digitized some superintendents reports all the way back to 1911. Doug Mitchell: It's really amazing. I've been able to see some of those, you know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came out to the park in 1934 and the superintendent notes about that and the preparation for that are really something to see. And, and this Montana Memory Project and the work that's happening to be able to take those documents and make them accessible to the public is really, really significant. Michael: I mean, it's hard enough to get access to things anymore that started digital. So to be able to bring elements of the past into the present is pretty remarkable. Doug Mitchell: Yep. You can go online and find a lot of information and we're adding to that every year. Not everything's there yet, but our goal is to be able to really make as much as possible and whether that's in written form or film form or audio form, eventually gentlemen, you're going to be in the archives and people are going to be wanting to look this up a hundred years from now. Michael: Oh gosh. That's... Andrew: ...that's a scary thought. Michael: Well, thank you so much for pointing us in that direction. We'll be sure to add to the show notes where people can find this information, but I guess we'll talk to you later. Thank you. Doug Mitchell: Hey, thanks you guys, take care. Michael: Bye. LOOKOUTS Michael: For our last story, we're going to fast forward a little bit beyond Louis Agassiz's time to May 11th 1910, when an act of Congress established Glacier National Park and protected over a million acres of pristine Rocky mountain landscapes. A few months later, it was burning. Consumed by one of the worst fire years the West had ever seen, over 120,000 acres of Glacier had burned by the end of 1910, burdening park managers with their first real problem. Now we know that public land managers sought to totally suppress wildland fire for much of the 20th century, and we talk more about that history in the Lake McDonald episode. But before anyone could fight fires, they first had to find them. Beth: They started to make camps and people were climbing trees and doing everything to see if they could find fires. Michael: That's Beth Hodder. Beth: Yes, I'm Beth Hodder. Michael: She's a board member of the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association. Beth: We are soon to be changing our name to the Northwest Montana Lookout Association because we will... Michael: An association that safeguards structures that have been integral to our relationship with fire: fire lookouts. Structures built on mountain tops and high vantage points, allowing observers to spot fires as soon as they start. And this new approach proved to be pretty effective. Beth: Anyway, these lookouts kept building and building and building because it was easy to put these buildings in—not easy, but I mean, they had the ability to do that and they wanted— Michael: Glacier built 17 lookouts in the park, but the neighboring Flathead national forest built 147 lookouts by 1939. Beth: Until all of a sudden World War II came along and they no longer had the funds to go into these lookouts. And from there, they started to realize that they could not take care of all of them. Michael: Of the 17 towers erected in Glacier, today only nine remain. And of the eight that were destroyed, some were claimed by weather, but many were raised to the ground by Rangers. Why would they be tearing down lookouts? Beth: There were airplanes and helicopters and infrared technology and everything that was a lot cheaper to look for fires than to have people funded up in lookouts. Michael: Despite it all, several lookouts in the park are still staffed today. And while a lot of people are drawn to the structures themselves—their architecture and location—I've always been fascinated by the people who staff them. People who spend their whole summer living in extreme mountaintop tiny homes. In the North fork, nearly 3000 feet above Bowman Lake, you'll find the Numa Ridge Lookout, and it's been staffed off and on since its construction in 1934. In 1975, it was even staffed by Edward Abbey—the controversial but celebrated author of books like Desert Solitaire and the Monkey Wrench Gang. And most who know Abby know him for his musings about the desert. Sometimes they were angry manifestos about industries like ranching or mining. And other times they were love letters to what is now Arches National Park, and the idea of being alone in the wilderness. Michael: His writing from his time at Numa Ridge is sometimes poetic, often funny, but always grumpy. Karen: Yeah. I don't think Abby liked the weather much. Michael: That's Karen Reeves who staffed the lookout in 2020. Karen: he was used to the Southwest and he really was a desert rat. And he didn't. Michael: And it's worth noting Abby, wasn't up here on his own. Michael: I think his wife did most of the lookout duties when they were up here. Uh, at least she made most of the entries in the actual day-to-day journal. Michael: And Abbey infamously wasn't alone during his time at arches national park, either stories about Edward Abbey and fire lookouts, often romanticize isolation, celebrating a sort of rugged individualism. And these ideas are appealing. Heck I think when I first moved to Montana, that's what I was looking for. But that's not what this story is about. The longer I've worked here, the more I've come to understand that this place isn't the utopia for rugged individuals that I'd imagined, but a place where folks from all walks of life bond over a shared love of a place. When I was looking into the history of numerous lookout, I learned about Kay Rosengren. Kay (Interview): I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, flat as a pancake Fargo. Michael: Beth Hodder from the lookout association interviewed Kay Rosengren a few years ago about her experience as a lookout. Kay (Interview): What year was this? This was in 1958. Okay. Michael: Kay also provided copies of letters to the Northwest Montana Lookout Association as part of their ongoing work to preserve lookout history. Kay (Letter): Dear Mom and Dad Rosengren: Well, here we are in Glacier National Park and loving it. Michael: In 1958. Kay turned 21, got married to her husband, Keith, and they both moved out to Montana to staff the Numa Ridge fire lookout. This is the story of that summer. A story about how no matter what it is that brought you to Glacier, you can find yourself, head over heels, and welcomed into an ever-growing community of park stewards. And right off the bat, you get a sense of Kay's personality, witty, charming, and empathetic. Kay (Letter): Before I go on it is only fair that I clear something up. I am not pregnant. I say gathered. You thought when we told you over very modest and hurried wedding plans, the reason we mobilize so hastily was because we didn't know until three weeks ago that I would have a job too. Did you even know that Keith had a job out here? Did you know that we were engaged? I suspect not as your son is not much of a communicator. Michael: A friend had suggested to Keith, her boyfriend at the time that he should apply to be a lookout. So he applied and got the job. In his hiring paperwork, it mentioned that for some positions, they also hired wives. Kay (Interview): So my husband wrote back and said, if I get a wife, will you hire her? Well, about two weeks later, he got a letter saying you better get that wife because she has a job. Kay (Letter): Keith will be on the payroll five days a week. And I will work two days a week. Kay (Interview): I finished college finals the day before, and then we got married in, came up. Kay (Letter): The challenge now is to learn to cook. I can boil water, scramble eggs, but beyond that and completely ignorant, I will try not to starve or poison Keith Michael: After arriving in glacier. Kay and Keith went to fire school or training for their new job. Kay (Letter): Fire school was interesting and scary. We were told we would receive just 40 gallons of water every two weeks. And those gallons will be for everything. These precious drops will be delivered by mule pack, train to you, dudes. The words leave me imagining Keith and buckskins and me and a Calico. And Sunbonnet, as you can tell, I'm trying really hard, but not successfully to resist the romance of the old West. However, fanciful, my image of life on a mountain top is there was one young wife at fire school from Chicago whose grasp of reality is even shakier than mine. She asked me what kind of washing machine there will be in their lookout. At first I thought she was joking, but then I realized that she either didn't hear or chose to ignore no electricity and water bypass drain. I didn't tell her there was no Maytag in her immediate future, less she cut and run right back to Illinois. Michael: After training, they set out to reach their new home. Beth: Now, to reach the lookouts. Did you hike? Did you head, were you given a horse to take up? Kay (Interview): No. You hiked. Kay (Letter): The hike up here was beyond my powers of description. Suffering of the sword is not noble. Kay (Interview): And I thought I was going to die. I didn't know about altitude and breathing and... Beth: Where they towers? Did they sit on the ground? Kay (Interview): They sat on the ground. Two stories. The bottom of was storage. And then the top was where you lived. And that was glassed in, of course. Kay (Letter): Your son. You may notice the change from my husband to your son found my faint heart did not make me a fair maiden. He arrived up top all you're going as to explore the mountain, then the lookout, while I languished on the lumpy mattressed cots. Beth: Cats or. Kay (Interview): Two cots, and, um, a table in the corner. Michael: And I asked Karen the lookout from 2020, the question on everyone's minds, where is your bathroom? Karen: It's down over the Hill. I just got a new outhouse last summer. The other one was chock-full Kay (Interview): The outhouse on Numa was wonderful because the view was fantastic [laughs] and there was nothing in front of it. Nobody could come and see you. Michael: Once they got there, they settled into the job itself. A job they quickly learned was less solitary in practice than it was in theory. Kay (Letter): Today, we turn on our two-way radio. We check in at 8:00 AM and at 4:00 PM. Once in a while, we are expected to report to headquarters or to the lookouts on Apgar mountain. In the evening, we have a little up here containing some instruments and Duff pine needles, et cetera, to simulate the forest floor and doing this. We get the burning index BI, which gives us a fair idea of how dry the forest is and how quickly fire might spread. Michael: Their work was only effective because they were part of a network of other regional lookouts and fire managers, their new community, who all worked together to protect their new home. Kay (Letter): During fire school, we were taught to assess the kinds of clouds. We have their stages, et cetera. We keep speculating that all of the other lookouts in the Northwest are as unsure as we are about what they're seeing. Keith and I often disagree. And we shudder to think that our collective ignorance might be taken as gospel. To track the lightning, a fire finder is used. It is a large round wheel with a map in the center. It has a metal rim that can be moved. To the middle of the contraption is what looks like a ruler. When a storm threatens, we are to place a piece of paper on the map and draw a line—along the metal piece, on the paper—to indicate the line of sight from the lookout to the lightning strike. Beth: Did you have fires while you were up there that you had to call in? Kay (Interview): Yes, the first year again, you know, they tell you in fire school, well, "fire might smolder for two weeks" and I thought oh yeah right. You of course record all your lightning strikes, and our first fire was two weeks after we had recorded that strike. Kay (Letter): We were told to record strikes until storms are so close the hair on the backs of our necks stands up. At which time we are to retreat to the safe corner. The fire finder is metal, as are the cots and the stoves, which means only the corner with the wooden table and chairs is safe. Karen: And it's kind of fun. When you get lightning storms, it's kind of a front row seat to a pretty extreme firework show. Michael: Now some parts of the job are flashy, even scary. Like the neighbors. Kay (Interview): I tell you, I'll be honest. I thought some grizzly had been given my name and I did not leave Numa the whole summer. Michael: In reality. One of the biggest challenges of the job is not bears, but boredom. Kay and Abbey both brought a load of books to Numa just to stay entertained. Karen: It's a good place to bring projects. And you find out if you are interested in that hobby at all or not. I found out that I was not a quilter. [laughs] You bring it up here and you've got the time. So if you're not going to do it up here, you're not ever going to do it. So, um, I've been able... Michael: The way Kay tells it though. The hardest part was cooking. Kay (Letter): Perhaps the biggest challenge up here on Numa Ridge is learning to cook. I clearly remember pledging not to poison your son. There are days when I feel as if that was a promise made in haste. There's no way bread can be kept here. There's no freezer never mind a refrigerator. So I had my first foray into the wonderful world of baking bread. It was heavy enough to be a doorstop. It was gray and it quivered. Spam is a staple for us and we are both sick of it. But Keith has devised a sauce that kills the taste of the stuff, not to mention our taste buds. I am grateful. I'm also grateful for a small stained booklet that goes with the place. It is a basic cookbook written with bachelor lookouts in mind. It has become my Bible. Kay (Interview): It was invaluable because I didn't know how to cook. I did. I knew nothing. Kay (Letter): The recipes are simple and clearly explained on the cover. It says it was compiled by some wives of forest service personnel. Bless them. Karen: The cookbook was very specific that you should eat butter at every meal as a cookbook I can get behind. Michael: Finally, she highlights the moments that stood out. Kay (Letter): A father and son hiked up from Bowman Lake campground a couple of days ago. The son appeared to be about 16. Kay (Interview): The kid said to me: "What do you miss most up here?" And I said: "A, Coca Cola." And the child hiked up with one for me. It's the sweetest gift I ever got. Kay (Letter): If anyone had told me before we signed on for this job, what life up here would be like, I would have cut and run a bare bones description would have sounded grim and impossibly austere. What it is instead is an adventure and proof that much of what we prize in the way of possessions and comforts is expendable. I've saved the best for last. The view of Bowman Lake below us is sublime. The water is emerald green with a touch of turquoise. And when it is still, the surrounding scenery is perfectly mirrored. The whole area is so lovely that I get teary at times. As we have no camera, our memories of this awesome splendidness will have to suffice. Kay (Interview): No, we didn't have a camera at that time. Beth: Okay. Kay (Interview): No, we didn't get so many wonderful photographs that we could have gotten because we didn't have a camera. Kay (Letter): If I could be granted one wish while I live on this mountain, it would be that we could somehow communicate the beauty of this place, and the exhilaration of breathing the air, and the reverential feeling we have as we go about our daily chores. Karen: And I can't emphasize enough how much the light and the play of light is one of my favorite things about being a lookout. Kay (Letter): Mornings, especially are magical. I find myself holding my breath as if the very act will break the spell and will be sent below to live among mortals. It is not hard to see why the Greek mountains inspired toxic gods and special beings. Karen: Sunrise, sunset, moonrise, reflections of Bowman Lake, northern lights. This year, the comet NEOWISE, I mean. There's just. The light is always playing. It's fabulous. Kay (Letter): This morning dawned with just the peaks of surrounding mountains, and us, above clouds. Which were white and perfect, and looked solid enough to walk on into infinity. It is a picture we will treasure always. Beth: If you had to do it again, would you? Kay (Interview): Oh, yes, it was fine. And there was something new every day. Never once wished I was somewhere else. Yeah, no, I certainly would have done it again. Michael: Kay and Keith have both since passed away. These letters and her interview give us the chance to share in her charm and wit and to be transported back to life as a lookout in 1958. And a lot has changed since then: there was the moon landing disco, the Berlin Wall, perms, Y2K and Facebook. But throughout all that time, life as a lookout has more or less stayed the same. Karen has a few more gadgets in 2020, but otherwise her job is the same as Abbey's in 1975 or Kay's over 60 years ago. From Numa Ridge, it is easier to see the things that have—like the lookout itself—stayed constant. And Kay's story helps to show that the passion for the park I've seen in visitors, friends, and peers, a love for glacier and a commitment to preserving it—time hasn't changed that at all. Lookout towers were built by an optimism that our participation in public lands could protect them. And while we romanticize the isolation that comes with their location, protecting a place like glacier is a burden too big for any individual. So if you're in search of a weekend alone in the woods, by all means come and visit. But you may find more than you bargained for. After all, even in one of Glacier's most remote destinations, Kay and Keith found a life and community here, and spent summers in Montana for the rest of their lives. Michael: That’s our show for today—If you’re interested in learning more about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, fossils, Louis Agassiz, or fire lookouts, you can find links in the show notes for more info—including to the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association website. Andrew: Thanks for listening! CREDITS Renata: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The show was written and recorded on traditional native lands. Andrew Smith and Michael Faist produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music. Alex Stillson provided tech support Quinn Feller designed our art Renata Harrison researched the show, Lacy Kowalski was always there for us, and Daniel Lombardi and Bill Hayden were the executive directors. Support for the show comes from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Conservancy works to preserve and protect the park for future generations. We couldn't do it without them, and they couldn't do it without support from thousands of generous donors. If you want to learn more about how to support this podcast, or other awesome Conservancy projects, please go to their website at glacier.org. Of course you can always help support the show by sharing it with everyone you know— your friends, your family, your dog... And also leave us a review online.Special thanks this episode to Colter, Brian Dao, Echo Miller-Barnes, Dale Greenwalt, Kurt Constenius, Teagan Tomlin, Emily Crampe, Christoph Irmscher, Jean Tabbert, Karen Reeves, Lora Funk, Beth Hodder, and the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association.

In this episode, the Flathead River reveals our own notions of wilderness, and remarkable fossils. We learn about a glacier with a complicated past—and we climb to a mountaintop to learn that even the park’s most isolated office isn’t as lonely as it seems.

Featuring: Colter Pence, Amanda Wilson, Kurt Constenius, Dale Greenwalt, Christoph Irmscher, Beth Hodder, Karen Reeves, and interviews & letters from Kay Rosengren—courtesy of the NWMT-FFLA.

For more info, visit: go.nps.gov/headwaters

Episode 4

Confluence | Many Glacier


EPISODE TRANSCRIPT GRINNELL INTRODUCTION Michael: Okay, Andrew. It's summertime as we're recording this. Andrew: Yep. Michael: But I want to rewind the clock to mid-may of this year. Think cool air, drizzling, rain, you know, spring. Andrew: Okay. I'm with you. Michael: This may I volunteered with the Harlequin duck project and we were trying to capture ducks on Upper McDonald Creek. And as we talked about in the Goat Haunt episode, you catch them by stringing a net all the way across the creek, and trying to catch them as they fly down. But with all the melting snow in the spring, that creek is flowing too fast to safely walk across. So a few people, and one end of net, get carried across to the other side in a raft. Andrew: So did you get to go across the Creek? Michael: Well, no, I stayed behind to help spot the birds with binoculars. But at the end of the day, everyone on the other side had to come back, and I volunteered to help catch the raft and pull them to shore. The raft—really conveniently—has a handle on the bow that helps you grab it. And I leaned over to grab it, totally missed, and fell face first into McDonald Creek. Andrew: [laughs] Ouch. Michael: Yeah, I was totally soaked. Andrew: Well, it's pretty cold in the spring. Did you have a change of clothes? Michael: Well, yes and no. Uh, it was very cold, but I didn't have any spare clothes. But the volunteer paddling the raft that I failed to catch had a spare pair of long johns. And despite my insistence that I'd be warm enough, made me go change into them. Andrew: So you had warm legs and a bruised ego... But isn't this episode about many glacier? Michael: Okay, let me finish. That volunteer's name is Gerard, and I'd met him before cause he drives a school bus for some of the local students I've led on field trips. But through the Harlequin project, I got to know him a little better. And a few weeks later I had the chance to get him in the studio. Gerard: Yeah, my name is Gerard Byrd, born and raised about nine miles from Glacier National Park in a little town of Martin City. Michael: He's the sort of wonderful person that seems to know everyone and can do anything. What were you doing just before this interview? Gerard: We were helping band songbirds. Yeah. Trapping and banding. Michael: I think he volunteers with every single wildlife research project in the park. Gerard: We started about 12—maybe 13—years ago helping out with the wolverine project, got involved and we put in roughly 175 back country miles. Andrew: Did you make him come into the studio just to return his long johns? Michael: No, he's, he's got wonderful taste and long underwear, but that's not why I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to talk to him about a trip he did with the Glacier Institute in 1986 Gerard: Glacier Institute was founded in 1983, started working in '84, I came on board in '85. I'm a school bus contractor. They were looking for someone to transport students around the park, specifically up over Logan Pass. Andrew: Wait, so what is the Glacier Institute? Michael: The Glacier Institute is one of the park's three official partners. They offer hands-on, field-based learning opportunities for both kids and adults all throughout Northwest Montana. And they do a lot of work here. Gerard: There's grizzly classes, flower classes, and then some geology classes, which included glaciology as well. And this one particular class, we were hiking into Grinnell Glacier—and it was a geology class, but one of the founders had wanted us to go and meet this gentlemen that was giving... I can't remember where he was from now. But anyway, he was giving a speech on Grinnell glacier. And so— Michael: The guy's name was Bob Anderson, and he was a geologist with the California Institute of Technology. And he wasn't just giving a talk on Grinnell Glacier. He was giving a talk in Grinnell Glacier. Gerard: They had an access point that we were able to enter underneath this glacier Michael: Into an ice cave. Andrew: Whoa. Gerard: It was about maybe three foot high, and it kind of went back maybe 20-some feet. Michael: The times I've spent in other park units like Mammoth Cave National Park. One of the biggest takeaways was just how dark it got, like what was the lighting? Gerard: Straight up? I mean, it's no different than a regular cave. If there were human bodies blocking that entrance. Yeah, it was, it would be no different than being in an underground cave. As I looked around, there was probably 20 of us crowded into this small space and there was a flash photographer taking tons of photos—leaned over and I said: "Lex, what? How come this is so obnoxious?" He goes: "Gerard, National Geographic's in here doing a photo-op here under this glacier." Andrew: National geographic was there? Michael: Yeah! They published a 20 page article, not long afterwards, which really reads like an introduction to Glacier: where it is, what it's all about. A harrowing search and rescue tale. And here's the one photo they use from the ice cave. Andrew: Wow, this is crazy. So this is under Grinnell Glacier? Michael: Yeah. The photo, it's really dark—this guy's wearing bright yellow pants sitting on the ice and yeah, it's in Grinnell Glacier. Andrew: I've been to Grinnell Glacier a handful of times, and this looks nothing like anything I've seen up there. It's like a totally different world. Michael: Yeah. And it's hard to tell in the photo, I asked him what the weather was like outside, and he said it was sunny. But it doesn't look at all like that. Andrew: No. Michael: It just looks dark. Andrew: And cold. Michael: Gerard described these little threads of ice that would dangle from the ceiling of the Glacier. And if you looked at it too long, either your breath or your headlamp would even melt them. So it was a really powerful experience for him. Gerard: Well, the funny thing was, is, um, I had visited with my wife when I came out and I said, Oh my gosh honey you got to come in and look at this. I said, this was incredible, I was so moved. Well, raising five kids and whatnot, it just was about three years later—and we decided that we could go back in. And we hiked in, come to this rock face, And I, [stammering], this is where the glacier was. I kept looking at the rock face, thinking, God, maybe I'm on a whole different, but I, I, I did recognize the area where we . And the glacier had melted back about 200+ feet. I was absolutely astounded. Michael: Three years. Gerard: Three years. That's when I really became aware of, of man's impact on our beautiful planet. Yeah. Andrew: So if that's how much it changed in just three years, what has he noticed in the last 30 years since then? Michael: Yeah, that was something I was really interested in, but he surprised me. When's the last time you went back to Grinnell Glacier? Gerard: It was back then probably '89. Michael: Really? Gerard: 80's, yep. Michael: Haven't been back since? Gerard: I haven't been back there since then. I've done a lot of different areas in the park since, but um, not, not been back there since '89. Andrew: Wow. 30 years. I can't imagine what he'd say. If he got to see it now Michael: I know. We have got to get Gerard to Grinnell Glacier this summer. Andrew: Welcome to Headwaters - a Glacier National Park Podcast. Brought to you by the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and produced on the traditional lands of many native American tribes, including the Blackfeet, Kootenai, Selis and Qlispe people. Michael: We’re calling this season: The Confluence, as we look at the ways that nature, culture, the present and the past all come together here. Andrew: I’m Andrew. Michael: I’m Michael. Andrew: And we’re both rangers here. And today we're going to be taking you on a journey to the Many Glacier valley. Michael: Nestled in the northeast corner of the park. Many Glacier is one of its most spectacular destinations. I know every time my family has come to visit, we've made a point of taking highway 89 on the East side of the park, just to get there. Typically the road is open from mid-May to late October, but the high elevation trails have a much shorter season because they're only reliably clear of snow in August. Andrew: According to longtime Many Glacier ranger, Bob Adams, there are two trails in particular that people come here to see. Bob Adams: ...that would be the Grinnell glacier trail. And that would be the Iceberg Lake trail, which... Andrew: This area is popular, like really, really popular. Bob Adams: ...but there are lots of people, roughly 600 or more a day. Andrew: That's 600 is on each trail. Michael: So this isn't the place for solitude? Andrew: Not exactly. And to make it even more extreme, Bob sometimes has to close one of those trails for bear activity. And if the Iceberg Lake trail is closed, then... Bob Adams: You'll get 900 people on the glacier trail. Michael: 900 people on the Grinnell glacier trail?! Bob Adams: So that may not be what you want. It may be exactly what you want because you maybe feel safety in numbers. That's, that's a false assumption, but people make that assumption. Michael: Why do so many people come here? HOTEL Andrew: I asked Diane Sine, she's a ranger. And she spent more than 40 summers in Many Glacier. Diane Sine: It not only has the, the actual glaciers that are still hanging in there, just barely. Then we also have the historic hotel, we have in my opinion, the best hiking trails in the park. So if you just wanted one location that sums up all, that's excellent about Glacier National Park it's Many Glacier. And yes, this is a commercial for Many Glacier. Andrew: And she's not totally joking about the commercial thing, the marketing of Many Glacier and of the Glacier National Park region as a whole is a really important part of the Park's history. Michael: What do you mean by that? Andrew: Well, in the early days of Glacier National Park, a lot of the infrastructure was built by the Great Northern Railway and the railway executives wanted this place to look like the Swiss Alps. Michael: Yeah. There's definitely Swiss architecture noticeable, not just at the Many Glacier hotel, but the Lake McDonald lodge too. But why Swiss? Andrew: That's actually a pretty interesting story. To learn more about it I decided to join Diane Sine, the ranger you heard a minute ago, on a tour of the Many Glacier hotel. Michael: Well, I'm jealous. Andrew: Luckily for you and our listeners, these tours are offered during the summer at the Many Glacier Hotel and Lake McDonald Lodge. You can find the schedule in your ranger led activities guide, which you'll receive at the park entrance station. Diane Sine: Well, welcome. My name is Diane Sine. I'm a seasonal ranger here with the National Park Service. I have done this for a whole lot of summers. This is our daily walking tour of the historic Many Glacier Hotel. Andrew: She told us about how she first fell in love with Many Glacier as a child on a family camping trip and all through college worked here in the summers as a singing waitress. Michael: She was a singing waitress? Andrew: Yeah. As she tells it: Diane Sine: In that era, all the employees at the Many Glacier Hotel were hired to staff the regular hotel positions because they all had music or drama backgrounds. And as a little girl just starting out as a cellist, I thought that's what I wanted to do. Michael: Why did they do that? Andrew: Well in those days, the Many Glacier Hotel was a bit beat up and weathered. So to attract guests, the manager decided to use music. Michael: Well, why have I never heard Diane sing at the hotel? Andrew: Well, she's not a singing waitress anymore. After those summers singing and waiting tables, something changed deep inside of her. Diane Sine: After having worked here for four years for the hotel, my life was warped. I was hooked on this place and I figured out how to become a park ranger. Andrew: And once Many Glacier wormed its way into her life, it never left. Diane Sine: Along the way I met my husband, who was another ranger here. We got married at Lake Josephine, had our wedding reception here at the dining room of the Many Glacier hotel. My stepdaughter met her husband here as well. And the tradition has continued. So... Andrew: But this is all a bit of a digression because although this place is important to Diane... Diane Sine: The Many Glacier hotel is considered to have national significance. It has value to the American story as a place that ties us to the past, not only the past with visitor experiences, but the past with the early development and advertising of national parks. Andrew: Diane told us about the construction of the building in the winter of 1914 when temperatures hit 40 below. Michael: Okay. We've both been here in the winter and 40 below is cold. Andrew: It's very cold. As Diane described it, the workers, the Great Northern hired: Diane Sine: Were hardy Scandinavian descendants and they could withstand hardy winters. And the story is... Andrew: The finished hotel was pretty impressive. Michael: Paint a picture for me. Andrew: Well, as you approach the hotel, a friendly bellhop clad in alps style, lederhosen opens the front door and offers refuge from the harsh winds of the valley in the warmth of the lobby. Michael: Wait, okay, lederhosen? Andrew: We'll get back to that in a minute. Michael: Okay. Andrew: Once you're inside, the lobby is vast and echo-y with a hodgepodge of different styles. A massive copper fireplace anchors one end, while the other opens up to an elegant spiral staircase. Naturally your gaze will be drawn up as your eyes trace the giant Douglas-fir beams towards the ceiling. And dangling from that ceiling is an impressive array of Japanese style paper lanterns. Michael: So I'm standing in a wild Montanan and Swiss chalet with Japanese paper lanterns? Andrew: Now you're catching on that's right. But even though there's a lot going on, the thing that really pulled me in was those giant Douglas-fir beams. And according to Diane, this was their intended effect. Diane Sine: The idea behind the design of both this Many Glacier hotel and the Glacier Park Lodge at East Glacier, they were originally referred to as "big tree lodges." The idea is that you can be down here in the lobby and you can actually feel like you're in the forest with the trees rising above you. Michael: That makes a lot of sense having stood in them, but you still have not addressed the lederhosen thing. Andrew: Okay. Okay. Well, part of it is actually an accident of history in 1914, as construction was just about to begin for the Many Glacier Hotel, World War I, cut off Americans from some of their favorite European vacation destinations. The Great Northern saw in this an opportunity to put the American West on vacationers' radar. And they started to market this area as a replacement for the Swiss Alps. Michael: Okay. But people go on vacation to Spain or to Germany. Why Switzerland? Andrew: Well as Diane tells it Louis Hill, who at the time was the president of the Great Northern Railway, just really liked Swiss architecture. Diane Sine: He had a home outside St. Paul where his family would go for winter getaways and ice skating parties. And that home was designed as a Swiss chalet. But he also had a winter home at Pebble Beach, California. In fact, his home became part of the golf course there. The design for his pebble beach home was also Swiss architecture. So the guy just had a thing for Swiss chalets. Michael: How'd the Great Northern get word out about the area? Andrew: Well, they decided to do this big advertising campaign called See America First. Michael: See America first, huh. Andrew: And the idea there was to try to convince Americans that vacationing in the national parks was the patriotic thing to do. They also gave artists free trips out here. And as you can imagine, once those artists saw this place, they took the idea of See America First and just ran with it. One of these artists was the writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Diane Sine: She was a very well-known writer of the time. She went on to write a couple of books about her experiences in glacier park. She said, "I have traveled a great deal of Europe. The Alps have never held this lure for me, perhaps it is because these mountains are my own in my own country." So that was her idea. Be a patriotic American, see America first, come to the Switzerland of North America, come to the Many Glacier Hotel. Michael: So this marketing campaign is why we have all the Swiss buildings around glacier? Andrew: Exactly. And it's had a pretty big impact on the way people use the park even to this day. But it also starts to get at something that's really central to the mission of the park service. Michael: What do you mean? Andrew: Well, we're supposed to be preserving these places for future generations, but our mission is also to allow for their enjoyment today, that can be a tough act to balance. Michael: Okay. I see what you're getting at. People come to Many Glacier to see the bears and the glaciers, and to feel a sense of wilderness, but their very presence alters those things. Andrew: Right, the Many Glacier hotel and the marketing around it got a lot more people to come out and enjoy this area. But it also changed the character of the valley. When people and nature come together, both are changed by the encounter. Michael: But it's not always a bad thing. Andrew: Certainly not, encountering the natural world is an important way that we can learn and grow as people. Michael: I know that hiking here in Many Glacier has changed both you and I, but in our next story, I'd like to look at the way that we collectively, as people have changed Many Glacier as well, although we might not have meant to. Andrew: You know how we've been talking about doing a hike in Many Glacier. Michael: Yeah. Andrew: Well, I just talked to Lisa McKeon. She's a physical scientist with the USGS. She invited us to go up to Grinnell glacier with her next week. Michael: Oh my gosh. We've got to bring Gerard! Andrew: I thought you might say that. So I asked Lisa about it and it turns out that they actually already even know each other from some projects he's volunteered on and he's welcome to join us too. Michael: Of course they know each other. Well, I've got to call him. Andrew: Yeah, let's get him on the phone. Michael: After the break, we try to get ahold of Gerard. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK CONSERVANCY AD Andrew: Each episode, we seem to cover at least one thing that, like this podcast, wouldn't be possible without the support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Michael: With the help of some friends over there, we got the number of executive director, Doug Mitchell, and decided to call him up out of the blue to ask about these projects. Andrew: For this episode, we wanted to ask about the restoration work done on the Many Glacier hotel. Doug Mitchell: Glacier Conservancy, Doug Mitchell speaking. How can I help you? Andrew: Hey Doug, it's Andrew and Michael, how are you doing? Doug Mitchell: Hey guys, great to hear from you today. Michael: Likewise. Andrew: We wanted to call because for this episode I had the chance to go on a tour of the Many Glacier hotel with Diane Sine, and she pointed out a staircase to me that she mentioned you might've had something to do with. Doug Mitchell: Ah, the famous double helix staircase. To be able to bring that back here in the 21st century is really a treasure. And those people who haven't seen it ought to definitely get out there and take a look. Michael: Yeah, it's pretty remarkable. This magnificent, as you said, double helix, like kind of DNA strand staircase. Doug Mitchell: Yeah. You know, we joked a little bit around here that they needed a t-shirt for the lodge that says history it's in our DNA. And history and historic renovation really is in our DNA here at the Glacier Conservancy, as well. And that is a property at Many Glacier that had fallen in disrepair. And actually some had talked about tearing it down and what a great decision not to. Andrew: Absolutely. Has the Conservancy, had a chance to be involved in any other historic preservation projects in the park? Doug Mitchell: We really have spent a lot of time and focus on that because really our future is part of celebrating our past. There's a lot of different kind of places that we've been able to help like the Wheeler cabin and the Sperry chalet of course, and the Walton ranger station. And those kinds of historic preservation projects are ones that we've been very proud to be involved in over the years. And really we think add to the fabric of, of this great tapestry that makes up Glacier National Park. Michael: Well, thanks for making the project possible in the first place. And thank you for taking some time out of your day. Doug Mitchell: Absolutely. Thanks guys. Call anytime. Michael: All right, bye Doug. Doug Mitchell: Alright, cheers. CLIMATE—PART 1 Michael: Before the break, I found out I had a chance to get Gerard back to Grinnell Glacier for the first time in 30 years—so I called him. Naturally, Gerard’s a busy guy—I didn’t get ahold of him the first, or second time I called. Gerard: Hey Michael, Gerard here. Yeah I haven’t forgot about you, I had you on my list, but I— Michael: But after playing voicemail phone tag, I reached him. And invited him to join us. Well, we're going on Tuesday with Lisa McKeon. So you're certainly welcome to tag along. Gerard: Oh I would love to, I'll have to look at my calendar to see what's on there, but I, that would be a wonderful invite. Thank you. Michael: The next day, he shot me an email. Michael: So we had everybody meet at park headquarters and wasted, no time getting going, because if you're headed to mini glacier, you should plan on an early start. Whether you're looking for a parking space or a campsite, everything fills up early, like really early. And on top of that, it's not especially close. It's the farthest main entrance from the airport. And from the West entrance alone, it takes about two and a half hours. Whether you take Going-to-the-Sun Roard to St. Mary or Highway 2 under the south end of the park. But we found a spot and set off on one of the crown jewels of glaciers trail system. Now the trail is popular not just because of its destination, but because of the scenery along the way. If you're not looking at wildlife, you're looking at towering snow-capped mountains, or crystal clear lakes. Roundtrip it's 11 miles and you gain 2,600 feet of elevation, so it's not an easy hike. In fact, one of the fan favorite ways to do this trail is to actually skip the first few miles entirely. The Glacier Park Boat Company offers historic wooden boat tours, and some of their tours include a hike to the glacier. Taking that boat shuttle shaves off nearly four miles of the hike, but none of the elevation. If you're interested in boat tours in Many Glacier, or anywhere else in the park, it pays to plan ahead. We didn't catch a boat though, we just hiked. And you don't have to hike too far before you stumble into one of the most famous views in the whole park, a bright blue Grinnell Lake tucked into the mountains. Andrew: And if you've ever seen a poster of the park odds are, it was a picture of Grinnell Lake. In fact, Lisa McKeon told us she had a poster of the view in her college dorm room. Lisa: Yeah, I've never, I've been up this trail so many times. I never thought about that, but, uh, you know, the classic Grinnell view. Gerard: Good story. Michael: When I worked for a different agency in a different state, that same poster was on the wall at the office next to me. Andrew: And I had a funny experience with this view as well. When I got hired, I was in college and I was so excited about it. I'd never been here before. And so I Google image, search Glacier National Park, downloaded some cool pictures for my like phone background. And I didn't ever really look up where it was, but I was hiking up here for the first time and I'm like, "Oh my God, this is the view from my phone." So I took my own photo from that spot. And I still have it as my. Daniel: That's still your background? Andrew: Yeah. Daniel: This whole time. Andrew: I was like, this is it! That's why I came here. Michael: And it is so easy to get swept away by the beauty of this trail: by the wildflowers, by the wildlife, whether it's mountain goats or bighorn sheep. But the entire time, I was distracted wondering how Gerard was going to react once we finally saw the glacier. And the trail does a really good job at building that anticipation because you can't really see it the very end. But after a few hours and a few thousand feet, we made it. We crested that final hill and were able to look down at Grinnell Glacier. And it was the first time any of us had seen it that year. But for Gerard, it was the first time seeing it since the eighties. Daniel: All right, Gerard, what's the big reaction to this view? Michael: That's our producer, Daniel. Gerard: There was just more snow and ice here. Right here, there was just... snow. Michael: Gerard's a guy who always has something clever to say. I had never seen him at a loss for words, but he stood there for a minute. Stock-still. Staring out at the ice in disbelief. Gerard: Holy cow. Gerard: Wow. Michael: I felt pretty fortunate to be there in that moment with Gerard. I left him totally speechless, and experiences like his are as powerful as they are rare. In the grand scheme of things, most people are lucky to see a place like Grinnell Glacier once in a lifetime, let alone have the chance to revisit it. I mean, growing up in Ohio, I could have driven in any direction for several days and never seen anything quite like it. And that's where Lisa's work comes in. Lisa McKeon is a physical scientist with the USGS or United States Geological Survey. And over the course of her career, she's taken experiences like Gerard's and made them a lot more accessible. Lisa: No, I agree. I mean, we've got, you know, area change data. We've got some volume estimates. We've gott mass-balance. We have a lot of quantitative data looking at change—most people can't relate to that, and they can look at a pair of images and go: "Wow! Something's happening there." Yeah. Michael: The USGS' Repeat Photography Project is an effort to visualize glacial change, not with graphs or charts, but with pictures. By retaking historic photos of glaciers throughout the park, you can see the change that's happened in the intervening years with your own eyes. And Lisa has been involved since it got started in 1997. Lisa: I got swept up into doing repeat photography, right at the very beginning. Jerry DeSanto had brought in this repeat pair early in the spring and showed Dan, and we had decided: "Oh yeah, let's, let's do some of this let's document glaciers in the park with photography." And then later that summer Vice President Al Gore decided to come out and have a little event here at the glacier. And they, he was talking about climate change. And like, right then at 1997, the media came out and we had taken a few repeat photos and they couldn't get enough of them. You know, it was a first, some of the first really visual evidence that people could relate to with this idea of climate change. Andrew: It struck a chord, like as soon as you started. Lisa: Mmhmm. Because they're so easy to—. Gerard: Yeah, they answer to themselves. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. You don't really need any text, nothing. It's just, it's... Michael: A picture really is worth a thousand words. Because I could read through statistics about how Boulder glacier's area today is 35,298 square meters when it used to be 829,577 square meters. Or I could show you a picture. Well, not really. This is a podcast, but you could find the photo from a 1932 horse packing trip to Boulder glacier where 80% of the frame is filled with ice. And four people stand there staring into the mouth of a towering ice cave. When Ranger Jerry DeSanto took that same photo just 50 years later, the frame was empty. The ice had receded, revealing only barren rock and the distant mountains. These repeated photos have made it possible for people no matter where they are or when they are to make sense of this change. But while these repeated photos are easy to understand, they're quite difficult to capture. Lisa: Some of them take quite a while. Some are, you know, much harder than others. But it's been amazing, sometimes, when you think "Oh, I know where that one is." And you go, Oh, no, I guess that's not it. Oh, it's up here. So then you climb up, Oh wait, no, no, no, no. It was down quite a bit. And you just can go up and down, up and down, we've gotten better at it, for sure. Michael: They don't physically mark any of the sites. So they rely purely on perspective to initially find the right spot. And one thing that's helped a lot is technology. Lisa: It's been really helpful with Google Earth now, cause you can kind of go in the landscape and line up the peaks pretty well that way before you get out in the field. Michael: The next part of our day was actually taking a repeat photo. And while Lisa had taken this repeat photo before, had seen it on Google earth, even had the GPS coordinates—she gave us the authentic experience. Using a printed photo, we had to line up what we could see (boulders in the foreground, mountains in the background) with the landscape in the picture, which was easier, said than done. Lisa: Further that way... Michael: We knew from the picture that we'd have to go up. So we started up this moraine or hill of loose rock, and feeling pretty good about it until it dropped off. And we had to climb down the Boulder field and scramble it around until we saw the snow patch. And then we had to go over... [fading out] Michael: Needless to say, it took a while. And as we were searching, we had to be very mindful of timing. Because a lot of factors go into a successful repeat photo. The time of day, can cast shadows off the mountains that make it harder to see the ice. And on a larger scale, the time of year is important. Seasonal snow is a huge obstacle to taking a good photo. Lisa: You have to wait so long. I have people in June asking if they can come to the park and take some photos for me. And I have to say, well, you can't really until the end of August at the earliest, maybe, or September, you gotta wait for the snow to melt. So you can see the actual margin. Gerard: Are we seeing snow there on top of the, Lisa: yeah, it's mostly. Yeah... Michael: And even we were cutting it close, right? Andrew: Yeah. Quite honestly, our trip was really more about getting a behind the scenes look at the process and not necessarily because Lisa needed to repeat this particular photo. Lisa: We don't have the Moraine in front. No, no. Cause that's going to be, Michael: Once you finally find the place where the photo is taken, your last step is to get the camera set up and line up the shot. Lisa: Yeah. So I'm just putting the camera on the tripod and then I'll just kind of start lining things up and slightly overshoot it so I can crop it down a little bit. But I try to match it as closely— I haven't taken any photos all summer. So half the battle is remembering how to use this camera. Andrew: No pressure, you just got everyone watching you. Lisa: Yeah. I'm not even like paying attention to that. Michael: Once it's all said and done, you've got the photo. If it's good enough, Lisa, will line it up next to its historic reference photo back at the office and upload it onto the repeat photography project webpage where you can access all of them. And at the time of this recording, at least 80 photos have been repeated of 20 different glaciers throughout the park. But after spending the day playing research assistant to Lisa, we wanted to take a repeat photo that had never been done before. One that had her in it. CLIMATE – PART 2 Andrew: In the summer of 1988, the year before Gerard returned to the glacier with his wife, a teenaged Lisa McKeon had hiked with her parents up to Grinnell glacier. When they got to the top, Lisa posed for a photo. With a white tank top, yellow shorts, and some very 80s sunglasses Lisa stepped out onto Grinnell glacier for a picture. With a grimacing smile that screamed mom, please don't make me take another photo, Lisa unwittingly created the perfect opportunity for a future repeat picture. So Michael, when I pulled out that photo of Lisa up at Grinnell glacier, that was your first time seeing it, right? Michael: No, it was, and it took me a second to even figure out what the photo was of let alone, who is in it. Daniel: Do you recognize Lisa in them, would you have know that was her? Michael: I don't think so, no. Daniel: You would have been like, who are these people? Michael: Look at this lovely picture. Daniel: What if Gerard was like in the background? Lisa McKeon: That's right. Wouldn't that be cool? He's down below us. In the cave, going "oooOOOooo." Andrew: I tried to find the spot for Lisa to stand and recreate her vacation photo, but I ran into a problem: the lake. Andrew: I spent the last 10 minutes or so trying to find this other spot that we have from one of Lisa's photos from the eighties. And I keep coming further down this way, and I still think I've got to go, we've got to go a lot further that way to get to the spot. I think where you were standing is in the lake at this point. Lisa McKeon: Yeah, I would guess. Andrew: So I don't think we're going to be able to get you back to that spot. Lisa McKeon: Yeah, I know, right? Andrew: Finding the nearest dry spot to where she had stood in 1988, Lisa replicated the pose and grimacing smile. Daniel started to wonder if these photos might be used someday too. Daniel: What about the next 20 years and like the photos that you're in, do you think that people working for USGS in the 2050s will be using photos of you as a teenager and repeating those? Lisa McKeon: I have not submitted these to the archives yet. Gerard: "Who was that babe?" Lisa McKeon: We'll see. I, yeah, I'd probably rather have those submitted than now, but certainly, I mean, it's really exciting thinking that the photos I'm taking now will certainly, you know, be used in decades to come. Andrew: This place has meant a lot to Lisa. Some of her best memories are here in this glacier basin. Lisa McKeon: I've been lucky enough to come up as, you know, a youth. And I brought both of my daughters here because I think it's a really special place. And I want them to see the beauty and, and to see the change, you know? I want them to have their own memories of what it was and then be able to see how it's changing. And my husband proposed to me here too. So I have a lot of great memories associated with this place. Andrew: Where was that? Lisa McKeon: Um, I think it was right down on some of these rocks here. Actually. I don't even remember exactly the spot. Yeah. Beautiful piece of slick rock like this. Andrew: Over a lifetime of visits, she has seen so much change, not just to the glacier, but to people's understanding of it and to our understanding of the changing climate. Lisa McKeon: Well, our glaciers are going. They're on a track to disappear now. But I think what we've done is helping the world understand the connection between climate change and what's happening on the landscape. Yeah. A little piece of that, you know, this happens to be a really visible piece, but there's so many other ways that climate change is impacting this park that are not as visible as a glacier melting away. They get people thinking about climate change. And I love that maybe it begs the question of, wow, what else is happening in this park? And there's scientists out there figuring that out. And there's people maybe looking a little more closely for it in their own experiences here. Andrew: It made me wonder, when did Gerard learn that the changes he'd seen up here were part of a wider global phenomenon? Michael: Yeah, that's something I was wondering too. And I asked him, were you aware of climate change when you made that trip up to Grinnell? Gerard Byrd: I was aware that something was taking place because of humanity here or how we were living. Because when I come back that three years, I was like astounded. I was just so impressed that we could get underneath the glacier at that time. And I told my wife, I said, Oh honey, we got to go back in. I've got to show you this. This was the coolest experience. And so I, I wasn't really aware of it at that time. It was the three years later. Andrew: So it sounds like you noticed that something was going on just from your experience here, but later, did you read in the paper or hear on the news about climate change science and realize, Oh, that's what I saw at Grinnell glacier. Gerard Byrd: Yeah. Then the pieces to fit in the puzzle. And I was like, well, yeah, I witnessed something there that was pretty profound. And didn't know it at the time. Andrew: With all the good memories from this place, but also all the evidence of melting. I wanted to ask Lisa how she felt about Grinnell Glacier on the whole. Does she have a good or bad feeling from this place? Lisa McKeon: Yeah. I think what you described, bittersweet is exactly what it is. Cause it's always a stunningly beautiful place, but the glacier is shrinking and I mean, that's one of the main comments I get back from the repeat photos is people feel loss. Andrew: But when I asked Lisa, if she still had hope she perked up a bit. Lisa McKeon: I do have hope. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, like I said, I don't, I don't have hope that these glaciers are going to last here, but I'm hopeful that climate change is not going to be the end all for this planet. Andrew: Before we left. Lisa wanted to walk up to the glacier itself to let us see what was happening to it with our own eyes, hear it with our own ears. As we approached the sound of melting water rushing off the glacier turned into a roar. I had to shout just for Lisa to hear my question, Andrew: Where is all this water coming from? Lisa McKeon: It's coming from the glacier, every bit of it. It's melting off the glacier. It's quite a torrent today. It's a hot day in the glacier basin and things are cranking. Andrew: As we stepped onto the glacier we reflected on what made this change so meaningful. The earth has always been changing and glaciers have advanced and retreated many times, but something about this felt different. Andrew: Yeah, I guess the fact that these changes that have historically happened on like geologic timescales are now happening on human timescales makes it really dramatic. Gerard Byrd: Yeah, very poignant. And I think that's where the repeat photography comes into play. That's a very visual, you can see that you don't need to be one political party or the other, old or young, you can see that blink of an eye, right there. Lisa McKeon: I think for me, I feel part of this change. There's something major going on--that's climate change. And ice melts when it gets warm. And we're part of that equation. I'm part of this. But I also feel like part of the solution to, not necessarily changing the trajectory for these glaciers, but in a larger sense, this brings awareness. It's, it's pretty stark. It's raw. Gerard Byrd: Well, it's such a quick change in geological time and there was change in the past, but it was thousands of years. I mean, what I've witnessed in just my little lifetime here is incredible. Your grandkids, your great-grandkids won't see this. It's brought an awareness to me for just being present. You know, this is all we have. Tomorrow is not here, yesterday is gone. This is all we have. We're just fortunate to be able to witness the last part of Grinnell glacier. Andrew: That’s our show—If you’re interested in learning more about the Many Glacier Hotel, the USGS Repeat Photography project, climate change, or are interested in getting to Grinnell Glacier yourself, we put links in the show notes to more info. Michael: Thanks for listening! CREDITS Renata: Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park with support from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The show was written and recorded on traditional native lands. Andrew Smith and Michael Faist produced, edited and hosted the show. Ben Cosgrove wrote and performed our music. Alex Stillson provided tech support Quinn Feller designed our art Renata Harrison researched the show, Lacy Kowalski was always there for us, and Daniel Lombardi and Bill Hayden were the executive directors. Support for the show comes from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Conservancy works to preserve and protect the park for future generations. We couldn't do it without them, and they couldn't do it without support from thousands of generous donors. If you want to learn more about how to support this podcast, or other awesome Conservancy projects, please go to their website at glacier.org. Of course you can always help support the show by sharing it with everyone you know— your friends, your family, your dog... And also leave us a review online. Special thanks this episode to Gerard Byrd, Diane Sine, Bob Adams, and Lisa McKeon.

Many Glacier is home to some of the park’s most popular trails, like the Grinnell Glacier trail. Many want to see Grinnell because—like the other glaciers in the park—it is retreating.

In our search to understand how Grinnell has changed, we meet someone who last visited the glacier over 30 years ago and hike with a researcher who discovered the power of portraits.

Featuring: Gerard Byrd, Bob Adams, Diane Sine, and Lisa McKeon

For more info, visit: go.nps.gov/headwaters

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