On May 8th and 9th, the Ksik Stakii Project hosted its first official site visit. For two days, project team members, students, and community members came together to plan, discuss, and begin the implementation of the project that is designed to build resilience to climate change while connecting traditional ecological knowledge and western science.
Our site visit began in the field, where we looked at potential beaver mimicry sites along Willow Creek. Amy Chadwick, wetland ecologist with Great West Engineering, and Jordan Kennedy, graduate student at Harvard, contributed their specialized input at each of the sites. Kennedy pointed out the scars of old beaver dams, beaver-made canals, and lodges. Chadwick analyzed the effectiveness of beaver mimicry be at each site. Blackfeet Community College Native Science Fellows participated by asking engaging questions throughout the tour.
In the afternoon, we switched gears and visited sites where the Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife Department had documented challenges between humans and beavers. Keith Lame Bear, game warden for the Department, led the group on a tour of sites around Browning where management techniques could be used. We visited a residence where damming had caused unwanted flooding, a park where beavers had removed large, prized cottonwood and aspen trees, and a campground where beaver activity had been reported. Chadwick suggested nonlethal management devices such as a beaver deceiver and a pond leveler to decrease flooding and tree fencing to protect trees.
The evening gathering that followed the first day of site visit was an authentic demonstration of what makes this project unique. Helen Augare Carlson, a director at Blackfeet Community College, brought together a wide variety of community members and brought our attention to the focus of the meeting: examining our relationships to beavers. Kennedy and Chadwick provided fascinating presentations on beaver mimicry, nonlethal beaver management, and the utilization of drones to better understand why and how beavers behave the way that they do. Following the presentations, we discussed some of the challenges that are caused by beavers and brainstormed solutions. Then we took turns telling stories about our experiences with beavers while eating a delicious barbeque dinner provided by Joe Rutherford’s catering company. The room was packed with people coming from different backgrounds and different perspectives, but there was a mutual respect for the beaver among each and every participant. Throughout the gathering, there was a positive energy in the room that we carried with us into the next day.
For the final day of the event, we revisited one of the beaver mimicry sites for the first hands-on field work of the Ksik Stakii Project. Chadwick demonstrated the installation of a piezometer to a group of Native Science Fellows, Blackfeet Community College faculty, Montana Conservation Corps Blackfeet Crew leaders, and project team members. A piezometer is an instrument that is used to measure groundwater. Groundwater has become progressively more important, particularly during extended periods of drought, in the midst of climate change. After Chadwick’s demonstration, members of the group split off into small teams to install more piezometers. Teams worked quickly and efficiently to install five more piezometers before we concluded the two-day visit.
Throughout the first Ksik Stakii Project site visit, a vast amount of knowledge sharing occurred. Whether it was community members recalling their first beaver encounter, students learning about beaver mimicry and climate change, or landowners discussing the benefits and challenges of living among beavers, the lively group was united by a genuine appreciation of Ksik Stakii.