Water storage is becoming increasingly vital as western summers continue to become hotter, longer and drier in the midst of climate change. During the Ksik Stakii Project field program, students worked together to address the need for natural water storage while simultaneously learning new skills and strengthening relationships.
For two weeks in August, nine students from the Blackfeet Community College (BCC) Native Science Field Center program worked together to build a series of beaver dam analogues (BDAs) on a stretch of Willow Creek located on BCC property. Native Science Fellows are high school and college students who are interested in pursuing higher education in STEM fields. While none of the students had any previous experience with beaver mimicry, they grasped the process quickly. After just two days of building BDAs with wetland ecologist Amy Chadwick the students seamlessly transitioned into leaders. By the second week, the Fellows took control of the operation by selecting build sites based on a specific set of criteria, setting up monitoring points, recording data, and delegating tasks to make the BDA construction process flow smoothly and efficiently. The BDAs were built using locally sourced materials and hand tools, showing the students that effective conservation work doesn’t require power tools or heavy machinery.
When the students weren’t in the creek building BDAs, they were in the classroom learning about climate change, natural resource management, and Blackfeet culture. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds (available on page 3 of the field report) drew correlations from their work and personal experiences to the Ksik Stakii Project. Topics ranged from strategies the Tribe is implementing to obtain food sovereignty to personal stories about the Beaver Bundle. The students absorbed the material from the presentations that were largely focused on the community. At the end of the program, students were asked to share something that they plan on doing differently. Responses included, “not wasting food,” “be(ing) more involved,” and, “looking into more natural and effective ways to manage natural resources.”
Another positive outcome of the project was the strengthening of relationships between individuals and organizations. In addition to the many partners who were fundamental in the planning process, volunteers from a variety of organizations including Big Sky Watershed Corps and Glacier National Park assisted by sharing their knowledge and helping with logistics. One Big Sky Watershed Corps member’s favorite part of the program was, “getting to work with amazing people.” Everybody involved was eager to collaborate and contribute however they were needed. Project volunteers were excited to meet and work with the Fellows, providing an opportunity for students to network with professionals in fields related to natural resources.
As the two-week program concluded, students had an opportunity to reflect on the project. The room was filled with an optimistic spirit. Many of the students were quick to ask about participating next year. Others shared ways they planned on applying what they learned to their daily lives. The Fellows went home feeling motivated and inspired to carry the momentum of the project with them into the classroom, into the field, and into the community.