From the Field: A Native Science Fellow Perspective

My Name is Lia J. Rattler (pictured second the the left above), I am a fellow at the Native Science Field Center at Blackfeet Community College and I have been a part of The Ksik Stakii Project for two years. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with this project and with the many people that have helped it grow over the years. I have had many opportunities because of The Ksik Stakii Project.

What was your favorite experience?

Just being able to witness the beaver helping us make all of these connections culturally and scientifically. After all, that is the goal of being a Native Science Fellow! One of my top favorite moments was when we got to experience a blessing (ceremony) from an elder from Canada on the Connelly Ranch site on Willow Creek, where we were building beaver dam analogs.

What surprised you along the way?

With each experience you take part of, you get to learn. For example, we learned that pond levelers do not do well during our run-off season and that we need to maintain them a bit more than the beaver dam analogs after run-off. It also took me by surprise how many benefits there are to beaver mimicry, and that more people don’t want to be involved in the project. Beavers are natural engineers after all! Also, the fact that most people view beavers as nuisances when in all reality they are doing nothing but helping the land you live on and the land around you. We have to learn to live in harmony with the beavers.

Lia modeling mimic dams during the Ksik Stakii Project 2019 field season.

What did you learn from The Ksik Stakii Project?

I learned so many different things from this project and it will hold a special place in my heart because The Ksik Stakii Project helped me decide that I wanted to study Environmental Sciences/Hydrology, so I can continue to learn and grow to help our environments and communities.

We also learned how to collect our own natural material to make the beaver dam analogs/pond levelers. Along the way I learned so much about the benefits of beaver mimicry. A few examples are raising the ground water tables, helping vegetate the land, and bringing other wildlife to the area. There is so much more we can learn from this key stone mammal and The Ksik Stakii Project is just the beginning of it.

My Big Sky Watershed Corps Term: The Start of Shifting Perceptions

My name is Kendra Allen, and I have just started as the 2019 Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member jointly serving with the Blackfeet Nation Fish & Wildlife and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. After growing up in Minnesota, I headed east for a bit to the University of Massachusetts Amherst graduating with a BS in Environmental Science. While studying there, I took a semester abroad to live in a remote eco-village in Iceland studying “sustainability through community”, finishing off my degree a year early. Eager for my next adventure, AmeriCorps seemed liked the right fit, a perfect merge between my education and my new professional career. As an avid outdoorsman, I was also looking forward to getting a taste of the mountain lifestyle, while simultaneously getting to do what I love. It seemed almost too good to be true for a recent college graduate and reiterated my ideology that everything happens for a reason. 

Kendra at the AmeriCorps swearing in ceremony in Bozeman, Montana – Courtesy
 of Libby Khumalo and Jacob LeVitus 

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A Year as the Beaver Guy

When I arrived in the Blackfeet Nation, in the middle of a record-breaking winter, I had few expectations on what I was about to experience. I was assigned to assist with the coordination and development of a “Beaver Project” (later changed to The Ksik Stakii Project,) despite the fact that my experience with beavers began and ended the one time I saw a beaver swimming away from me in a small boggy pond in Alaska. In addition, my only prior visit to the Blackfeet Nation was almost as brief as my beaver sighting; a quick pit stop in Browning after a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. Still fresh out of college and without a clue on what I wanted to make out of my professional career, my decision to serve as a Big Sky Watershed Corps member turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

When I found out that my new position would be based in Browning, I was excited and nervous to return for almost a full year after my brief stop in 2016. Upon arrival, I was greeted with a type of hospitality that I had never experienced in my life. After a massive blizzard, I couldn’t get to work because the highway to Browning was barricaded shut, which was commonplace. I decided to take a break from my “home office” and shovel my neighbor’s driveway. Before I could even make it across the street, I heard shouting, “Jacob! Come in for tea and cookies!” Being surrounded by friendly, welcoming people helped me feel accepted in my new neighborhood.

All smiles after snowshoeing through a blizzard to find a beaver dam on the Two Medicine River.

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Native Science Fellow Tiffany Hill: My experience attending the Watershed Symposium

Blackfeet Community College Native Science Fellow Tiffany Hill attended the Montana Watershed Coordination Council Watershed Symposium in Whitefish, Montana on October 10-12. She co-presented with Big Sky Watershed Corps member Jacob LeVitus, where she shared her experience working on the Ksik Stakii Project. Tiffany is currently studying health science at Blackfeet Community College. After this semester, she is transferring to nursing school at MSU-Northern where she plans to graduate in 2021. After the symposium, Jacob sat down with her to hear more about her experience attending the event.

Tiffany (right) builds a mini-mimic dam as part of the Ksik Stakii Project Field Program (photo by Libby Khumalo)

What is one thing you learned at the Symposium?

I learned a lot about waterat the Montana Watershed Coordination Council Watershed Symposium. Before the Symposium, I knew very little about water conservation, where we get our water from, what’s in our water, and why water is so important to our everyday lives.  Read More

Beaver Mimicry Field Program Recap

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.

“I feel way more knowledgeable about Ksik Stakii and will share that knowledge whenever I can.”

-Blackfeet Community College Native Science Fellow

Native Science Fellows weave willows between lodgepole posts as part of the BDA construction process.

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Workshop Recap: Coexisting with Beavers

Beavers are regularly referred to as ecosystem engineers. Their contributions to the natural world include the creation of wetland habitat for fish and wildlife and the storage of ground and surface water. The beaver population in Blackfeet country is no different. They work hard to engineer dams using trees, willows, or whatever local supplies they can get their teeth on.

While beavers work hard to maintain the reservation’s rich biodiversity and help mitigate drought, their activity can create challenges. Unwanted beaver behavior can include the damming of culverts, the flooding of houses, and the removal of prized trees in public areas such as parks. Luckily, for people and for beavers, there are nonlethal management strategies that can mitigate these challenges. Read More

Working Together on Willow Creek

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.

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Amy Chadwick teaches a group of students, project managers, and Montana Conservation Corps crew leaders about a beaver mimicry site on Willow Creek (Photo by Jacob LeVitus)

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Earth Day 2018

The Blackfeet Environmental Office hosted an Earth Day Festival at Blackfeet Community College on April 20th. Throughout the day, volunteers gave away free trees, shrubs, and gardening plants to community members. Volunteers also helped by grilling and serving a delicious outdoor lunch on the beautiful 54-degree sunny day. Kids got their faces painted, and door prizes were given away throughout the festival.

Meanwhile, organizations like FAST (Food Access and Sustainability) Blackfeet, Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife, and the Blackfeet Agricultural Resource Management Plan (ARMP) focused on improving the health of our planet and the Blackfeet Nation set up booths inside the BCC commons and shared information with more than 400 students and 300 adults who participated.

Big Sky Watershed Corps Member Jacob LeVitus and the Ksik Stakii Project Booth

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Unbelievable Beaver Series Part 3: Unbelievable Beaver Facts

Skydiving beavers, dams seen from space, and beavers the size of bears!

In addition to playing an integral part in Blackfeet Culture and the fur trade and being ecosystem engineers, beavers are truly a remarkable species. In honor of International Beaver Day (April 7), we’ll explore four fascinating facts about beavers I’ll bet you didn’t know! Read More

Unbelievable Beaver Series Part 2: Ecosystem Engineers

Over the years, beavers have gained a reputation as “ecosystem engineers.” For millions of years, they have stayed busy building dams and lodges. After being severely threatened by the fur trade and seen as a nuisance species, conservation efforts changed the way people think about beavers and revitalized beaver populations. In part two of the Unbelievable Beaver Series, I will talk about the hard work beavers do to protect water and the hard work humans do to protect beavers.

A beaver dam in Grand Teton National Park- courtesy of PixaBay

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