A summer of science writing at FLBS

From the moment I entered GLI, I knew my theme was going to be Resources & Sustainability. As a kid, I was always passionate about wildlife and knew I wanted to dedicate my life to the animal world in some way. There was only one problem: I’m a liberal arts major. Studying journalism and creative writing, it can be tough to find a straightforward approach to working with wildlife. Luckily, the opportunity arose in the form of the Ted Smith Environmental Storytelling Internship at Flathead Lake Biological Station. Over the course of eight weeks, I fully reported and wrote five vastly different pieces all focused around Montana’s incredible freshwater resources, as well as the creatures who call our lakes and rivers home.

The first article I wrote centered around a UM grad student in the school of forestry Michelle Fillion, who is studying interesting structures known as Beaver Dam Analogs. These BDAs, as they’re called, act as artificial beaver dams where beavers have been eradicated (99% of North American Beaver populations have been eradicated since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas). Obviously, beaver dams are vital to stream health, so creating artificial ones are an excellent alternative to more invasive forms of stream restoration. Unfortunately, not much is known about how BDAs affect populations of aquatic macroinvertebrates that are at the center of stream food webs. Michelle’s project is looking into this, and is set to be completed by this time next year.

A stream reach with a BDA and several aquatic insect traps

My next story was a profile of Jim Craft, a long-time researcher of phytoplankton at FLBS. Craft is retiring in September, but before he goes he’s creating a photo catalogue of all relevant algae species in the lake (with the help of GLIer Brooke DeRuwe). I talked to Craft and his colleagues about the project, as well as his time at FLBS. Overall, he’ll be missed, but the photo ark will keep his legacy alive.

Jim Craft, right, shows FLBS interns how long-term monitoring samples are collected.

My third story was about a pair of FWP interns whose job it was to catch and kill invasive snapping turtles in the ponds surrounding the northern part of Flathead Lake that are devastating local turtle and waterbird populations. This story was my favorite, since it represented a very “backwoods” type of science that you don’t see every day. I spent a lot of time with Haaken and Abigail, who let me get lots of hands of experience, which even involved me dispatching of a turtle myself. I kept the shell of my catch, named Normal Bill, along with his mummified head and tail. I definitely won’t forget about this experience any time soon.

Haaken Bungum and Abigail Hendra pose with the shell of their biggest catch, a 40-pounder.

The final story I’ll discuss on this blog post is a profile of the summer artist-in-residence at FLBS, Jennifer Ogden. Jennifer creates intricate collages using recycled paper and is based out of Hamilton. This summer, she lived at the station and attended several field trips. By the middle of August, Jennifer had completed a handful of complete collages based on many of the same stories I’d been writing. She taught me that there are ways to promote sustainability even in the arts.

“Oh Snap! Invasive Harvest” by Jennifer Ogden, based on the real-life scientific work of Haaken and Abigail.

In the next few months, all five of my stories will be published at a variety of publications, helping me establish a solid portfolio of work before I enter the real world of journalism.

This internship affected me in countless ways. I learned better time management skills and craft skills surrounding writing, as well as got a glimpse of what life as a full-time journalist might look like. Overall, my biggest takeaway was much more largescale. Living on the pristine Flathead Lake, I got a front row seat for what an ecosystem really is. When we’re in first grade, we learn about food chains. When we get a little older and our brains can do more work, our teachers introduce us to the more complex food webs. It wasn’t until this past summer that I got to see the truly endless scope of connection in the natural world. My five stories, though vastly different, were directly connected in a million different ways. Everything that happens affects everything else, so it’s vital that we keep our waters, and our world, as healthy as we can. I’m thankful to GLI for allowing me to learn this tangibly in a way I’ll never forget.

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