Checking In At Bear Lodge

  • December 22, 2016
  • Posted by Jeremy Aaron

With the season winding down and everyone getting ready for the next step in their lives and careers, there is nothing like an inspiring project and landscape to remind us of the value of our time spent serving with MCC. De Gados, also known as the 6 month Wildlands Restoration Crew from the Greater Yellowstone region were recently privileged to work an 8 day hitch at Devils Tower, WY the countries first National Monument. But as the crew quickly learned, the name actually came from a misinterpretation a Native American translation of bears lodge, becoming bad gods and then devils tower. Now many tribes who consider the spot sacred are trying to reclaim the proper name of the tower, town and monument to bears lodge. Although there was little we could do to help restore the proper name for the tower, our crew was on assignment to help restore the native grasslands surrounding the tower, an ongoing effort spanning over 30 years.
Our visit began with a walk around the Tower trail with Rene Ohms, head of Resource Management, and lead Biotech Turner Smith. As we started our way around the massive igneous intrusion, Turner proudly pointed us to the parks latest public education effort, the Alien Invaders sign, cleverly invoking the tower’s Hollywood fame to highlight the exotic species houndstounge and cheetgrass commonly found around the tower and on visitors clothing and pets. As we continued our walk Rene filled us in on the parks recent efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Led by their “green team” the park has added several electric vehicles to their fleet, installed passive solar lighting to park buildings, engaged in energy saving competitions between park employees, and made available bike-sharing and composting to their residents. Turning the next corner and noticing the dark ash around the bases of the dead ponderosas, we learned about the parks controlled burn strategy to prevent overgrowth of the forest and their struggles to handle quick invaders that colonize the burn areas before native species can establish.
With windy weather and our crew left unable to spray our first few days, we ended up helping out with maintenance projects removing signs and fencing around the park as well as working with the parks climbing bio-techs. First we checked a few of the feral cat traps around the tower trail; no cats this time but we did find a pair of young raccoons crammed together in one cage. Next we headed out to ‘prairie dog town’ to help with some population counts of the vast prairie dog colony on the lower east side of the tower. Although their cholesterol is going up from all the roadside Cheetos, two deadly diseases Tularemia and Black Plague are now absent from the population. Lastly we took a look at some of the sonar equipment used to detect bat activity around the tower and helped with a vegetation plot study conducted around several known bat roosts, learning how to use several specialized forestry tools including a densiometer and rangefinder. With 11 bat species known to frequent the park including a threatened species, the Northern Long Eared bat, tracking these tricky to find creatures is one of the main tasks of the parks wildlife experts.
While our time spent treating leafy spurge, pulling mullein seedheads and restoring 15 acres of native grass lands was rewarding in and of itself, the real meat of this hitches avocado as De Gados like to say was all of the amazing educational experiences we got to take part in throughout the week along with enjoying the overall beauty of the park and surrounding lands. At a time when it is so easy to check out, checking in at the Bear Lodge was exactly what our crew needed!


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