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Pikas: August 25, 2018

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Instructor:  Denny Olson, M.S.

August 25, 2018

Glacier National Park has spectacular scenery and charismatic animals, but none more vulnerable and potentially important for gauging the effects of climate change on the world above treeline, than the pika. The little “furry potato with ears”, a denizen of alpine talus, is unmercifully cute and constantly busy cutting and stacking “hay” for the coming winter. But, recent studies show that populations of pikas are disappearing across mountain ranges in the West.  Although pika populations are currently holding strong in Glacier, this course will teach us about how pikas may serve an early warning system for the shrinking of alpine areas and the threats to alpine plant and animal specialists.  We will also learn about the research and citizen science efforts of Glacier National Park to understand this creature.  This course is about observing the surprisingly sophisticated behavior of pikas – at a respectful distance – and about the adaptations and vulnerabilities of pikas and other alpine species.

Meeting Time: Saturday, August 25, 7:30 AM.

Meeting Place: Glacier Institute Field Camp

Accommodations:  Lodging can be purchased for $32/person/night at the Glacier Institute Field Camp on a bluff overlooking the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.  Facilities include bunkhouses, a community bathhouse, a classroom, a library and a kitchen.  

Food: You are responsible for your own food.  If you are staying overnight, you may use the Glacier Institute cooking facilities on site.

Equipment: Be prepared for any kind of weather including snow.  Bring rain gear, warm jacket, gloves, a hat, and comfortable hiking shoes. Lots of layers work best because of variable elevation and weather in this class. Binoculars are very useful, but optional, as well as field guides that interest you.

Physical Requirements: Moderately Difficult. The elevation gains on hikes range from 500 to 2000 feet.

Transportation during course: We will be traveling in a Glacier Institute vehicle to trailheads.

Weather: This course will not be canceled due to weather.

Recommended Reading:

Glacier National Park Website, Nature and Science (written by Instructor, Denny Olson) http://www.nps.gov/glac/naturescience/index.htm (click on all the sub-categories)

Climate Change and the Pika, a resource bulletin available online from the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center, Glacier National Park

GLACIER: A Natural History by David Rockwell.

Tentative Itinerary:

6:30am - Meet at the Glacier Institute Field Camp

7:30am - Leave for Logan Pass or Siyeh Bend on Going to the Sun Road. Hike to either Hidden Lake/Highline Trail or Piegan Pass, and observe pika behavior in selected talus slopes. While on the trail, we will observe and learn about the intricate interrelationships in subalpine and alpine areas (whitebark pine keystone, nutcrackers, climate, glaciers and the disappearing alpine – Timberline sparrows, ptarmigan, rosy finches and wolverines, plant survival strategies in the alpine).

12:30PM - Lunch overlooking pikas at work

5:00PM - Return and good-byes at Field Camp

About the Instructor: Denny Olson has been a professional teaching naturalist for over 30 years, training hundreds of teachers in storytelling, doing 3500 school assemblies, five natural history books, and a weekly “News from the Woods” TV show as one of his unpredictable alter-egos, “Critterman”.