Having scheduled an extra day to regroup after our journey to Missoula from Philadelphia, my husband Bob (an academic member of SEJ) and I headed out to do some exploring and photography, to get acclimated to the ecosystem and local culture before the conference's official start.
Our destination: The National Bison Range, a wildlife refuge about 45 minutes outside the city, up routes 200 and 93. Moments after leaving Missoula, we were greeted with mountains rising like dinosaur spines in the east. On the way, there's a wildlife overpass and lots of open range with horse and cattle ranches (no surprise).
Once there, we checked out the visitors center, which recounts the history of the American bison. It's a remarkable tale of environmental destruction and (ongoing) restoration: At one time some 30 million bison roamed what's now the U.S. with a range extending as far as the Mid-Atlantic. Human predation reduced their numbers to less than 100 individuals.
Fortunately, in the early part of the 20th century conservationists (including the ASPCA!) committed themselves to saving the bison, and the range was established as the first preserve with that goal.
After that, we drove up through the towns of Charlo and Ronan, hard by Ninepipe and Kicking Horse reservoirs and some beautiful wetlands, and visited The Peoples Center, a museum about the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d'Oreille peoples who have long lived in this area. The tribal administrative offices are nearby in town, site of this spectacular tipi and sculptural monument (below).
Just this taste of Montana makes me hungry for more -- I can't wait to go on the wilderness hike tomorrow and learn more about how climate change is affecting the region.