During March, Hiram’s James H. Barrow Biological Field Station Education and Community Outreach Coordinator spent eight days participating in the Ecology Project International (EPI) 2024 Yellowstone Winter Teacher Fellowship. EPI is an ecology and conservation biology focused educational travel program for educators. 11 total educators participated in the experience ranging from the desert southwest, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Maryland, South Carolina, Illinois, and Canada.  Sustin and the cohort arrived in Gardiner, Montana ready to spend their week observing wild wolves in the Lamar Valley, exploring Yellowstone National Park through the famous Roosevelt Arch, and collecting data on ungulate species with the National Park Service. 

THE DAY TO DAY 

Sustin (right) snowshoeing in Yellowstone
Sustin (left) snowshoeing with colleagues.

For the week Sustin was participating in the fellowship, every morning started bright and early at 7 a.m. and were generally spent afield spotting and stalking ungulates, primarily bison, pronghorn, and mule deer, using binoculars and radiotelemetry equipment to collect data for a citizen science project called Home on the Range. The group also explored Yellowstone’s geothermal features such as steam vents and travertine terraces. Sustin even got to work on his snowshoeing skills during his visit. 

Home on the Range coordinates data collected by park biologists and Yellowstone Forever citizen scientists to evaluate bison, elk, bighorn, mule deer, and pronghorn diets, nutrition, habitat use, migration patterns, birth rates, survival rates, and population growth rates. While similar studies have been done in Africa, this is the first comprehensive look at the abundant ungulate and carnivore community in Yellowstone, according to the project’s website. 

“Our daily goal was to locate a radio-collared female bison and her herd and conduct a demographic study of the herd noting age and sex distributions.  As the crowning glory of the endeavor, if we were to witness the collared bison defecate, then we were to collect that sample, bag it, and return it to the “poop locker” inconspicuously located in the park headquarters office cluster near Mammoth Hot Springs,” Sustin recalled. “Our pursuit of ungulates was often interrupted by wolf sightings, birds, coyotes, and roadside geology.” 

Sustin (right) watches a wolf pack with colleagues.
Sustin (right) watches a wolf pack with colleagues.

Sustin’s favorite part of his fellowship experience was the day the cohort traveled to a vantage point at Junction Butte to observe the 14 members of the Rescue Creek wolf pack. “A few people were talking a little too loudly and through the scope we saw the alpha female turn and stare up at us.  Her influence over her pack seemed to apply to us as well.  We quieted down and watched the wolves return to the business of breakfast,” Sustin said. 

APPLICATION AT HIRAM 

Sustin (left) practicing telemetry with a colleague.
Sustin (left) practicing telemetry with a colleague.

Returning to campus, Sustin is rejuvenated and excited to incorporate all he has learned into his educational style at the Field Station. 

“I hope to incorporate some of what I learned into winter programming for field trip groups at the field station, or for groups of Hiram College students making a trip to Northwoods in the winter.  I am also inspired to look over components of my lessons connected to climate change and make sure that I am making all the connections that need to be made across the complicated topic,” Sustin said. “I have been to Arctic Svalbard, Alaska, Florida, and the Galapagos Islands.  I understand, and in some cases have witnessed dramatic changes to ecosystems we typically think of when we think of climate change.  This visit to Yellowstone National Park shed some light on how climate change might come to the interior of a continent.” 

By Taylor Cook