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Hands Across the Borders

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Project Wild

Standing on a mountain in Boundary County, Idaho, two Montana teachers looked out over the Selkirk Mountains. The ladies were facing the neatly logged border which snakes its way up the Selkirks, marking the line between the United States and Canada. Their view surveyed Creston, B.C. and the beige Custom buildings sitting at the edge of a reclaimed wetland. 

I was one of those fortunate teachers and as my eyes filled with scenery it occurred to me how silly most borders seem. The flora and fauna don't normally come to a screeching halt at the 49th parallel. Only humans recognize this as a border. We make and view maps, colored in yellow, green and pink denoting one state or another, one country or another. When we come to man-made borders we frequently stretch our legs across and have someone take our pictures. But borders are silly and meaningless to just about every other living thing with which we share planet earth. They aren't recognized. Which makes tracking wildlife difficult-or does it?

Kathy Fitchett, Kindergarten teacher at Noxon Elementary, and I, a third grade teacher, like educators all over the United States were spending a week learning more about our environment. We were participating, across the border in our neighboring state of Idaho, in a workshop called Project Wild III. Project Wild is a program of environmental education, which is co-sponsored by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. It has been honored as one of the first recipients (1991) of a Gold Medal for Education and Communications in the President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award program. Idaho Fish and Game should be their Poster Child.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game welcomes, with open arms, teachers from other states. In addition to Montana there were teachers from Ohio and California. Many of us financed our own way; others, like the participants from Bonners Ferry, were underwritten by Eisenhower Grants. However we got there or from wherever we came, we were treated well. 

Phil Cooper from Idaho Fish and Game in Coeur d'Alene planned a great deal of the workshop. Phil was backed by his hand-picked support group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable wildlife biologists and teachers.

We spent our week learning about Mountain lions, Grizzly Bears and Bull Trout. The teachers traveled to places close to the Montana border with Chris Downs and saw where streams were being reconfigured and re-designed on private land to accommodate spawning fish. As students, teachers learned how the State of Idaho works with Washington when "their" Grizzly fails to acknowledge the border while seeking new territory. We learned how the Canadians work closely with Idaho's Wayne Wakkinnen as he tracks both Caribou and Grizzly that cross their borders. 

We talked to Aaron Drew, USFWS, at the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge and found out that he had to go to Mexico and discuss their use of pesticides. They cooperated fully when it was discovered that migratory birds stretching across two continents were being affected by area farmers. Tom Whalen spoke about the Bull Trout and how the dams in two states on the Clark Fork River had affected their habitat and diminished their numbers.

At the conclusion of the Project Wild III session teachers were given lesson plan books and materials to take back to their classrooms. They took back other lessons as well. Errors in one area of land and wildlife management generally affect other areas. Changes in the great web of life affect the entire web. 

Borders are for map makers and politicians. Teachers, much like other flora and fauna, reach across borders to explore new frontiers. All across the globe teachers are communicating and buildings webs for a better world. Thomas Jefferson said, "For if one link in nature's chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal." I know a lot of educators, thanks to the efforts of Idaho's Fish and Game, who are going to do their best to see that doesn't happen.

Kathleen Huntley teaches third grade in Noxon, Montana and is a specialist in teaching left-handed children (my own) how to tie their shoes.

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Kathleen Huntley

Tagged as:

wildlife, grizzly, bull trout, Boundary County, Selkirk Mountains, tracking, Project Wild, mountain lions

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