Predators and Prey
By 09/11/2002 14:12:00
a perfect program for kids
On one of the final days of summer before kids everywhere prepared to go back to school, a classroom-sized group of children joined Noxon second grade teacher Mindy Ferrell in an outdoor classroom. They gathered at the Historic Bull River Ranger Station for a day of hands-on activities designed to introduce them to the complex relationships between predators and the animals they prey on in the Cabinet Mountains.
From wolves to weasels, bears to badgers, Ms. Ferrell brought to life what it’s like to be a wild creature struggling for survival in the forested mountains surrounding the old log building erected by Granville “Granny” Gordon in 1908. Unlike much of the rest of the country, she noted the Cabinets still harbor a full complement of the predators that were here more than one hundred years ago. Grizzlies and black bears prowl avalanche chutes looking for berries; wolves wander the forests in search of weakened deer or elk; fishers, martens and other small muscalids sneak through the undergrowth; mountain lions and bobcats, and their cousin the Canada lynx, all inhabit the vast expanse of wild country just outside our communities.
A simple illustration using domestic animals demonstrated one significant difference between predators and prey. “Mrs. Brown,” a rabbit belonging to Heidi Dettwiler’s children, hopped from its cage and was content to stay within a small circle of smiling, laughing kids. Ms. Ferrell explained the tendency of many small herbivores – those animals that eat only vegetation – to stay within relatively small areas. They don’t wander.
On the other hand, when her son Peter released their dog from the minivan it immediately struck out into the tall grass and brush nearby, nose to the ground, exploring its new surroundings. The dog moved quickly, darting to and fro as most carnivores – animals that eat meat – would do when hunting for a meal.
Pelts, skulls, teeth and tracks all aided Ms. Ferrell in the lessons she shared with the eager youngsters. They also played games and made plaster casts of footprints, and Forest Service technician Erich Pfalzer took them on an adventure trail through the nearby forest along the merrily dancing waters of the Bull River.
By day’s end the children had developed a sense of awe and appreciation for the critters inhabiting the Cabinet Mountains, both predators and prey.
This program was a presentation of the Bull River Outdoors Education Association, a cooperative effort of the Cabinet Resource Group, the Cabinet Ranger Station of the Kootenai National Forest and the Montana Native Plant Society. Much of the funding for this series of nature programs is provided by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation.
Photo, below: Randy Dettwiler, from Heron, participated in the 'Predators and Prey' program while a young girl from Libby watched. Photo by Dennis Nicholls.