By Hilary A. Turner, JHWF
Neighbors to Nature (N2N) is a community science project supported by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation (JHWF) and our partners – The Nature Conservancy of Wyoming (TNC), Friends of Pathways (FOP), and the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF). The four-way partnership launched N2N during the summer of 2018 to collect baseline data on wildlife, recreation use, and plant phenology in a popular recreation area near Jackson, WY. We maintain an array of 27 trail cameras throughout the Greater Snow King area, which includes the trail system from Game Creek to Cache Creek. We also collect incidental wildlife observations through Nature Mapping Jackson Hole, plant phenology data through Wildflower Watch, and recreation use through trail use counters in the project area. An important aspect of the N2N project is our engagement with the Jackson community, especially through volunteerism. Through this engagement we seek to expand public awareness of the issues which surround recreation and wildlife, as well as appreciation of the natural resources this area offers.
The N2N project is an example of how successful collaboration can be. Each partner organization leads an aspect of the project which fits their mission and provides staff time annually to help with tasks such as trail camera maintenance. Volunteer efforts are also essential to the success of the project. We rely on volunteers to classify trail camera images, collect wildlife and plant data, and assist with trail camera maintenance in the project area.
Trail camera maintenance is a relatively labor-intensive part of this project. It involves going to each of the 27 cameras and replacing SD cards and camera batteries so that data collection can continue. N2N is lucky to have a corps of volunteers who help us maintain our cameras. In addition to reducing staff time spent on the project, involving volunteers in trail camera maintenance allows community members to experience on-the-ground science firsthand. The volunteer experience gives the project more meaning to these individuals, as well as continuing education in ways that volunteers sometimes do not expect!
During the summer of 2021, N2N was lucky to have Leo Harland, Forest Dramis, and Tom Hargis assisting with N2N camera maintenance. These volunteers represent three generations of Jacksonites, each bringing a unique perspective to the project. They are avid outdoor recreationists who also value conservation, and the communion of these two things brought them to the project. They were kind enough to answer a series of questions about themselves and the project and their responses are summarized here.
Born and raised in Jackson, Leo Harland is an 18-year-old former Jackson Hole High School (JHHS) student. Among his many accomplishments in his young life are being a member of the back-to-back state championship soccer team for JHHS (2019 and 2021, with 2020 being cancelled) and recognition as “Student of the Season” by the Rotary Club in Feb of 2021. During his senior year, he led the championship soccer team as their captain. This summer, he worked at Jackson Hole Drug as a “Soda Jerk,” making milkshakes for customers who walk in from the nearby town square. He reports that it is “super busy the whole time, but is a solid job.” Not surprising for someone from Jackson, Leo loves skiing and spends as much time skiing as possible each winter. During the summer, he enjoys backpacking and hiking whenever he can carve time out of his busy schedule. He was introduced to Neighbors to Nature by TNC’s Trevor Bloom, who trained Leo on Wildflower Watch and trail camera maintenance in April of 2020. Leo started volunteering to gain community service hours as part of his membership in the National Honor Society, but his work morphed into an internship and in 2021, he helped with cameras independently when needed. Leo finds the N2N project valuable because it helps us understand how wildlife are distributed on the landscape, relative to human recreation activities, and how those activities might impact wildlife. While volunteering on the N2N project, Leo enjoyed learning about wildflower identification and study design, including the importance of random sampling. He also thinks it is awesome that, while he has never seen a mountain lion in the wild, the N2N cameras capture them somewhat regularly. Leo is now in Fort Collins where he will soon start his freshman year at Colorado State University. He plans to study Geology. After college, he hopes to get a job he loves, where he can work outside, doing something to help the environment. He summarizes his goals by saying, “I feel like it is wrong not to help save the planet…while I’m living here so I guess that is my goal.”
Forest Dramis co-owns Benchmark Builders LLC in Jackson. He is 47 and moved to Jackson after experiencing the Tetons during a backpacking trip in his 20’s. Forest’s passion in life is outdoor recreation. When he is not working, he can be found cycling, trail running, ski mountaineering, hiking, or backpacking. Among his notable achievements are solo running the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim route in the Grand Canyon in a day (50 miles and 10,000ft elev. gain) and summiting Gannett Mountain (the highest peak in Wyoming) in a day. He is the Executive Director of the nonprofit he founded – JHCycling – and runs JHSkimo.org. Forest learned about the N2N project through his partner, Aly Courtemanch, and their good friend Kate Gersh (JHWF’s Associate Director) in May of 2021. He maintained a series of cameras on the Skyline, Sink or Swim, and Ferrins Trail areas during the summer of 2021. While performing camera maintenance, Forest encountered a variety of wildlife including mule deer with fawns and red-tailed hawks. Less enjoyable for Forest was learning that while capturing images of wildlife, N2N trail cameras also provide great habitat for spiders, which “do not appreciate having their homes disturbed.” When asked what his favorite part of volunteering on the N2N project is, Forest responded, “N2N allows me to spend time outdoors recreating while at the same time helping to inform others of the importance of the wildlife habitat that abuts the town.” Forest finds value in the project because he has seen the transformation of Jackson over the last 20 years to an “entity that prizes economy and tourist-dollars above wildlife and habitat.” He believes it is important to collect data that examine wildlife and recreation coexistence so the community of Jackson might be able to move toward making decisions that also benefit the wildlife we cherish.
Tom Hargis is an avid rock climber and mountaineer. He is 74 and has lived in Jackson for over 25 years. During most of that time, he worked for Exum Mountain Guides and has an impressive resume for mountaineering. He was a member of the first team to summit the Pakistani peak Gasherbrum IV via its northwestern ridge, and he is the only American to have accomplished that feat. Also in his portfolio are expeditions to Mt. Everest and Gasherbrum II. In 2004, Tom was awarded the Lifetime Achievement in Guiding Award by the American Mountain Guides Association. Tom now does carpentry work and teaches skiing at the Snow King Mountain Resort. While rock climbing in Wilson Canyon, Tom met Trevor Bloom, who introduced him to the N2N project. He thought volunteering for the project seemed like a good form of community service and was also curious to learn how frequently mountain lions and other wildlife use the Wilson Canyon Trails. His favorite part of volunteering on the N2N project is being outside, enjoying the wildflowers. Maintaining cameras for N2N gives him a good reason to get out for a hike and he sometimes sees peregrine falcons in Wilson Canyon. For Tom, N2N is valuable because it “allows for collecting hard data” and enables us to gain information on secretive species which are otherwise difficult to survey. According to Tom, “I’ve found that if you go hiking looking for mountain lions, the probability is low that you’ll see one. The cameras aren’t intimidating to the big cats, so it’s a good way to find out if they’re up there and how often they use that trail.” When asked what his plans for the future are, Tom responded in wisdom that he has “no particular plans beyond just enjoying life.”
It has been a pleasure for us to work with this crew of dedicated volunteers. Thanks to all JWHF volunteers for your work on our various projects. From fence projects to bluebird monitoring and camera maintenance, the JHWF would not be able to undertake as many conservation initiatives as it does without all of you! If you are interested in becoming a Neighbors to Nature volunteer, please contact Hilary@jhwildlife.org