The professional experience Jeff gained working for YERC had as much to do with
politics as it did with science: the politics of working with carnivores like wolves
in the American West, the politics of coordinating with state and federal agencies on
transboundary research issues, the politics of life in a small, rural, mountain
"A tip for getting on the locals' good side: talk to them about fishing," Jeff suggested after spending a summer with his partner, Melissa, volunteering for YERC in Cooke City, Montana. "Folks who can seem grumpy after too many winters will light up when you ask them about the local waterways."
Learning to flyfish Tenkara style—and coming in second place in a contest with buddies across Canada to see who could catch the greatest diversity of species over the summer—added personal experience to the professional experience Jeff gained that summer.
After finishing their master's degrees at the University of Guelph in Ontario in genomics and statistics, respectively, Jeff and Melissa were looking for more professional experience. They reached out to dozens of groups across North America through the Organization of Biological Field Stations (www.obfs.org), offering to volunteer their skills in exchange for the experience needed to build stronger resumes, and YERC was among the first to jump at this golden opportunity. From the offers they received, Jeff said that they were impressed with the diversity of YERC's research program, its long establishment in Yellowstone and corresponding longterm datasets, and, of course, with the opportunity to experience Yellowstone for themselves.
Jeff and Mel worked both in the field—assessing sapling regeneration following Yellowstone's 1988 wildfires—and on computational projects—modeling where wolf packs might colonize outside of the Rockies and how local herd animals might react. This gave them on-the- ground skills and exposure to science in action, which included seeing "the value of maintaining long term datasets, like those collected and curated by YERC," Jeff said. But the personal experience was just as valuable.
"Most people never get to spend this much time in the park," Jeff said, describing the wonder of the changing seasons and how they affect "the ungulate herds, wolf packs and wildflowers," telling of a time when he and Mel watched a pack of wolves feeding on a bison carcass until grizzly bears showed up, "having awkward stand offs with the wolves as they feasted."
This summer, Jeff and Mel are back in Canada—Jeff is doing bioinformatics with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Mel started a new job at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence doing statistics for HIV/AIDS research—but our door is always open for when they come back to Yellowstone.