Clear blue skies greeted the research crew on a morning snowshoe hike to a wolf kill site in the Lamar Valley.

Before the crack of dawn this past Saturday morning, March 23, a caravan set off on the long, long drive to Gardiner, Mont., at the edge of Yellowstone National Park. On board were 15 students and three faculty members from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS), all heading out to spend roughly a week of field study in the northern Rockies as part of a spring course, “ESRM 459: Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems.”

Led by SEFS Professors John Marzluff, Monika Moskal and Aaron Wirsing, the group will be using the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park, between Gardiner and Cooke City, as a staging area to explore patterns of corvid, and especially raven, distribution; elk anti-predator behavior (vigilance); and wolf predation. The class also addresses regional management issues, including wolves and bison leaving the park.

It’s a glorious time to be trekking through the Yellowstone backcountry. The group has special access to remote research areas, tourists are few and far between, scores of bison are out hoofing through the snow, and students occasionally catch glimpses of wolves, grizzlies and other wilderness gems.

Professor John Marzluff helps orient students during their first full day in the park.

Of course, it’s a working research visit, and students spend long days trudging through the park—often at the mercy of the elements, which at this time of year can be ornery, if not downright savage. Then, after they return to campus on March 30, they begin working on group projects based on data collected. They will present their findings to the public at the end of spring quarter.

But even in the worst weather conditions, when even your expedition thermals can feel threadbare and drafty, how could you say no to this kind of hands-on experience in the wilds of Yellowstone?

Photos of Yellowstone trip © Monika Moskal/SEFS.