Sustainability at UM: Disco Wolf Approved, or Dumpster Fire?

Sustainability at UM, Disco Wolf Approved? Or Dumpster Fire?
By: Daithi Martin
Disco Wolf approves of your interest in sustainability. Brewing Co.

On a brisk fall morning, my classmates and I met with Brian Kerns, the UM facilities engineer, and energy manager, to drink the sustainability Kool-aid become one with the sustainable consciousness. At least I hoped there was something to drink because I was thirsty for knowledge! The question pounding in the back of my head was: Do we really care about sustainability here at UM or was our sustainability plan as ill-informed as our new student recruitment plan? I jest, but suffice to say, the Disco Wolf was pleasantly surprised.
An unassuming figure, Brian was dressed black denim cowboy tuxedo and began by outlining the universities plan to produce more of its own electricity with the calm analytical demeanor of an engineer. It turns out that the university plans to purchase two multi-fuel jet turbines to produce more of its own electricity. To my surprise, it is more cost-effective for the university to generate its own power by burning natural gas than purchasing that electricity directly through our local energy provider, Northwestern Energy. One would normally assume that a large energy company would have economies of scale and therefore be able to produce the electricity more cheaply. As Brian informed us, this is not the case!

The university can produce its own energy more cheaply because we would recapture the excess heat from the combustion and use it to generate more electricity and steam. This would not only be cheaper but also produce less carbon because the bulk of Northwestern Energy’s electricity production comes from coal-fired power plants and these produce more carbon per kilowatt-hour than natural gas combustion. Why doesn’t Northwestern energy use more natural gas you ask? Because coal is cheap and they would rather make cheap easy money than save the planet. Did I just say that out loud? Moving on….
Steam manifold under the new Native American Studies building. Almost beautiful ya?

Back to steam generation, steam is how the university heats all of its buildings. One interesting fact is that to cool the steam and return it to the boiler, the university pumps water from the aquifer. This water cools the steam until it is condensed and then is returned to the aquifer. It is important to note that this water is not in direct contact with the steam. It cools the steam via a heat exchanger that is very similar to the radiator in your car. This means that if
there were any chemicals present in the steam they would not be transported into the aquifer. To transport the steam from the boiler to all of the buildings on campus, a tunnel system was installed belowground. We had the opportunity to go through these tunnels and it was a truly surreal experience reminiscent of a thriller movie. They not only house the steam but also the electricity and internet cables that connect the campus community to the world at large. This is why you do not see any above-ground power cables in the university. Much more aesthetically pleasing! Tunnel systems like these have been proposed in other American urban systems but have yet to gain significant traction, unfortunately. After traversing the mole-like tunnels, we met Eva Rocke who is the UM sustainability coordinator. What does that even mean? Well, let me tell you! To put it in a nutshell, she is responsible for coordinating efforts to reach UM’s carbon neutrality goals. Honestly, I was not
even aware that the university had such goals. In fact, in 2007 George Denison signed the American College & University presidents’ Climate change commitment. (ACUPCC). This is essentially a pledge to become carbon neutral by some specified date. Like most other climate change agreements, cough Paris Climate Agreements cough cough, the ACUPCC is not
binding and caries no consequences if not fulfilled by agreed upon date. While some might see this as a purely symbolic gesture, I see it as a step in the right direction and it is certainly better than nothing. Indeed, the University of Montana has made significant strides towards the goalsv utlined in the ACUPCC. For example, in 2017 the Campus Recreation building, our gym became carbon neutral under the Sustainability, Tracking Assessment, and Rating System(STARS). STARS is a self-reporting framework that measures colleges’ sustainability efforts. This goes beyond carbon neutrality and also encompasses measures of opportunity and diversity such as what demographic groups are receiving high-quality financial aid(low-interest rate federally backed loans, work-study, etc).

Is UM perfect? Certainly not but it is taking steps in the right direction. Did I just hear you ask how you can get involved? I love your initiative! Interested parties may want to look at the Kless Sustainability Fund . This fund is a
student-funded loan and grant program that supports energy and resource conservation projects on campus. Ever wonder what that $5 sustainability fee is? Well, it all goes into this fund. Past projects range from energy-efficient pool covers to composting coffee grounds from the numerous coffee shops around campus. Applications are due in March and revied in early
April. Got an idea to increase sustainability on campus? Don’t be complacent! Write an application and get it done!


by Brenna Swinger

A favorite voice from our childhoods states, “Climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and I think this is perhaps the most serious environmental issue facing us.”-Bill Nye. As our climate continues to face
irreversible damage, how can our University make a difference? The University of Montana has made a commitment to sustainability in recent years. Let’s take a closer look at their move towards sustainable
gardening, sustainable building, and sustainable landscape.
UM Dining Garden. Did you know that each time you step into the Food Zoo or walk past Lommasson Center, you’re at the heart of one of
UM’s sustainability initiatives? One of the ways that the University is embracing sustainability on campus is through the
UM Dining gardens. UM dining has two gardens. The first is on campus next to the Lommasson Center, the second is located off campus. From the garden, they harvest 5,500 lbs of food. All the food produced is used by the University. It is either sent to the Food Zoo, or the Iron Griz. They practice sustainable gardening practices. While they are not certified organic, they are certified home grown. One of the coolest parts of the garden is their use of Welsh Harlequin ducks. These ducks act as pest control for the garden. They are monitored and maintained by the same people who regulate any lab animals used on campus. Their eggs are used on the Iron Griz burger.
The UM gardens are producing local food for the University. In addition, UM dining tracks all the consumption in the Food Zoo. They use this information so they make the right amount of food based on what students eat. This helps
eliminate waste. Anything that is wasted is composted.

Fun Fact: The Lommasson garden also grows hops. That right, like the stuff in beer. In the past, they’ve held beer
making classes and have sold their hops to local breweries like the Kettlehouse.
Sustainable Building at the University of Montana
Besides the food we eat, how else can the University take steps towards sustainability? The answer is in our buildings. I
was able to listen to the University of Montana’s Sustainability Coordinator Eva Rocke. She took us to the Native
American Building on campus. This building was built in 2009 and was the University’s first LEED certified building.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification given to buildings that follow their
framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. The Payne Family Native American Center was
built to meet the Platinum standards, which are the highest standards in LEED.
Fun Fact: The Payne Family Native American Center is one of the few buildings that uses geothermal energy. They had
to dig approximately 15 feet down in order to access the energy.
Other sustainable elements are included in the Native American Center. The building features columns that represent each
of the federally recognized Native American tribes in Montana. These columns come from the Miltown dam. The floor is
made out of wood harvested from a large birch tree that grew in the location of the building. The wood was stained with a
soy based stain.
Montana has been working towards sustainability. New Montana University System buildings that receive funding from
the state must be built to meet at least silver LEED standards.
More Fun Facts:
❖ The University runs on its own natural gas generator and is separate from Northwestern Energy
➢ Steam is a cheaper option
➢ Little distribution loss. ~5% instead of around 30%
❖ The building on campus with the best energy conservation: The Jeannette Rankin building
❖ The building with the worst energy conservation: Lommasson Center
➢ This is because the University is required to accept the lowest bid for a building. Lommasson was built with no insulation.
Moving Towards Different Landscape Options
Eva Rocke mentioned her desire to move towards more sustainable landscape options. The Payne Family Native
American Center features native Montana landscaping. This landscaping is more labor intensive, but carries a lot smaller
ecological footprint. It requires less water, and less maintenance. Lower maintenance means a much smaller fossil fuel
Rocke recently proposed to replace some of the oval turf grass with native landscaping. Her proposal was denied, as many of the University’s higher ups like the turf grass we currently see. The turf grass requires massive amounts of water in order to maintain its beauty. It also requires a lot of mowing, which uses fossil fuels. Lastly, it needs pesticides in order to kill any weeds in the grass. Incorporating native landscapes and away from turf grass is one way the University could move towards more sustainable practices.

Climate change will continue to be an issue during our lifetimes, and as Bill Nye said, maybe the most important. We can find some comfort in the fact that our University is taking necessary steps in order to do their part in the green scene

Catering to Students and the Environment

By Nicole A. Benally, Ph.D. Student, Forestry & Conservation, UM BRIDGES Trainee

How does the University of Montana manage to feed the brains and stomachs of their students, but still prioritize eating healthy, local, and sustainably? Anastasia Orkwiszewski manages the two gardens on UM campus which produce over 3,000 pounds of produce each year on 1/2 -acre of urban space. Each year the gardens have over 60 different plant varieties, which include vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers.

About 1 out of every 3 bites of food exist because of pollinators and pollinators support diversity. On the gardens you will find an apiary also known as a beehive, native plants, and the use of cover crops during the fallow season. Although the gardens are not “organic certified” the practices of growing the produce are by organic production methods.

Speaking of using organic methods, say hello to “Poppy,” “Haxel,” “Kiwi,” “Mabel,” “Etta,” and “Duckleberry Fin”. These six garden workers are Welsh Harlequin ducks who jobs are to greet people, control pests that infest the gardens, provide natural fertilizer, and produce about 600 eggs each year.

Not only does UM dining services grow some of their own food, but support local farms and ranchers and organic products, such as coffee. Food is tastier and more diverse than ever at the “all-you-can-eat” UM cafeteria. In efforts of sustainability, UM dining reduce waste by recycling materials and composting as much pre-consumer and post-consumer waste that they can capture. Beyond food, the UM dining services also use delivery bikes to reduce fuel consumption on campus. It is estimates that these bikes reduce 150 gallons of fuel a year and cut carbon emissions by 1.3 metric tons.

In addition to the work of growing produce and feeding the hungry stomachs of student, the UM Dining services enjoy giving tours of their sustainable operations and proving educational tools for their students. So when and if you have time, see the amazing work of the UM Dining services!


A Tale of Two Buildings

A tale of two buildings

Pay now, save later vs. save now, pay later

Chelsea Wisotzkey

If there was a beauty contest for buildings on UM’s campus, the Payne Family Native American Center would be in the running for the grand prize, while the Emma B. Lommasson Center would not have even entered the competition. Lommasson, as it’s colloquially referred to, is a boxy, generic looking building. There’s nothing particularly offensive about its design, but it’s far from inspiring.

The Payne center, however, is beautiful. The outside design of this building, surrounded by native xeroscaping, beckons you in. Once inside, impressive pillars of wood draw your eyes upward to a round skylight that complements the circular design of the window filled room, which is designed to be reminiscent of a teepee.

The aesthetics of these two buildings, strikingly different, emphasizes an even more important difference: their energetic efficiency and environmental sustainability. Lommasson is touted as the least energy efficient building on campus, while the Payne Center is among the most energy efficient.

It’s really no wonder. Construction on Lommasson began in the 50s and ended in the 60s, while the Payne Center was completed a mere 10 years ago, in 2010.  When it was being built, energy efficiency and sustainable design were not priorities. In fact, the design and construction of this building was decided by the lowest bidder at the time of the project. Its mechanical systems (central air and heat, for example) are not efficient, it’s not well insulated, and the design is not cohesive; a wing has been added to the original building. All of these factors make its upkeep and annual operating costs expensive.

The Payne center, on the other hand, is a LEED certified building, the first to be constructed on campus. LEED, which stands for “leadership in energy and environmental design,” is a certification program that provides independent verification of a building. This allows for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, cost-effective buildings. The Payne center features energy efficient lights, occupancy sensors to save energy, passive solar heat panels, and native plants used in landscaping to reduce water needs. These measures, among others, result in a building that, according to UM’s sustainability team, is 42% more energy efficient than standard buildings.

LEED buildings, including Payne, typically come at an increased upfront cost, as compared to conventional building designs. But proponents argue that the upfront costs are offset over time by the more sustainable design and energy efficiency.

 This illustrates a relevant question that comes up often in our newsfeeds: how do we actually assess the cost of sustainable development? This debate comes up often during discussions of the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution that lays out a grand plan for tackling climate change. Part of the plan calls for increasing energy efficiency in current and future US structures.  Advocates insist that the measures laid out in the resolution, while costly, will be offset due to future savings. Opponents focus on initial costs, which are admittedly high.

Beyond multi-billion dollar government initiatives, we face similar choices daily in our own lives. Just the other day, I stood holding a $20 reusable beeswax food cover, mentally weighing out the pros and cons of such a sustainable product, versus traditional plastic wrap. Whether it is daily consumer choices, government spending, or two buildings on the University of Montana’s campus, an assessment of upfront costs must consider not only lifetime savings, but impacts to the environment, which typically only add to cost offsets when they are factored in.

Fortunately the University demonstrates that prioritization of energy efficiency and sustainability is possible, even in the face of economic stress. More than just a beautiful spot to spend the afternoon working on your laptop, the Payne Center serves as an important reminder that when it comes to making decisions about how to move forward in a way that is environmentally responsible, we have options. It’s important to think through the upfront cost of development and consider future offsets and positive impacts to the environment to adequately capture the costs of development. Gone are the days when the shortsightedness of times past- when the lowest bidder won rights to build- are justifiable. The two buildings on UM’s campus- Lommasson and Payne- illustrate the conflict well, and serve as an important reminder of the choices we will continue to face as we navigate an increasingly uncertain future.

Food For Thought: Feeding Missoula Community at UM Gardens

Lettuce tell you about UM Gardens

What should I eat? If our readers are anything like us, this question is on your minds more often than not. Food is one of the ways people show love, share culture, and bond with family and friends. It is an integral part of all of our lives, even for those who simply see food as a means of survival. Yet many people are disconnected from their food, either socially or geographically.

In the 1950s and 60s, the use of fertilizers and pesticides on crops caused one of the greatest increases in food production ever seen. This phenomenon, known as the green revolution, increased the prevalence of mass agriculture. Mass agriculture increased food supply in many places, but also had unforeseen negative impacts on the environment. Due to the looming threat of climate change, and mounting evidence of the adverse impacts of human interference on our lands, sustainability has become a new goal for many food producers.

Figuring out how to feed the population, while minimizing negative impacts on our environment, is one of the most challenging questions of our time. The University of Montana provides access to fresh food for roughly 10,000 students (UM, 2020). With this volume of students consuming food, you may be wondering what UM is doing to make their food systems more sustainable.

UM Gardens is one of the projects at UM that focuses on sustainability and promotes healthy meal options for students. The UM gardens grow close to 3500 lbs of fresh produce. What cannot be grown in the gardens is sourced locally whenever possible, which supports local agriculture. Focusing on local venders reduces the carbon footprint of the UM dining system and feeds the local Montana economy. 

Anastasia Orwiszenski is the UM gardens manager taking a holistic approach to supplying meat and produce to the dining facilities on the UM campus. “The UM dining is an independent dining facility,” Orwiszenski explained, “most dining facilities on college campuses are contracted out to big corporations like Delaware North Company or Aramark, which are public companies that have to constantly be increasing profit for their shareholders.” Being an independent private dining facility has allowed for the buying process to be adapted to fit the demand of the students and of the chefs. “One of the chefs really wanted okra, so we were able to grow it” Orwiszenski said, “another wanted edible flowers for salads, so we have a variety here that also provide pollen for our bee hive.”

Being multi-purpose and collaborative is a common theme at the UM gardens, and plays an important role in creating the longevity needed to maintain sustainability programs on campus. Intercropping is practiced at UM gardens, a technique where different plants share the same bed. We see this as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of the UM food system, between the university students, chefs, and the local Montana farmers. The gardens are part of a larger effort on campus that includes maintaining native landscapes, constructing LEED certified buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and producing energy on site. These practices are intended to help UM reach its goals of social, environmental, and economic prosperity.

Overview of one of the UM Gardens, located behind the Lommasson Building on the UM campus. If you are interested in a volunteering, a tour, or more information about the UM gardens project contact:

 PC Chloe Boucher.

Gina Belair

Two Things We Don’t See: The Mole Club’s Lair and Sustainability

By Austin Schuver

Our kind guide to the underworld was campus utility engineer Brian Kerns, fittingly clad in black denim. He led a small group of UM BRIDGES students into the basement of the Payne Native American Center and past a tangle of water pipes to squeeze into a dark tunnel.

This wasn’t the same University of Montana campus that students and staff see every day, but the cob-webbed subterranean lair of the Mole Club.*

No, it wasn’t a mission to liberate fugitive snakes once destined for dissection in BIO 101. We wanted to see sustainability.

The author hunker-walking through the tunnel the Mole Club used to roam, expressway of energy, heat, and telecommunications under campus. [Credit: Martin Ceja Mejia]

The power, water, and heat we use every day goes largely unseen and un-thought about. The sustainability implications likewise: emissions, mostly invisible; energy efficiency, abstract unless you sit by a drafty window; carbon neutrality, in a report that nobody reads (but all should).

By contrast, this underground tunnel and my sore neck are proof of resources we take for granted. Brian showed us the conduits for electricity, steam, and other energies that surge through the complex system of pipes and wires—unseen under walking paths and in classroom walls. It was a reminder of the extent to which we’re tied into the grid and the Earth.

As Brian noted, in Montana being tied to the grid is not a good thing for the Earth. NorthWestern Energy’s portfolio consists of at least 20% coal—one of the most polluting forms of energy, a leading contributor to climate change. NorthWestern is one of the only utilities in the nation looking to expand its coal ownership.

Although most campus dwellers won’t notice when UM’s ancient 1923 Central Heating Plant is upgraded with three natural gas steam turbines next year, the 33% reduction in campus carbon emissions and around $2 million saved every year—according to Brian—is a big upgrade over purchasing electricity from NorthWestern Energy.

Of course, other parts of campus life also factor into UM’s sustainability. Technical lingo breaks these bits into three “scopes”: scope 1, campus use; scope 2, resources brought to campus from outside; and scope 3, off campus uses like commuting and waste.

It’s so hard to see sustainability because it happens all over, all the time, even off site. The campus’ gas- and water-guzzling lawn care routine: easy to see (scope 1). The emissions from athletics teams’ plane travel: harder to see (scope 3). But each part must be quantified, each system must plan to improve.

While most students don’t know what happens to their $6 sustainability fee, these improvements to solar panels, energy efficiency, or other measures will take UM further on the path to sustainability. (By the way, the projects funded by the fee are published every year, available here.)

As the University of Montana hurdles toward energy efficiency and other sustainability goals, we face a moment of dual responsibilities. First, every student, staff, and faculty member has a responsibility to ask themselves how their work can be more energy and resource efficient. Second, we must take sustainability thinking out of the realm of the mole people and into the open air. We are a campus collective. In all the decisions we make, we can unabashedly emphasize our relationships with each other and the food, energy, and water systems that sustain us.

Those of us living above ground must engage in more of the University’s sustainability efforts while continuing to pressure the higher-ups to stick to their promise and constantly do better. As campus hopefully nears carbon neutrality—a goal once set for this year—the final steps will be the hardest to achieve. For example, those soon-to-be-installed natural gas turbines are but a steppingstone—they need to run on an Earth-friendlier fuel in the future: renewable hydrogen or bio-gas, or another system entirely? Students and staff will be essential to pushing for a cleaner, more efficient campus.

When we talk about sustainability, it’s an abstract term. It’s often tucked away in tunnels and walls, composed of many confusing parts and pieces. But sustainability is everywhere. It’s not just energy, but food, water, commuting, recycling, and lawns. Although many parts are hidden from view, it doesn’t have to stay that way. If it means redesigning practically every system on campus, we need your help. A lot of work remains.

When it comes to sustainability, we shouldn’t act like mole people. Here’s how to get involved.

*The Mole Club of lore was a secret society of students that discovered an entrance into the tunnel system deep in the underbelly of UM campus. The self-named club covered the tunnel walls with Mole Club Rules and milestones of world history such as “1996: Pamela Anderson gets her sixth cover of Playboy.” The Mole Club is now but a memory—facilities painted over the graffiti and sealed all secret entrances—or did they?

Interning in Conflict Resolution: How do we co-exist with our wildlife neighbors

By Evora Glenn, MSc Student, Resource Conservation ,Department of Society and Conservation; BRIDGES Trainee

Beavers were once widespread in North America, with it estimated that 6 million thrived in our waterways before being trapped to near extinction in the 1800s. Unfortunately, removing beavers also removed their beneficial ecological impact, which includes cooler streams, greater habitat complexity, and increased biodiversity.

The same behaviors, such as felling trees and flooding sections of streams, that have huge ecological benefits can also conflict with the goals of landowners by threatening public safety and livelihoods. Without effective means of addressing these conflicts, landowners may perceive beaver presence as a threat and choose to lethally trap beavers to prevent future damage, even in cases where no current damage is occurring.

To gain the benefits of beaver activities throughout our watersheds, the National Wildlife Federation and the Clark Fork Coalition have partnered to support a pilot project focused on resolving these conflicts. As a Conflict Resolution Intern with the National Wildlife Federation, I was able to support the newly hired Conflict Resolution Beaver Tech, Elissa Chott, in a pilot project to build more acceptance for these crucial ecosystem engineers by effectively resolving the conflicts between their activities and the values of landowners.

Our main activities involved contacting landowners who have current conflicts, learning about their challenges, and installing a variety of technical solutions to address the threats posed by beaver activity. These solutions included tree fencing, pond levelers, beaver deceivers, and a variety of beaver fencing to prevent the damming of culverts or other pinch points along waterways. These technical solutions generally fall into two categories; preventing the felling of trees or preventing flooding.

These simple tools use our knowledge of beaver behavior to deter their activities in specific places where those activities are undesirable. Beaver deceivers, for example, enclose a drainage source for flooded ponds such that beavers cannot feel nor hear the running water. Without this sensory stimulus of a leak, the pond can be drained to a tolerable height without the beavers responding with additional damming activity.

Techniques to prevent tree felling and flooding were implemented at a variety of highly visible public and private locations and coupled with informational materials to build understanding in our communities around the ways we can co-exist with beaver. Through this pilot project, it has been a privilege to not only put these techniques into action, but to demonstrate the potential benefits of this program as it continues to refine and expand this approach to human-wildlife conflict.


  • Beaver fencing around a previously chewed tree. This new fencing deters beavers from continuing to chew on large trees, which can become unstable and pose a risk to property and human safety, and redirects them to chew on smaller willows.
  • Pond leveler (the black tubing), and two structures of fencing. The goal with this technique is to allow beavers to dam on the fence around the culvert, but retain an unblocked drainage pipe to maintain the pond below flooding levels. 
  • Elissa Chott,  Conflict Resolution Beaver Tech (at left in red flannel) and Elyssa Kerr, Executive Director of Beavers Northwest (at right) explaining the technique and fielding questions from stakeholders during our day long demonstration project.

A missing link: Modeling water rights in Montana

Montana manages water use and distribution in the state under the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation—a “first in time, first in right” policy where the oldest water users are guaranteed first use of available water. Prior appropriation does not always incentivize water use that reflects the most current priorities and water needs in a specific watershed. The administration of water rights in Montana under prior appropriation can thus represent a critical constraint on water use as it can be difficult to develop new water rights or change the use of older ones. This coupled with future climate predictions creates uncertainty around meeting all of Montana’s future water needs, including water for a growing population, aquatic species habitat, and agriculture.

Policy and law constraints should not be overlooked when it comes to hydrologic modeling, especially when attempting to understand the impacts of changing water availability. Linking hydrologic and climate predictions with the information on legal allocations of water has the potential to increase our understanding of constraints and opportunities for satisfying current and future water needs and for improving water planning at the watershed and state levels.

To account for this legal constraint, UM BRIDGES team members Anna Crockett (UM graduate student) and Dr. Brian Chaffin (UM assistant professor of water policy) are working on integrating the publicly-available Montana Water Rights Database with a hydro-economic model developed by Dr. Marco Maneta (UM associate professor of geosciences, also a UM BRIDGES faculty) and his team, the Hydro-Economics of Agriculture research group.

To learn more about this process of integrating water rights into a hydro-economic model and its applications, Anna developed the following ArcGIS Story Map (Click on the image below). Enjoy!

Linking it all together: research, teaching, and practice

Stream restoration practitioners are increasing working to use restoration approaches that mimic and restore natural processes. One such approach that is becoming common across the western U.S. is to install beaver dam analogs made out of wood and mud to restore degraded streams and store more water and sediment on the landscape. Ideally, these structures restore a stream to the point where beavers may re-establish and then further aid with stream restoration and water storage. Beaver dams and beaver dam analog structures do a great job at turning once incised and eroded streams to complex stream habitats that serve as critical habitat for many species.

However, there are still a number of concerns regarding beaver mimicry due to various gaps in the science surrounding the practice. Specifically, biologists are concerned that as drought continues to be more common that more impoundments on the landscape may increase water temperatures, reduce stream connectivity for stream biota, and have potential negative effects on trout populations through reducing spawning sites quality and/or increasing habitat for nonnative species.

In collaboration with Katie Racette and Will McDowell (Clark Fork Coalition), Steve Kloetzel (The Nature Conservancy), Traci Sylte (Lolo National Forest), and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, researchers at the University of Montana have identified potential project areas with restoration needs where we can investigate the range of effects this restoration practice may have in Western Montana. Researchers will be studying the potential for complexes of beaver dam analogs in headwater streams to increase ecosystem resilience to climate change by increasing the water storage capacity and persistence of cool water habitats into the late season. Research will also focus on fish movement and habitat, as well as the amount and types of carbon stored within and moving through streams with and without BDAs.

In the summer of 2019, Lisa Eby (UM BRIDGES faculty), Ben Colman (UM BRIDGES faculty), Andrew Lahr (Wildlife Biology PhD student and UM BRIDGES trainee), and undergraduate researchers Kenna Karjala, and Hayden Cody (Ecosystem Science and Restoration and Wildlife Biology) have completed the first year of pre-installation monitoring.

In October 2019, the students in the Elements of Ecological Restoration Class performed a service learning field trips to work with the Clark Fork Coalition installed 26 analog structures across 3 restoration project areas. It was a great hands-on learning experience for the students – even as they worked, structures were already visibly slowing and storing water!

We are excited to see how these structures alter population and ecosystem processes. This is a great example of the interlinkages among teaching, research, and restoration practice!


Pictured: Undergraduate students in the Elements of Ecological Restoration Class (NRSM 265), installing beaver mimicry structures with Will McDowell and Katie Racette (Clark Fork Coalition, stream restoration practitioners), Andrew Lahr (Wildlife Biology Bridges PhD student), and Lisa Eby (UM Professor).

Eby_1_EERC class

Eby_2Eby_1_EERC classEby_4

COVID 19: A clarion call for #SciComm


By Nadia White


It’s a rare day that science occupies the top spot for local, national and global news, but the novel coronavirus pandemic is shining a hot spotlight on science communications. The climate change communications community has used the opportunity as a timelapse recap of framing and media treatment of a global threat. It’s worth taking a minute to think about the challenges, successes and some risks that have been revealed.


The greatest challenge of communicating the science of the coronavirus is the pace. Science communicators are accustomed to the working with complex ideas for a general audience. Placing the scientific process itself at the center of news stories has taken science communication and journalism into new territory. Journalists on the science beat have put researchers-as-sources at the center of stories about global testing of multiple treatment and vaccine development efforts; harvested news hooks from pre-prints of journal submissions; and asked researchers to clarify the scientific accuracy of the musing of the leader of the free world.


The challenges have been to present new information, fact check policy claims against established scientific understanding and to generally raise the science literacy of an American public that suddenly realizes they do care about process and results. This has ushered in a golden age of info graphics and creative explanatory videos, and shown some pitfalls of rushed science in the public eye.


Here are some high points of the science journalism and communications efforts related to the pandemic that I’ve found admirable and useful. I’d love to see examples that have inspired you, too. Please share them in the comments or in the @WEFnexusUM #INFEWS Twitter thread of this post.


Early on, when the idea of flattening the curve was new to the general public, Grant Sanderson at a his math visualization video blog 3blue1brown offered an effective explanation of exponential growth and epidemics. It’s worth browsing the more than 7,000 comments this received on YouTube to see what math love and interested critique looks like.


Two months later, science graphics editor Jonathan Corum teamed up with science writer Carl Zimmer to explain RNA mutations and why they matter to readers of The New York Times. It’s a well-paced explanation that beautifully pairs images and words to tell a story of science. Science communication is seldom a one-person show anymore. Collaboration is key to communication.


Across the media landscape, news outlets have offered coverage of the coronavirus for free to non-subscribers as a public service. Our good friends at Simbio in Missoula have done something similar, making their digital biology education software broadly available for free to high school and college teachers thrust overnight into the world of remote education. Their How Diseases Spread exploration of epidemiology was created before COVID19 but is highly relevant and being offered for free for summer and fall classes.


The twin needs of science literacy and media literacy are colliding in the Zoomiverse. At times, it feels like a train wreck we can’t turn away from. But turn away we must, we have work to do. It’s time for journalists, science information specialists and researchers across a broad spectrum of social and physical sciences to seize this moment of audience interest and up their science communication game. The world is watching. And learning.

Links embedded in this piece: