Field notes from Montana: Meet Lily

Greta Hoffman and Lily Jane Clarke are field research interns working in the Crown of the Continent this summer.

Travis Belote

For the next couple months, we will be bringing you updates from the field from Wilderness Society interns Lily Clarke and Greta Hoffman who are conducting research in Montana's Crown of the Continent. Stay tuned for future blog posts and photo updates, as Lily and Greta make their way from Swan Valley to the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

By Lily Clarke

Montana can be as beautiful as it can be harsh. I grew up in its deep rural woods and mountains, and know that with beautiful summers, come difficult winters. Winter in Montana is a silent grace. Crystal snow blankets the ground, icicles hang off the roof and it feels like we’re constantly chopping wood and loading it in the fireplace to keep the house warm. When the pipes freeze, we collect snow and boil it for drinking water, and when the darkness falls early it is a challenge to finish all the chores we must do to stay comfortable.

Then summer comes, and nothing can take us away.

For the next three months, I will be conducting exciting fire ecology research in the field with scientists from The Wilderness Society. Wilderness areas recover remarkably quickly after wildfires, which makes fire important to the fertility and diversity of a landscape. Understanding the importance of fire in an ecosystem and how to balance that need with the safety of residential areas is extremely important to me, especially after witnessing the Condon Mountain wildfire that burned a mile from my home last summer.

Photo: Travis Belote

In addition, I will be independently conducting fire morel mushroom research, using nitrogen and carbon dating to assess the mushroom’s mycorrhizal status (the nature of the symbiotic relationship and exchanges between fungi and other plant forms). I am interested to see if fire morels form symbiotic relationships with other organisms, which could indicate that they contribute to recovery of land after wildfires. Not much regulation exists around the harvesting of fire morels (they are delicious!), and if they are in fact important contributors to land recovery, we may need to reconsider how to properly conserve and manage the area’s morel colonies.

During our first week out in the field, my teammate and I saw a bear darting away into the trees, walked through several swamps and enjoyed the water’s lasting stench on our soggy shoes, and compared the mosquito bites on the backs of our arms!

Being out in the wilderness, one comes to appreciate the elegance of places untouched by humans. There are some feats of nature that we will never fully be able to understand. But as my mom says, it is always good to have some mystery.

Through this blog series, I hope you will enjoy reading about my team’s adventures in the Crown of the Continent this summer. Here’s to the health of the land, and the hope that our findings will help others further understand how to keep nature healthy and diverse. 

Lily Clarke is a biology major at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She grew up in Swan Valley, Montana, where she developed an early appreciation for the natural world and an interest in studying local ecology. At college, Lily plays jazz piano in a combo and runs Varsity Cross Country. She enjoys researching and formulating natural remedies.

Photo: Greta Hoffman and Lily Clarke

Related links:

Crown of the Continent blog series: Meet Travis Belote

Crown of the Continent blog series: Meet Greta Hoffman