By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BIG SKY – On a winter day conducting wolverine research, Dr. Robert Inman was pulling a deer leg behind his snowmobile to use as bait, when he happened upon another snowmobiler.
“What are you doing, trolling for grizzly bears?” the man asked.
“It was one of the funniest comments I’ve ever heard,” said Inman at a recent presentation at Lone Mountain Ranch, his easy smile begetting an accessible demeanor you might not expect from one of the world’s leading wolverine scientists.
Inman’s wolverine study, conducted over the past 10 years in sub-ranges around the Northern Rockies, was the topic of his March 6 talk at an event put on by Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, a local conservation and education group, and hosted by LMR.
Approximately 30 people attended the first presentation in the foundation’s speaker series, which included a three-course dinner at the ranch prior to Inman’s talk.
“I didn’t know squat compared to what I learned at that meeting,” said JCPF President and Co-Chair Jon Fossel, who’s seen three wolverines in the Spanish Peaks. “They’re fascinating [animals]. The first one I saw, I thought it was a little black bear cub.”
Similar to the Mountains and Minds Lecture Series that the now defunct Big Sky Institute held in years past, JCPF’s speaker series aims to pull in talent from around the region to educate the public about the many wildlife species in southwest Montana, and also about conservation efforts in the area, according to Sara Stephens, Executive Director for JCPF.
Stephens hopes to attract a variety of speakers, noting Gregg Treinish as an example. Treinish is Founder and Executive Director for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, a Bozeman-based nonprofit that encourages and facilitates data collection worldwide by outdoor enthusiasts, for specific scientific studies.
“[Our] larger hope is to do more things for [both] adults and youth while providing everyone access to the preserve,” Stephens said. “We want people to use that place for hiking or camping or research. This is just the beginning.”
Some of these speakers, according to Fossel, could stem from a collaboration with Montana State University, wherein the preserve offers MSU students and professors use of the recently completed Outdoor Education Center as a teaching facility.
There are currently two MSU students living in the education center studying owls, Fossel said, adding that the relationship has been positive.
JCP is a 4,500-acre nonprofit conservation area that functions as a wildlife corridor between two land tracts in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. The preserve is located off Jack Creek Road, a private, gated dirt road connecting Big Sky and Madison Valley towns of Ennis and McAllister.
While Fossel said communities on both ends of the road have discussed opening the code-accessed roadway for years, he would like to keep it closed for conservation reasons. But he aims to dispel any concerns that would-be visitors might have about public access to the preserve.
“Just ask,” Fossel said. “Call up our office, and we’ll get you a pass. We have to find the balance between education and conservation, but there’s not a soul in Big Sky that can’t come up for a visit.”
Aside from expanding the speaker series, the next steps for Fossel and his preserve include plans to connect the South Jack Trail and the Spanish Peaks Trail, both of which begin at the gate on the Ennis side of Jack Creek Road.
The Low Pass Trail, as the connector project will be called, is a two-mile abandoned U.S. Forest Service trail that needs work to be passable, Fossel said. He is writing grants to complete these upgrades and hopes to eventually to put up educational wildlife signs along the trail.
While JCP wrangles and rallies funds for conservation, it continues to seek talented speakers to work on the other half of its agenda: education. If it can yield talent like Inman’s, its efforts may just pay off.
“It was great to have the opportunity to speak in front of Big Sky folks,” Inman said. “It’s kind of a win-win thing from our perspective. The room was full and we had lots of good questions, so I enjoyed it.”
To request access to the Jack Creek Road and to visit the preserve, call (406) 995-7550.
Read an in-depth article on Dr. Robert Inman’s wolverine study here, first published in the summer 2013 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.