May 2021 Newsletter

WRFI's spring Colorado Plateau crew is fast approaching the end of their semester in the desert. The past two months have been full of sand and sun, history and art, millennia-old relationships, revelation and inspiration, and only a little bit of snow. Throughout their WRFI semester, we've kept up with students' reflections on their experiences via periodic blog posts sent to us from the field. Ruminations on slowing down, listening, and reawakening abound in our students' voices from the desert. Check out their thoughts on the WRFI Blog, and stay tuned for a recording of their final presentation from Green River, Utah, coming next week on WRFI's Facebook page!

Do you know an undergraduate student who is sick of virtual lectures? WRFI has an antidote: there are just a few spots left on our fall semester courses this year, and we're eager to work with students in WRFI's particular brand of classroom: the expansive landscapes of the Rocky Mountain West. Scholarships are still available!

Spend a fall semester examining past, present, and future relationships between Montana's diverse human communities and landscapes. During two months backpacking and kayaking across various mountain and river systems in Montana, earn a total of 15 semester credits in Native American Studies, Environmental Studies, and Geography.

Spend a fall or spring semester exploring the issues faced by the cultures and landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. Over two months backpacking and canoeing through the desert canyons of the Southwest, earn a total of 15 semester credits in Native American Studies, Environmental Studies, Geography, and Natural Resource Science & Management.
An enormous THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to the Missoula Gives annual nonprofit fundraising campaign earlier this month. When the drive wrapped up, WRFI had received $7,152 from 69 donors, and Missoula's wide network of 164 participating nonprofit organizations raised a whopping $1,220,853! We are so grateful to have such abundant support for the work that we do, and to be a part of such a vibrant community of mission-driven work.

Interested in donating at a future time? You can make a donation anytime via our website, or by mailing a check to WRFI at P.O. Box 7071, Missoula, MT 59807. Thank you for your support!
Meet Christian LaBar
When I first heard about WRFI, I was a sophomore at an expensive liberal arts college where I had begun taking courses in Environmental Studies. Those courses were hard for me. Being a product of the Los Angeles and Chicago suburbs, I had no real concept of the scale of large conservation and wilderness corridors in the Intermountain West, nor an understanding of the people who carved out livings from these often unforgiving landscapes. I was beginning to realize that there was so much that couldn't be taught in a classroom, and I knew I needed to immerse myself in these places to see them, feel them, and try to understand them a little better. My advisor at the time did not see the value in a WRFI program—nothing more than a two-month-long backpacking trip, they thought. So, I packed up, left that college, and moved to Missoula to finish my undergraduate degree in the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program. My first summer in Montana began with WRFI’s Summer Semester. I know, pretty dreamy. That decision might have been the best one I've ever made. 

Strangely enough, what sticks with me the most when I reflect on my time with WRFI is the people. Sure, we spent weeks trekking through incredibly beautiful wild landscapes—the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia, the vast and ecologically rich Yellowstone backcountry, and the stunning high peaks near Banff National Park—with lots of time to reflect in solitude in these wild places where people are only visitors. But it was the people we met along the way who really made a lasting impression: the ranchers working to restore grassland ecosystems and wildlife habitat while maintaining viable ranching operations; the lumber workers in Deer Lodge trying to responsibly harvest timber from the nearby forest lands; the lone Bob Marshall Wilderness ranger who happily took time to get off his horse and talk to us about his years exploring the wilderness area; and the grassroots organizers working to restore connectivity in the Northern Rockies for the species facing intense pressure and habitat loss from climate change and a growing human population.

It became clear to me that my WRFI course was more than just a two-month backpacking trip in the woods. We were witnessing firsthand the challenges and successes of individuals and communities trying to coexist with their home ecosystems. I was hooked. I wanted to get my hands dirty and try to be part of the solution in any way that I could.

In the field with WRFI, I was most inspired by the farms and ranches we encountered. I have seen the impacts of poor farming and ranching practices: overgrazing, loss of wildlife habitat and ecological diversity, soil erosion, and an overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals to keep production and supply chains going. On the other hand, I have seen farmers and ranchers restoring the ecology of soils and sensitive riparian areas, sequestering carbon through holistic grazing strategies, and selling their food in the communities where they live.
I caught the farming bug, so to speak. After graduating from UM in 2013, I began working on organic vegetable farms and regenerative livestock ranches in Montana, California, and Colorado. I must admit that I was never a particularly good employee. I probably drove my bosses crazy asking how we could do better. How could we make the land more resilient to flood and drought? How could we produce the most nutritious and delicious carrot or grass-fed ribeye steak?
After learning from and working with a variety of farms and ranches for seven years, I founded Gallatin Grassfed with my partner Cassie. We operate a grass-fed, grass-finished beef outfit along the beautiful Gallatin River near Bozeman, Montana. At our ranch, we manage our cows to manage the plant life to feed the soil. It all comes down to the soil. If we can create a thriving ecosystem below the surface, then the herbivores—domestic and wild—will be content and healthy; the birds, bees, and butterflies will find a home here; and the people eating this food will thrive off of the nutritional richness that results. Healthy soil = healthy grass = healthy cows = healthy people.

I am grateful every day to spend my time stewarding the land that I care so deeply for. If it were not for WRFI, I am not sure I would be here. If you want to find out more about Gallatin Grassfed and follow our journey, you can find us on Instagram or Facebook.
Wild Rockies Field Institute is a 501(c)3 organization. Your gift is fully tax deductible. Our Federal Identification Number is 81-0487425.