Throughout the school year students addressed many of the Minnesota State Academic Standards including Life Science, Environmental Education and Ecology. In addition, they also integrated English in the form of journaling, readings, and a research paper, plus Social Studies topics including U.S. westward expansion, government, economics and geographic tools.
The majority of the science studies took place at the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus, MN. The WSC focuses on research, training and education primarily with wolves, but also has bears, mountain lions, coyotes, fox, lynx and raptors. While at the WSC students used the scientific method to test their hypothesis on captive wolves to devise non-lethal deterrents, such as flagging, sound aversion and scent marking to keep wolves away from live stock. Students also learned how to take temperature, heart rare, and draw blood from anesthetized wolves. In January students joined the WSC staff to participate in an annual wolf reproduction study with researchers from the St. Louis Zoo. Students helped collect sperm samples from Grey Wolves. The samples will be used to help ensure the reproductive survival of critically endangered Mexican Grey and Red Wolves. This method of experiential education is not new for Northwest Passage - from the beginning their philosophy has always been that education is often best outside the four walls of the classroom.
Service Learning was also a very important part of the project. Students learned how the WSC works to keep animals safe, healthy and enriched by providing services such as placing wood chips in enclosures, assisting with feeding and watering and one of the highlights of the project - designing and building a play structure for five Black Bears.
Besides the regular visits to the Columbus facility students spent a weekend at the WSC Linwood facility learning about wolf anatomy and physiology. In February students traveled to Ely, MN to study with educators from the International Wolf Center. Students learned about wolf populations throughout the world, as well as, snowshoeing near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to track collared wolves using radio telemetry.
The capstone to the Wolf Project was a weeklong expedition to Yellowstone National Park. Four students, along with staff members Jason Olson and Peter Wieczorek, plus WSC Director Peggy Callahan drove to Wyoming the first week of August. While at the park they explored the geology and ecology of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. They also meet and discussed wolf biology and politics with Doug Smith, lead biologist for the wolf reintroduction into Yellowstone; Nathan Lance, Wolf Specialist, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Jenny Sika, Area Wildlife Biologist, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. On the last full day at Yellowstone the group woke up before sunrise in hopes of seeing wolves in their natural setting. As the group reached the Lamar Valley about fifty other "wolf groupies" greeted them along side the road. At first all anyone saw was several dozen bison, then from the far end of the valley seven wolves appeared. For over an hour everyone stood mesmerized as the wolves played, rested and occasionally half-heartedly pursued the bison. Just when everyone thought it couldn't get any better another wolf silently wandered out from behind a hill and as if scripted crossed within 15 feet of the group, loped across the road and vanished into the forest. The group looked at each other and all agreed it was the perfect ending to an amazing and educational year.
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Location:Yellowstone National Park