YERC's Distributed Field Station Deployed to Paradise Valley

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Before I ever met anyone in person from the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, I was talking with the research director Patrick Cross on the phone, wrapping up the interview process for the open RiverNET technician position. I remember asking him, “Does the position have any sort of housing?” This is when I was first introduced to the distributed field station concept, however, coming up for the job from my current location of Jackson WY, I didn’t really know what expect until I showed up at the begging of the field season a few weeks later.

The Idea of having a field station you can take to where the research is happening is in itself a very practical idea. It allows the boots on the ground researchers to avoid long commutes, be more immersed in the environment they’re conducting research in, and have the freedom to move as research projects change over time. In an area the size of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, this is paramount given the sheer breadth of the landscape, and the impracticality of having one or a few fixed jumping off points.

During the course of the field season, it has allowed me to live in our field location, paradise valley, conduct research in a timely manner, but also get a much deeper sense of the place I was studying. You spend more time with local community, and get a feel for the heartbeat of the valley as the seasons change.  This perspective for me has been hugely beneficial in making the program much more personal, and an investment in the larger whole. Instead of having the project be some detached thing you drive to, collect samples, and then leave, only existing as some place in the mind that is far away, visited, and not lived in.

When you tell people your living in a trailer you get two reactions, the first being a feeling of envy of living in a beautiful place and the slower pace of life that goes along with it. The second being an incredulous feeling of how could you leave a regular house and home for something so quant and removed. Spending 5 months in the field station has been a mix of both, a sort of Desert Solitaire experience in the mountains. You get the benefits of waking up to meadowlarks calling in the fields most mornings and the sun rising over the absaroka mountains to the east, and you think your living a grand simple life. Other times, when you’re on your 5 millionth game of solitaire and the sound of mouse traps snapping at night has become as regular as brushing your teeth, you think questions like “I gave up my house why again?”.

Overall living in distributed field station in paradise valley has offered a host of benefits commuting in from Bozeman simply wouldn’t have allowed. From greater insight to the landscape which in turn fuels better research practices, to demonstrating a level of commitment to the place not offered by other organizations who are less permeant in the local. The RiverNET program has been largely successful over the course of its burgeoning career, in large part due to the cooperation and contributions of the local community. This is likely because of many factors but the full time presence the distributed field station allows is undoubtedly one of them. When conducting research over vast areas it’s an indispensable resource to have in the quiver. As the season is coming to a close, I am looking forward to returning to a more traditional housing situation. However there are undoubtedly things that will be missed from living a simpler life, in a beautiful place. One is the exchange of, “Oh you live in paradise valley? I’ve always wanted to live in that area, you’re so lucky to have a house there.” To which the answer goes, “yeah, something like that…”

Spencer Link is a YERC field technician