Conservancy seeks $1.7M in funding for 43 projects

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The fundraising arm of Glacier National Park has released its funding priorities for next season, focusing on research, preservation and education projects that highlight the park’s position as a laboratory for the effects of climate change.

The Glacier National Park Conservancy’s 2017 Field Guide identifies 43 projects as priorities requiring a total of $1.7 million in philanthropic funding.

Included in the priorities are many continuing efforts from previous years, such as trail accessibility at the Trail of the Cedars and the Swiftcurrent Trail, along with research into how iconic park species like mountain goats and harlequin ducks can adapt to the changing landscape.

Amy Dempster, the conservancy’s director of marketing and communication, said many of the first-time funding priorities relate both to the needs of Glacier’s increasing popularity and the transformations unfolding in the alpine landscapes most susceptible to climate change.

“The way we see it, the conservancy is dedicated to sustaining the spirit of Glacier, so we’re looking at funding projects that can help preserve the history, help sustain what’s happening at the present moment and look into the future to make sure future generations have the ability to enjoy the park as we do,” Dempster said.

A new research initiative, for which the nonprofit philanthropic group is hoping to raise more than $15,000, would fund staff hours to train and deploy volunteers to locate and monitor nesting sites for black swifts. The birds are known for their restrictive choice of domicile, building their nests only behind waterfalls that flow year-round.

The six known nesting sites for black swifts in Glacier constitute half of those in all of Montana, according to the conservancy.

“They’re obviously more vulnerable if there’s less snowmelt and waterfalls are drying up early in the season,” Dempster said. “The study is focused on whether they will adapt or lose more of their range as that happens.”

Other projects include using geographic information systems to map and monitor wildfire burn areas and researching the park’s two threatened stonefly species, both of which are dependent on ice-cold water — mainly in the meltwater found immediately downstream from the park’s disappearing glaciers.

Elsewhere in the park, the conservancy hopes to provide money for both new and ongoing restoration projects. The organization is working to raise $120,000 to continue restoring the historic Wheeler Cabin on Lake McDonald, and an effort to secure $35,000 would allow the park to partner with the University of Montana and other nonprofit organizations to establish a “preservation field school,” which would provide restoration trainings for volunteers.

Glacier National Park’s profile as a bellwether for climate change impacts was recently underscored by a visit from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in August.

Many of the conservancy’s priority education projects aim to bolster that message by connecting visitors and locals with the climate-related impacts unfolding throughout the park.

Specifically, Dempster pointed to the field guide’s sustainability projects and a distance-learning initiative that would add staff hours and create a special studio in the park, connecting students from around the world to the lessons that Glacier’s rangers and interpreters can provide.

“They would be able to staff rangers through some of the shoulder seasons while schools are in session, so if you’re a classroom in Florida studying melting glaciers and want to talk to Glacier National Park about it, they can dial in from their classroom to talk to rangers and have a full, ranger-led program from their school,” Dempster said.

Altogether, the conservancy’s 43 priority projects for next season total $1.7 million in needed funding. This past season, the group completed 34 projects after raising $1.1 million out of $1.7 million requested.

To view an electronic copy of the 2017 field guide, which contains a complete list of priority projects and funding needs, visit glacier.org.

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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