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Imagine sitting in a high school computer lab, mapping scientific data you just collected in Glacier National Park. This project has come to life, thanks to an anonymous gift to the Conservancy.

A new program at Whitefish High School (WHS), supported in part by Conservancy funds from an anonymous donor and the Veverka Family Foundation, was initiated in the 2014-15 academic year that connects Earth Science students with geospatial technologies to enhance their existing field investigation-based method of learning. The intent is developing teacher and student capacity in applying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related technologies, aiming to utilize those capabilities to address resource management topics in Glacier National Park.  We want to build a partnership that uses long-term projects involving student and park staff.  The park Geographer has provided classroom geo-mentoring during the school year, guiding students through GIS exercise that address bull trout conservation and aquatic invasive species control efforts in the Glacier ecosystem.  Led by instructor extraordinaire, Eric Sawtelle, students have learned to use ArcGIS software and Trimble Global Positioning System (GPS) data loggers as tools to streamline data collection and extend analysis and visualization capacities. Two current student group projects will help park managers in the months ahead: 1) recent harlequin duck survey and telemetry data and related stream levels are being spatially analyzed to infer habitat preference as it relates to water levels, and 2) known locations of a rare alpine sedge are being used to model where previously unmapped populations may be located.

Conservancy funds were used to purchase eight powerful laptop computers early in 2015, increasing student access to the software, and additional Trimble GPS data loggers will be purchased later in the spring. Field data collection trips are scheduled for May, where the class will collaborate on a land use change project on the park’s west side.  Students will present their projects to the community on May 19 from 5:30-8pm at Whitefish High School and the public is invited.