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By Jessie Thoreson
Conservation Technician, Swan Valley Connections 

Huckleberry Study in the Swan Valley


August 3, 2017

Jennifer Atkinson

Counting huckleberries.

SWAN VALLEY - This summer, Swan Valley Connections is partnering with US Geological Survey and a citizen science organization called EarthWatch Institute to begin a three-year huckleberry research project. Tabitha Graves, the lead USGS Scientist, is looking at the correlation between the effects of climate change and huckleberry productivity in the Swan Valley in the context of grizzly bear habitat.

Fifteen percent of the grizzly bear diet consists of huckleberries. They are an extremely important food source for the bears during the summer when they are putting on fat in preparation for hibernation. Therefore, the health and distribution of these berries is essential in understanding the health of the grizzly bear population in the area.

Jennifer Atkinson

EarthWatch team with Swan Valley Connections staff.

This fieldwork will help illuminate how potential changes, such as increased drought or insect infestations, could impact huckleberries and the wildlife that depend on them. Each week this summer, a group of EarthWatch Institute volunteers come from all over the country to help conduct this research. Luckily for the volunteers, the huckleberry crop is prolific this year! As long as they do not pick berries off of the tagged plants, they can eat as many as they want!

Many of these volunteers have never been to Montana before, so this research project is also a unique opportunity for them to learn about the human and natural history of the Crown of the Continent. This is the first season of fieldwork, so the groundwork is just being set for the next three years as we continue to collect data.

If you are hiking in the Valley and see any flagging or tagged berries, please do not disturb them!


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