Part of my owl survey experience as a field biologist I did not expect was the interaction with people. There are probably not many people hiking the wilderness at night that would expect to run into others. We haven't at night, but have had a few opportunities to speak while performing road vegetation analysis. My wildlife management class last semester spoke to this, but once again, its the experience that makes it more real than a presentation.
I first need to say that we drive an Idaho Fish and Game vehicle. This provides us some aspect of authority, but also invites inquiries into all manner of game management topics. We've had a few interactions so far in our first week.
While performing vegetation analysis one day two gentlemen stopped by to see what we were up to. They were interested in talking about mule deer populations. We had to confess that we were just bird nerds in a borrowed truck, and didn't actually work for the Fish and Game. I was able to share some knowledge that a Fish and Game employee presented to our wildlife management course, but made sure they knew that I was not an authority on the populations in the area. They were friendly and interested in many topics including our work. We received the usual response of "you're crazy to do that at night". Yes, I guess we are. They closed by making a statement that the wolves sure have decimated the elk population. To this I did not respond. I could have shared that the Fish and Game research director emphatically stated to our class that they have not, but it was clear that they two were already convinced otherwise, so I let it go.
One morning while we were packing up our make shift tent site, an armed individual arrived. I was near the truck so he asked if I knew who was camping on private land. He introduced himself as the caretaker of that land. He had assumed that it wasn't the Fish and Game. I introduced myself, apologized, and showed him that our map indicated a 1/4 mile stretch of BLM land which was public. He admitted that he knew there was a public stretch somewhere, but didn't know exactly where. He also stated that he had no issue with us camping there, he was just concerned it would set a precedent. Many workers at the nearby Sun Valley resort community squat on the land. They can build a whole tent city in a day. But that is a different issue. Anyway, we had a great discussion about hiking in the dark, mountain lions, coyotes, and wolves. All have been seen in the valley recently. The wolves were an issue. Next week they will bring in sheep. According to him, "Where there is sheep, there is trouble." I once again let the wolf topic drop. This apparently signaled the end of the conversation so he wished us well and drove off. In all it was a very pleasant conversation.
Granted I have only had two such interactions so far, but a general theme has emerged with regards to the standard conversation with the locals. First, they ask what the hell we are doing there. Next, discuss the issue on the top of their mind, but nothing too contentious such as wolves. From there return to our work and what its like to be in the woods at night. Lastly, make some statement about wolves to possibly measure the response. When that fails to result in a strong reaction, cut off the conversation and move on. I'm excited for my next interaction to see if it follows the same formula.