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Glacier National Park, Partners Honored For Collaborating On "Ice Patch Archaeology"


The Glacier National Park Ice Patch Archaeology and Paleoecology Project was recently awarded the Department of the Interior's 2012 Partners in Conservation Award in recognition of outstanding conservation achievements attained through collaboration and partnership.

“This national award recognizes a level of collaboration, cooperation, and communication that far exceeds the usual requirements for consultation, and has identified employees of the park and our partners as leaders in conservation,” said Glacier Superintendent Chas Cartwright.

Ice patches are accumulations of ice and snow in alpine and sub-alpine areas that have been stable for thousands of years. Historically, big game has been attracted to these areas to cool off during the summer and to escape from insects. This predictable behavior was targeted by ancient hunters searching for game. The alpine areas are also a traditional area of great importance to indigenous people. As the ice and snow melts and recedes, due to changing climate, evidence of human activities and fossils is revealed.

The Ice Patch Project includes mapping and documenting melting ice patches in the park; recovering paleobiological samples from melting ice; documenting, and if necessary, recovering newly exposed artifacts to protect them from theft or destruction; conducting ethnographic research with tribes to learn more about traditional use of alpine areas; providing public information; and, building a culturally sensitive protocol for cutting edge scientific research.

“The success of this project is the cooperation and communication between park managers, cultural resources specialists, scientists, students, and tribal experts and elders," Superintendent Cartwright said.

The project is a partnership between Glacier National Park, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Blackfeet Nation, the University of Wyoming, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of Arizona. The project is facilitated and technical assistance provided by the National Park Service Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit based at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Initiation of this project has identified new tactics for dealing with culturally sensitive situations such as potential discovery of sacred items in alpine zones, or human burials that may become exposed. The project is using state of the art scientific technology including GIS mapping, ice coring, radiocarbon dating, and analysis of animal bones and wood fragments to determine paleoclimatic conditions.

The Ice Patch Project is important to stewardship of both cultural and natural resources, which is consistent with best scientific understanding of the human/ecosystem relationship and is also reflective of the synthetic view of tribal communities.

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