Quiz: What’s Your Secret Kootenai Critter Identity?
Take the quiz and get a limited-edition hand-drawn wildlife sticker
I was 18 years old, a freshman at the University of Montana, and I was determined to go out on my first solo backpacking trip. The goal was a lake, about eight miles in, but I was tired by mile four. I pitched my tent in the bushes by the trail, cooked dinner, and crawled into my sleeping bag with plenty of daylight left. Darkness finally arrived after I read my entire paperback, and I snuggled down to sleep.
The huge animals arrived shortly after.
For most of the night, I clutched my bear spray and kept my tent zipped and my head inside my sleeping bag. If death was coming, I did not want to watch it approach. The rustling and crashing continued for hours. In the morning, I went to check on my bear hang, certain that it would be ripped down or missing. But it was there, untouched. Between pine needles, in the soft mud around my tent, were the five-fingered prints of racoons.
I don’t remember the lake, or the second night of my trip, only the small feeling of waiting for dawn, the primeval uncertainty of no longer being the top of the food chain.
Can you call to mind your own wild animal encounter? How did you feel? Were you scared, touched, did you laugh, snap a picture? Where were you? What was your takeaway?
The feelings that we get from encounters with wildlife are, I think, universal. The excitement, the awe, the hush that falls over us - we share these feelings regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs. Even if we don’t agree on other ideas - the importance of designated Wilderness, for example - we agree on the majesty of wildlife.
Few places in Montana are home to more majestic wildlife than the Kootenai National Forest. Bald eagles patrol the skies, grizzlies prowl the forests, bighorn sheep explore the peaks, and westslope cutthroat trout cruise the rivers. This dense, steep, and wet area is home to a wider variety of mammals than anywhere else in the state. The cold, clear rivers and streams support diverse and healthy fish populations and the deep forests hide more than 200 bird species.
What Kootenai critter are you? Take the quiz to find out!
The lives of human residents of the Kootenai are also closely connected to the natural environment. Logging and mining have long played major roles here, and local economies are slowly diversifying by catering to outdoor recreation and tourism. Fishing, hunting, and wildlife photography play a key role in the new recreation economy.
As the Kootenai National Forest spans 2.2 million acres, it has plenty of space for both humans and wildlife to prosper.
We’re moving towards a future in the Kootenai where timber is harvested sustainably, towns are flourishing, responsible recreation is the norm, and new protected wild country protects local ecosystems and allows wildlife to thrive. We’re working to create a future for the Kootenai National Forest where future generations can enjoy wild places and stay connected to their family traditions.
In that spirit, I’m proud to launch our Kootenai Critters quiz. It will reveal the hidden Kootenai National Forest animal that lives inside you and tell you a little bit more about just why this place is so special. I hope that it provides some much-needed fun and levity during this challenging period and makes you feel a little bit more connected to, and in awe of, the glory of our wildlife and wild places.
If learning about your secret animal identity inspires you, I’d also invite you to pledge to support the Kootenai National Forest’s wildlife and wild places, along with the communities that depend on it. Sign the pledge, and then share the quiz and pledge with your friends and family and encourage them to do the same.
And of course, spend a few minutes reminiscing about your favorite animal encounter and the importance of ensuring that our favorite animals always have room to roam. We’re committed to ensuring that both wildlife and people will be able to count on a sustainable wild future in the Kootenai and beyond, and I hope you’ll help us on that journey.