For one University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student, a dream became a reality this summer when he had the opportunity to work in the beautiful wilderness at Yellowstone National Park.
Ron Chester, a geography student from Williams Bay, spent a month in Yellowstone tracking and identifying grizzly bears as part of a summer field experience.
"This is a great, hands-on opportunity for Ron he couldn't get anywhere else," said George Clokey, lecturer of biological sciences. "It gives him the chance to get into a career and introduces him to the kind of work he will be doing."
During his time in Yellowstone, Chester identified more than 480 grizzly bears in the Lamar Valley area. Chester, a UW-Whitewater junior, took photos, made detailed drawings and mapped locations of the bears. His work is part of an ongoing effort to identify individual bears in the Yellowstone Park area and is published in a new book titled "Grizzly Gallery: Grizzly Bears of Yellowstone's Northern Range 2012."
"I found bears everyday and kept a running record of their locations," Chester said. "I also mapped out the location of male bears in comparison to female bears, and mapped the territories of different family units. I came to know the bears on a first name basis."
The bears Chester sighted were given names, such as Scarface, to aid with identification. He made special note of distinctive markings and characteristics to make identification upon further sightings easier. Chester's work will help keep track of the bear population in Yellowstone and give tourists an idea of what park wildlife is like year-round.
"One of the best parts of staying in Yellowstone was helping kids see bears. Most of the tourists that visited the park didn't get a chance to see bears before, and the kids would get so excited. The looks on their faces were really rewarding," Chester said. "My other favorite part about staying in Yellowstone was that it felt like I was part of the park. I was there early in the mornings and late at night when everyone else was gone, so I got to see things no one else saw."
During his first week in Yellowstone, Chester took a course on bears that covered topics such as bear history, bear mythology and public perception of bears. He spent his remaining three weeks patrolling the park for bears and working with world-renowned biologist Jim Halfpenny.
Chester said, "I walked out of Yellowstone with a lot of knowledge. I received valuable experience and had my work published, which will help when applying for grad schools."
"He made a lot of connections this summer and gained on the job training that will serve him well now and later down the road," Clokey said.
Millions of TV viewers have already seen Chester in action. He appeared breifly in the July 13 episode of ABC's 20/20. The Yellowstone segment begins around the 26-minute mark.
Every summer and winter, the Departments of Biological Sciences and Geography and Geology offer a field experience and travel study course to Yellowstone National Park. The course is open to all university students. For more information, visit http://www.uww.edu/conteduc/travel/yellowstone_summer.htm or contact Clokey or Kari Borne, credit outreach program manager.
Photos: (top) ABC News' Jay Schadler interviews Chester at Yellowstone Park; (above right) During his search for grizzly bears, Chester found this black bear in a tree; (left) Biologist Jim Halfpenny consults with Chester on bear skulls.
Ron Chester, a UW-Whitewater junior, took photos, made detailed drawings and mapped locations of the bears. His work is part of an ongoing effort to identify individual bears in the Yellowstone Park area and is published in a new book titled "Grizzly Gallery: Grizzly Bears of Yellowstone's Northern Range 2012."