1st Monaco science prize will fund elk research

2013-09-19T17:07:00Z 2013-09-30T09:45:05Z 1st Monaco science prize will fund elk researchBy BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette
September 19, 2013 5:07 pm  • 

CODY, Wyo. — When the Prince of Monaco came to town on Thursday, there were a number of people under pressure — everyone from the cooks and waiters at lunch to the organizers of the numerous public events.

But the pressure may have been greatest on researchers Arthur Middleton, 34, and Joe Riis, 29. The two were honored Thursday at a luncheon here as the first recipients of a newly created $100,000 grant that will fund their research on elk migrations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem over the next two years.

“I think these guys could transform how we see this ecosystem,” said Carlos Martinez del Rio, director of the University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute.

No pressure, right?

“That’s the thing,” a somewhat overwhelmed-looking Middleton said later. “I’m used to low expectations.”

The Camp Monaco Prize, named in honor of the camping location of the prince’s great-great-grandfather during a visit 100 years ago, was funded by the prince’s foundation in concert with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Draper Natural History Museum and the University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute.

“We’re going to take an ecosystem-scale look at elk migrations in Yellowstone, there’s five different ones that radiate out like spokes on a wagon wheel to Cody, the Clarks Fork, the Northern herd, Jackson and into Idaho,” Middleton explained. “We want to synthesize what we know and utilize GPS information and see how spring and fall climate influence migration behavior.”

Riis will be using remote video and still cameras to capture images of the animals.

“In order for biodiversity to continue, the public has to be involved and feel connected to these wildlife spectacles that are right here,” Riis said, and that’s where he comes in.

“Science alone can’t do that, most people can’t connect with just numbers,” he said. “But if they can connect with photography and video, they can get behind it.”

Riis said his work on the project would begin in the spring.

Middleton and Riis won the award from an international juried competition. They were the youngest to enter.

“Wildlife is crossing so many boundaries that the solutions must do the same,” said Charles Preston, director of the Draper Museum.

That’s why it was decided that the Camp Monaco Prize should cross different disciplines of study, not only biology and ecology but sociology, videography and photography as well.

Middleton, who previously conducted work on the migration of elk from Yellowstone National Park into the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River valley, said he and Riis are standing on the shoulders of previous researchers from a variety of state and federal wildlife agencies to perform their work.

“The migration movements are the defining features of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, they bind the system,” Middleton said. “They highlight that biodiversity is sustainable outside the parks.”

Prince Albert II said his foundation is happy to take part in the prize and collaboration in honor of the legacy forged by his namesake ancestor and Buffalo Bill Cody.

“Prince Albert the First always tried to link science and art and the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco is testament to that fact,” Prince Albert II said.

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