Taku River Watershed

The Taku River watershed, located in the far northwest corner of British Columbia, is a place of great beauty and ecological significance. This landscape and the people of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation have taught us much about how to integrate field research with the needs of First Peoples.

Since 2003, our students have been a vital part of Round River’s conservation work in the Taku that has culminated in over 7 million acres of protected land. Students have contributed to research projects with the grizzly bear, wolf, woodland caribou, and all five species of Pacific Salmon. Early programs focused on wildlife surveys, documenting Tlingit oral histories and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and habitat studies, and mapping. We have continued to evolve over a generation of time spent on the land, and today students explore the immense wilderness surrounding Atlin, B.C., trekking into remote alpine and subalpine areas to monitor critical habitat, wildlife populations, and vegetation in the face of climate change. A highlight of the summer is a 9-day backpacking trip into the Taku Watershed along a traditional Tlingit trail used for fishing and trade. Together we study and celebrate the natural history of an intact northern wilderness.

The Taku River, flowing from the interior mountain ranges of northern British Columbia to the coastal ranges of Alaska, is the largest intact salmon-bearing watershed in North America. The Taku is a vast wilderness of glacial rivers, boreal forest, and snow-packed peaks harboring many of the charismatic species of this continent: grizzly bear, moose, wolf, lynx, stone sheep, mountain goats, and wolverine, and all five species of Pacific salmon. The goal of our work is to maintain the Taku River’s wilderness character by enabling the management capabilities and authority of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) over their traditional territory.

Round River’s initial efforts here included the development of a Conservation Area Design through years of wildlife and fisheries research, as well as, capacity building and economic development support. One of the most important recent advancements has been the July 19, 2011 signing of the Atlin Taku Land Use Plan and government-to-government framework agreement between the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and the government of British Columbia. The Land Use Plan protects more than seven million acres from commercial logging and designates over two million acres as First Nation Conservancy Parks. These agreements represent long-overdue respect and recognition for Tlingit people and their way of life.  The Land Use Plan draws heavily on much of the research, analysis, and mapping work undertaken by Round River staff and students, working alongside the Tlingit, in the last decade.

Program Dates

Summer term – 6 weeks late June to early August

Program Costs

Summer Programs:

  • $11,450 (pricing includes tuition, room and board, project research fees and equipment, ground transportation, and evacuation insurance)
  • $450 Westminster University registration fee

Our semester programs are just under three months long (84 days to be exact). For that duration and the 15 hours of semester credit, Round River is affordable compared to other options of shorter length and fewer credits. And every day is packed! Summer terms are exactly half the length of our full semester programs at 6 weeks (42 days) and provide 9 hours of credit.

Students are in remote places where there aren’t a lot of options to spend money, which is a savings that can add up over the three months. Except for personal expenses, once on site, Round River takes care of most expenses including food, board, and in-country travel for the duration of the program. Federal financial aid can be used for our programs, and we offer our Edward Abbey Scholarship as well. If finances are a concern, please contact us. We’ll work with every student to explore opportunities that will allow them to get out in the field and make a difference with us.

Courses Offered (9 Semester Credits):

  • Natural History of Coastal Temperate and Boreal Forests
  • Introduction to Biological Field Methodology
  • Applied Conservation Biology

Our blog provides an ongoing log and history of students’ experiences over the years. There is no better resource to understand what a Round River Student Program is like and what to expect.

This experience really highlights the importance of people in the environment as the TRTFN have demonstrated their extensive background on the land, with minimal impact and negative effects. I really grew to appreciate the ability to exist harmoniously on the land. I would absolutely say that this program is worthwhile since it teaches not only key conservation ideas and field methodology, but also mixes in the contextual information about the local environment and history to make sense of all the work that has been done here.

– George Voigt, 2015 (Colby College)

What to Expect

Operating from a small house in the remote town of Atlin, British Columbia, students will spend most days hiking and conducting field research in the boreal forest and alpine peaks east of Atlin. In addition to spending time at a variety of field sites, students will have the opportunity to spend time with many community members, including Tlingit elders and resource managers.

Our academics complement the field research and are designed to be interactive and hands-on. Students can expect to spend a few hours a day working on their field journals, reading and discussing relevant articles with the group, having lectures from program instructors, and working on assignments and essays. Guest lectures, when possible, will also add to students’ understanding of conservation and land-use planning in the area. Each program culminates with a final written research paper, focusing on one aspect of the project, as well as a presentation in the community.

Around camp, students should expect to help with tasks such as building fires, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining equipment. This program provides an amazing opportunity to experience the vast landscapes and biodiversity of northern boreal and coastally influenced ecosystems first hand. Students will have the chance to see wildlife such as grizzly bears, lynx, caribou, mountain goats, sheep, and moose, and will become quite familiar with the local flora and bird life.

Round River programs are unique, with no program being the same as the last. As our research in BC is tied to our local partner, students assist with various projects depending on research needs. This means that students may spend an entire semester assisting with one aspect of the project, or they may have the opportunity to assist with a handful of different projects. Regardless, students learn valuable field methods, become familiar with a vast number of native species, hone field journaling techniques, and come away with a very good understanding of conservation and Aboriginal rights and title in BC. All in all, this program challenges students both physically and mentally, offering an incredible opportunity to experience the North and gain diverse perspectives on conservation in Canada.

Because of the nature of our programs, schedules will change frequently and students are expected to be flexible and adapt to ever-evolving plans. This is the reality of community-based conservation. Students should arrive with a positive attitude and the willingness to take advantage of each and every opportunity available.

Research Objectives

Our student program began in 2003 and has evolved over the years to fit the research needs of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. Early programs focused on wildlife surveys, documenting Tlingit oral histories and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and habitat studies and mapping.

Since 2011, Round River’s student program has focused on monitoring wildlife populations, and the effects of climate change on alpine habitats surrounding Atlin, BC. Our long-terms vegetation study documents the effects of climate change on alpine species, and follows the globally recognized “Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments” methodology (GLORIA), encompassing four study summits near Atlin. Summer 2013 saw the first round of data collection; this data set will serve as an important baseline for understanding climate change in boreal ecosystems across the northern hemisphere.

Other projects focus on the hoary marmot, the common nighthawk, woodland caribou, Stone’s sheep, and mountain goats in the mountainous Atlin-East area. Round River students may also assist the Taku River Tlingit First Nation with other projects as they arise.

Students may participate in any or all of the following field activities:

  • Natural history hikes in the forests and mountains east of Atlin, BC
  • Walking the traditional Tlingit trail from Atlin to the Nakina River, a 9-day backpacking trip into the Taku Watershed
  • Visiting Tlingit fisheries camps
  • Caribou, mountain goat, and stone sheep surveys
  • Common nighthawk surveys
  • Vegetation monitoring on alpine summits to assess the effects of climate change

Student Projects


Ecological Succession within Llewellyn Glacial Retreat, by Gabriel Falcione and Grace von Mettenheim

Location and Abundance of Culturally Significant Species Along Elevation Gradients around Atlin, British Columbia, Canada, by Zinnia Collins, River DeFelice, and Caleb May

Population Surveys of Ungulates in Northwestern British Columbia, by Andrew Corcilius and Meghan Haynes


Ungulate Monitoring in Northwestern British Columbia, by Christine Fleming and Abigail Cloutier

Validating Berry and Medicinal Plant Climate Change Models in the Taku River Watershed of British Columbia, by Alex Railic and Madeline Waterman


The First Monitoring Year of GLORIA: Collecting Plant Diversity, Abundance, and Distribution Data at the Six Year Point for Alpine Summits near Atlin, British Columbia, by Calla Sopko, Joey Abreu and Katherine Meyr.

Point Counts and Opportunistic Surveys of Alpine Ungulates in the Atlin East Area, by Rain Keating, Myranda Sloo and Kyle Weber.


GLORIA Progress Report, Summer 2017. By Lily Bosworth, Aliza Chavez, Morgan Durbin and Sophie Warner.

Osprey Surveys on Atlin Lake: Data Summary from Multi-year Opsrey Observation Data. By Morgan Brown and Mark Roth.

Ungulate Surveys in the Atlin East Region, Summer 2017. By Joe Gallucci and Kaelie Coleman.


Full listing of student papers


Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply early for the best chance of being accepted into the program of your choice.