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Chasing Winter: A Natural History Retreat

February 28th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the highlights of this my time in this graduate program so far (seven months!) has been our seasonal natural history retreats. In the fall, Cohort 14 went over to the Methow Valley, which is quickly becoming our favorite place, and spent a week camping outside of Winthrop. We hiked, explored, skinned deer at the start of hunting season with Katie Russell, learned about the Methow Beaver Project, and counted migratory raptors with Kent Woodruff of the Chelan Ridge Raptor Migration Project, part of Hawkwatch International.

From February 2nd through the 6th (or 8th, for some of us), we tucked ourselves away in the woods near Early Winters Campground in Mazama, WA, and ventured into the snow each day to learn new skills and enjoy one of the few places in the state where winter seemed to be in full swing.

Monday

Most of us don’t arrive until the evening. How cruel of a joke it seems to be that we drive for eight hours from Diablo… only to end up just 50 miles away from the Environmental Learning Center. We rejoiced, however, when we crossed Stevens Pass and saw snow for the first time in weeks. It gave us a taste of the winter wonderland that awaited us in the Methow Valley. But our restless legs were soothed by the sight of fat, fluffy snowflakes falling on a silent stretch of Highway 20 once we traveled west out of Twisp. The whole van fell silent: mesmerized by the calm.

» Continue reading Chasing Winter: A Natural History Retreat

GrizzlyBear

Open Houses on Options for Grizzly Bear Restoration

February 19th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

**Editor’s Note: sharing this information from our friends at North Cascades National Park.

Public Invited to Open Houses on Options for Grizzly Bear Restoration in North Cascades Ecosystem

 Public comment period open through March 26, 2015


SEDRO WOOLLEY, Wash. – The public is invited to participate in a series of informational open houses regarding restoration of grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem. The meetings are being held by the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as part of the Grizzly Bear Restoration Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the North Cascades ecosystem. This is the first opportunity for public involvement in the EIS.  The purpose of the EIS is to determine whether or not the agencies will take an active role in restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The public open houses will be held at these locations and times:

Winthrop:      March 3, 5-7:30 pm
Red Barn Upper Meeting Room
51 N. Hwy 20
Winthrop, WA 98862

 

Okanogan:      March 4, 5-7:30 pm
Okanogan PUD Meeting Room
1331 2nd Ave N
Okanogan, WA 98840

 

Wenatchee:   March 5, 6-8:30 pm
Chelan County PUD Auditorium
327 N. Wenatchee Ave.
Wenatchee, WA 98801

 

Cle Elum:       March 9, 5-7:30 pm
Putnam Centennial Center Meeting Room
719 East 3rd Street
Cle Elum, WA 98922

 

Seattle:            March 10, 5-7:30 pm
Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1
103 West Bertona
Seattle, WA 98119

 

Bellingham:    March 11, 5-7:30 pm
Bellingham Central Library Lecture Room
210 Central Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98227

In addition to these open houses, the public is invited to submit written comments at this link. Comments may also be submitted through March 26, 2015, via regular mail or hand delivery at: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284.

“This is an important phase in the process of assessing environmental impacts,” said NPS Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz. “Public comment at this stage is critical to ensure that all issues are considered.”

The FWS listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

“The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan calls on us to fully consider the restoration of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades, and this process will ensure we solicit the public for their input before putting any plan into action,” said FWS Pacific Regional Director Robyn Thorson. “We will continue to work with our partners to make this an open and transparent process.”

The North Cascades ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia, Canada.  The United States portion of the ecosystem includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

A few grizzly bears have recently been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem, but no grizzly bears have been sighted in the United States portion for several years.

DiabloLakeMountains

Nature Notes: Winter in the North Cascades

February 16th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Chelsea Ernst, M.Ed. Graduate Student

The west side of the North Cascades is experiencing a fairly warm winter, sending the snow line higher than usual for this time of year. Snow down in the Skagit valley has melted completely, reminding staff and grads at the Learning Center of the carpet of green moss that lines the lowland forest floor.

On January 3rd, when a few graduate students returned to Diablo Lake after winter break, 10 inches of fresh snow fell. The layer of new, fluffy snow lent itself to easy snow tracking, and several ungulate and small mammal tracks were sighted on the Diablo East trail. The following day, the melt began and more students and staff steadily returned to their mountain home and workplace. Here are some of their observations from January and February.

January

SnowBridgeFrozen surface of a pond on Thunder Knob Trail
  • Jan. 4th: above freezing temperatures and rain at the Learning Center turned snow piled high on steep roofs into roofalanches.
  • Jan. 9th: a juvenile and an adult bald eagle dove at each other mid-air near Cook Road in Sedro-Woolley.
  • Jan. 11th: snow geese still gathering in wet fields near Sedro-Woolley and Concrete.
  • Jan. 12th: a pileated woodpecker was heard at the Learning Center.
  • Jan. 15th: the sounds of Deer Creek became softer as less water from higher elevations makes its way down into the valley.
  • Jan. 20th: the sun was out at Diablo Lake!
  • Jan. 21st: the surface of a pond on Thunder Knob trail was frozen.
  • Jan. 25th: with the sun out and temperatures in the 50s, staff and graduate students paddled out on Diablo lake. They saw an American dipper, buffleheads, and common goldeneyes.

February

ThunderKnobPondSnow bridge over Early Winters Creek near Mazama, WA
  • Feb. 1st-8th: graduate students traveled to the Methow Valley and naturalize on the notably colder and snowier east side of the North Cascades.
  • Feb. 10th: three female elk were spotted near Concrete.
  • Feb. 11th: two harlequin ducks floated on Diablo Lake.
*All photos taken by Chelsea Ernst.
LittleRedRidingHood

Howling to be Heard: Wolf Folklore

February 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

by Mike Rosekrans, M.Ed. Graduate Student

“My grandmother what big teeth you have.”
“The better to eat you with, my dear!”

Myths and legends, both positive and negative, have surrounded the wolf for centuries. This is without a doubt where many of our opinions and general notions of wolves originated. Most cultures throughout history have held the wolf as a revered, distinguished animal. In fact, most Native American tribes saw the wolf as an animal closely related to humans and a carrier of strong medicine. Native Americans viewed the wolf as courageous, strong, loyal, and a successful hunter. Even some of our Northwestern tribes such as the Quileute and Kwakiutl included the wolf in their stories of origin where their first ancestors were transformed from wolves into men. European history and mythology, which has its origins in Rome, also has a positive connotation of the wolf. Many people are familiar with the story of how Romulus and Remus, sons of the war god Ares, came to found the city of Rome after being orphaned and raised by a female wolf.

Why then has the wolf been portrayed in such a negative light for past several centuries? Why is an animal that was so revered in indigenous cultures put on trial in a quick turn of events? Why do we never hear these stories with the wolf as the hero? To answer these questions we must look at the time period in which these negative myths and legends began to surface. It was during the Middle Ages when Europeans started moving out into the countryside to raise crops and domesticate animals.

The first image most people today have of the wolf is from the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, where a wolf cunningly disguises itself in order to eat a helpless little girl. The wolf is then killed by the heroic hunter who slices open the wolf’s belly, saving Little Red Riding Hood. In our western society we have created an image of the wolf as an evil, bloodthirsty and voracious killer. In Norse Mythology, the god Odin had two wolves named Geri and Freki, both meaning “the ravenous” or “greedy one.” But where and how did these stories enter into our culture? For the answer, let’s take a trip back in time to the Middle Ages: a time when the human species started cultivating crops and raising domestic livestock; a time when the Catholic Church exerted the greatest influence on how people thought and acted.

As man entered into a new age, a new way of thinking and living emerged. Civilization and cultivated land became the norm and way of Christian living. Man began demonstrating dominance over the natural world by clearing the forest, cultivating the land, and raising domestic livestock. It was thought that it was God’s will for man to have dominion over all the earth and anything that stood in the way of that was evil. If something went awry, humans needed some sort of scapegoat for their own faults and shortcomings. They quickly turned to an animal that was highly intelligent, shared the same social structure, and hunted as humans did. An animal living in close proximity to them that remained wild and untamed: the wolf.

» Continue reading Howling to be Heard: Wolf Folklore

Portraits of Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein’s manifesto on “capitalism vs. the climate”

February 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

By Christian Martin

(Originally published in the Cascadia Weekly, Jan 2015)

In the same week that the Republicans put all of their political muscle in to pushing the Keystone XL Pipeline, the New York Times reported the alarming news that 2014 was the “warmest year ever recorded on Earth.” Another story the next day noted “humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.” The lead author of the new research warned, “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.”

Amidst the unwelcome news, Vancouver-based author and activist Naomi Klein has published the most important book of her career, not to mention “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring,” according to the Times. But be warned: much like reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States of America or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, once you read it, you can never go back to seeing the world the same way as you did before.

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

This Changes Everything is a progressive manifesto, as well as the definitive manual for our warming planet: how we got here, what we’re doing (or not doing) now, and what we need to do next. Klein weaves together climate science, economics, international relations, sociology, geopolitics, psychology, history and more in this fascinating, often dizzying journalistic investigation.

“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” Klein states plainly in the introduction. “Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Klein builds her case for the need to reign in and transform neoliberal free-market capitalism chapter by chapter, page by page, line by line. She zeroes in on three elements of the modern economy that need radical realignment — privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and lower corporate taxation paid for with cuts to public spending –- and excoriates the legacy of free trade and globalization as promoted by the WTO.

Her approach is methodical, and the evidence that she marshals in support of her arguments becomes overwhelming: peer-reviewed scientific studies, public opinion polls, academic research, economic accounting, interviews with experts and activists from around the world. Eventually the reader feels piled on, so overwhelming and frightening are Klein’s findings and prescribed remedies.

But, surprisingly, her main mission with this tome seems to be to deliver hope.

Rather than leave readers with an apocalyptic doomsday vision, Klein writes that global climate change offers us “a catalyzing forces for positive change”:

“It could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights – all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality without our nations and between them.”

The last third of Klein’s book is devoted to explicating hopeful signs that positive changes are not only possible, but already underway. She cites the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, reinvigoration of Indigenous sovereignty, growth of renewable and community-owned energy projects and on-the-ground resistance she dubs “Blockadia.”

“Can we pull it off?” Klein, like her readers, wonders. “All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.”


 

ReSources in Bellingham is offering a free six–part workshop series on “Energy & Climate: the defining issue of our time,” Thursdays 6:30-8 pm through February 26. Info at www.re-sources.org/events/workshops-events.

Other useful online resources for learning about solutions to Climate Change:

www.climatesolutions.org

www.powerpastcoal.org

www.thischangeseverything.org.

IEGroup

Connections in the North Cascades

January 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

by Rachel Gugich, M.Ed. Graduate Student

The point at which two or more things are connected, A feeling of understanding and ease of communication between two or more people.”

These are definitions I found when looking up the word connection. This feeling of connection was on full display on the weekend of January 17th at the Environmental Learning Center when the graduate students of Cohort 14 hosted students from IslandWood of Bainbridge Island, WA and Wilderness Awareness School of Duvall, WA. This conference was the first of three events in the 9th Annual Instructor Exchange, with each school getting the chance to host and show other instructors what makes their program experience unique. 

IEPyramidPyramid Peak presiding over the Environmental Learning Center

North Cascade Institute’s Instructor Exchange was titled Cascade Connections, alluding to the mountains that define our landscape, and the connections across mountains and water that we hope to form with other like-minded, passionate instructors.

IEHikingGroupA group poses with Diablo Lake in the background

Everyone arrived a little before lunchtime on Saturday. Introductions were made and we were off! Workshops, led by members of Cohort 14, were offered in the afternoon. These workshops included Glacier and Geology; Cedars in the North Cascades; Literature and Poetry on the Peaks and A Snapshot of the North Cascades. Within these sessions students from IslandWood and Wilderness Awareness School chose the workshops they would like to attend, or were able to explore the campus and landscape on their own. I led the class A Snapshot of the North Cascades. This was an amazing opportunity. I had the chance to interact with other instructors, to show them some of my favorite spots on campus, including the Buster Brown and Sourdough Creek Overlooks. There were opportunities to chat, take photos, and throw snow balls.

IEOregonGrapeA photo of Oregon grape taken during Snapshot of the North Cascades
 IESourdoughCreekExploring Sourdough Creek

The workshops later in the afternoon included Wolverine Studies; A Cultural History of the Upper Skagit; Wolf, Grizzly, Fisher Reintroduction to the North Cascades and A Conversation on Wilderness. These workshops offered a space for dialogue and exchange of knowledge and stories.

IESessionWolf, Grizzly, and Fisher Reintroduction session

» Continue reading Connections in the North Cascades

Mushroom

Nature Notes: Phenology of the North Cascades Ecosystem

January 28th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

North Cascades Institute’s resident graduate students have the unique opportunity to live at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center for the majority of the Environmental Education graduate program. Living in North Cascades National Park has more than a few perks. The backcountry is just a few steps outside of our back door and thousands of plant species and a diversity of wildlife are our neighbors. Living here also allows us to experience first hand the phenology of the surrounding ecosystem. As part of our graduate work, we take note of these environmental changes as we experience them. It may not be possible to accurately convey the magic of this experience, but we combined a brief list of our observations from autumn 2014 in an attempt to do so.

September

LarchNeedle

Larch needles beginning to turn on Maple Pass
  • In mid September, the vine maple leaves at the Learning Center began turning.
  • On the 21st a pika was seen dragging a false hellebore stem across Heather Pass trail.
  • Among the talus slopes near Heather Pass, a Northern flicker was heard and later sighted. Larches at Heather/Maple Pass were just on the brink of turning.
  • On the 27th black bear tracks were observed in the snowfield below Colonial Glacier.

October

Hydnellumpeckii

Hydnellum peckii mushroom, certainly one of the most striking we’ve seen!
  • First week of October: the area around the Learning Center received record rainfall.
  • Early October: Summer Chinook salmon observed spawning in the Methow River.
  • Oct. 20th: pikas observed in talus slope below Cascade Pass.
  • Oct. 22nd: Sourdough Creek started flowing into Diablo Lake.
  • Mid to late October: the upper Skagit Valley’s array of fungal species were in full display.
  • Oct. 25th: the Oregon grape plants around the Learning Center trails no longer had berries.
  • Oct. 27th: black bear was seen on the Learning Center campus.
  • Oct. 28th: three mule deer (two does and one yearling) seen on the Learning Center campus.

November

  • Throughout the month: snow geese observed migrating down the Skagit Valley.
  • Nov. 11th: snow goose mates and goslings seen during a paddle on Diablo Lake, and black bear tracks were seen at Sourdough Camp.
  • Nov. 14th: a pika peeped at Heather Pass, and big leaf maple leaves crunch under feet at the Learning Center.
  • Nov. 22nd: bald eagle seen circling Ladder Creek Falls area in Newhalem.
  • Nov. 23rd: Highway 20 closes access to Washington Pass due to several slides and heavy snow.
  • Nov. 26th: first snow at the Learning Center (1200 feet).

December

IceandSnow

Iced over roads by Buster Brown field
  • Dec. 2nd: multiple mammal tracks observed in the snow and mud on Diablo East trail: rabbit, possibly mink or fox, and deer.
  • Dec. 5th: almost stepped on a Douglas squirrel frantically running across path by the library at the Learning Center.
  • Dec. 12th: a windstorm and increased risk for landslides in the Skagit gorge caused graduate non-profit class to be dismissed early, and grads headed down valley for winter break.
All photos taken by Chelsea Ernst.