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Facing Climate Change – The Tinder People

Fires and floods: North Cascades federal lands prepare for climate change

November 20th, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hannah Hickey, University of Washington News and Information

In a country that boasts an awe-inspiring system of national parks, the Pacific Northwest may be especially lucky. But even remote parks and forests can’t escape the problem of human-induced climate change.

Future shifts could affect everything from how people access the parks to what activities are possible once they arrive – not to mention the plants and animals that call those places home.

For a report released this week, University of Washington scientists worked with federal agencies to pinpoint natural resources sensitive to a warmer climate in the North Cascades region, and outline detailed management responses to minimize the adverse impacts on land and in water.

The report, “Climate change vulnerability and adaptation in the North Cascades region, Washington,” was led by the U.S. Forest Service’s Portland-based Pacific Northwest Research Station. It is the largest climate change adaptation effort on federal lands to date.

The partnership took a wide view for managing federal lands in the North Cascades. Participants in the North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership were the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the North Cascades National Park Complex and Mount Rainier National Park. The UW’s Climate Impacts Group provided scientific expertise.

“It‘s critical that we work across agency boundaries to ensure that techniques for responding to climate change are effective,” said editor David Peterson, a UW affiliate professor of environmental and forest science and a research biologist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station.

In a region famous for its snowy peaks and lush greenery, the report emphasizes impacts related to hydrologic systems. Watersheds in the North Cascades are expected to become increasingly dominated by rain rather than snow. This will cause more fall and winter floods on much of the roughly 10,000 miles of roads in the North Cascades.

“Events like the floods of 2006 that closed Mount Rainier National Park for six months affect both access and infrastructure,” said Randy King, superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park. “If there are techniques that can reduce the damage, we need to take a hard look at them.”


Possible adaptation tactics for federal lands identified in the report include hardening stream crossings with rocks, stabilizing stream banks, designing culverts for higher flows and upgrading bridges to deal with higher flows.

Co-author Ronda Strauch, now a UW graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, first looked at landslides and climate change as a federal scientist participating in this report. She since began a UW doctorate funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Northwest Climate Science Center, a regional center co-led by the UW, to look at climate change, flooding and roadways.

The report also addresses increased wildfire and insect outbreaks east of the Cascades as a result of a warmer climate. On the heels of a record fire season in Eastern Washington, the authors offer recommendations for how to contain future fires and fast-track forest restoration.

“If you think about the big fires this past year – the Carlton Complex fire, the largest fire in Washington state history – that could become the new normal in the next 30 to 40 years as it continues to warm,” Peterson said.
The report suggests more widespread forest thinning and prescribed burning to help stop future wildfires from spreading out of control.

Peterson led the three-year project with co-editors Crystal Raymond, a former Forest Service climate scientist now with Seattle City Light, and Regina Rochefort, a science adviser with the National Park Service based in Bellingham. Both earned their doctorates at the UW.

Other UW contributors include Joshua Lawler, associate professor of forest resources, who provided science on how climate change will affect wildlife. Nate Mantua, a UW affiliate professor in fisheries and now a research scientist at NOAA, and Maureen Ryan, a former UW postdoctoral researcher, provided expertise on climate change and fish.

“This report is a meeting of current science about future changes with on-the-ground practitioner knowledge about what our natural resources look like, what the management challenges are, and what opportunities they have to prepare for those changes,” said Amy Snover, director of the UW Climate Impacts Group. “The really important output of this report is a practical list of adaptation tactics that are consistent with the changes we expect.”

Other co-authors are Kailey Marcinkowski and Michael Case at the UW; Lee Cerveny at the Forest Service; Jeremy Littell, a former UW researcher now with the U.S. Geological Survey;Steven Klein, a forester at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Alan Hamlet, a former UW researcher now at the University of Notre Dame. The work was funded by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Read the full report at

Adapted from a press release from the U.S. Forest Service. For more information, contact Snover at 206-221-0222 or and Peterson at 206-732-7812 or

Top photo of Methow Valley wildfire fighters by Benj Drummond from the Facing Climate Change project. Photo of Nisqually Road washout in 2006 in Mount Rainier National Park courtesy of NPS.



Concrete Summer Learning Adventure

November 17th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Tyler Chisolm, Graduate M.Ed. Student, Cohort 13

Time flies when you’re having fun… and learning? The Concrete Summer Learning Adventure (CSLA), which wrapped up on August 31st, was another huge success for the Concrete community helping to fight summer learning loss and hunger while promoting healthy habits, outdoor exploration, literacy, and, above all, fun! In the second year running, CSLA served 58 students ranging from incoming first graders to incoming sixth graders with the majority of students in the 6 to 8-year-old range. Here’s a peek at some of the fun that was had this summer:

Summer Learning Loss and Literacy

Camper works on his literacy skills as he racks up reading minutes

Of the 58 students participating in CSLA, 88% either improved or maintained their reading level after participating in almost 36 hours of interactive literacy activities, including the ever popular Sight Word Animal Relays! Campers were even encouraged to read outside of camp with the promise of a bicycle-blended blueberry milkshake when reaching a cumulative total of 5,000 minutes of reading on the READ-O-METER. This 5,000-minute goal was accomplished (and then some) with help from Page Ahead [], which donated enough books for each student to choose and keep four books at their own reading level. One camper showed her appreciation, and need, by saying “now I can read at home too!” The literacy education was supplemented by AWE [], an interactive computer-based learning system, one of which is currently available at the Upper Skagit Library in Concrete []. And speaking of the library, library director Brooke Pederson was a big hit when she came to camp to read books pertaining to each week’s theme.

Hunger and Healthy Habits


Campers enjoyed trying new healthy foods!

» Continue reading Concrete Summer Learning Adventure

End of Mountain School

Seasons Change: Phenology and the end of Mountain School

November 14th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The changing seasons are a big deal in the North Cascades. 

This may seem like an obvious statement for an environmental learning center, but one in which I find more truth every day. As a person who spent so many formative years in the Middle East, a place where the changing seasons simply meant a change from “really hot” to “unbearably hot,” living in a place with four distinct, beautiful seasons brings a whole new set of knowledge.

As the new graduate student cohort (C14!), we spent our first few months at the ELC being introduced to this new, diverse ecosystem and the regular cast of characters around here. We learned the differences between fern types, how to tell a Mountain Hemlock apart from a Western Hemlock (it’s hard!), and all the types of ground cover we should try to avoid trampling in our excitement to explore. But we were also introduced to a concept still very much on our minds: phenology.

A quick internet search tells me that the definition of phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycles and how they are influenced by seasonal changes in climate, elevation, as well as changes from year to year. After a glorious late summer, it feels as if we’ve ramped up into phenological hyperdrive.

Sourdough Creek, which has been dry since our arrival at the ELC in late July, suddenly started flowing in late October, and it felt like a rite of passage for C14. Our first experience of the changing tides and our own evolution within this program. The waterfall at the top of the Sourdough Creek Trail which had slowed to a trickle with a dry stream bed over the summer now flows with a deafening roar. Suddenly we understand how avalanches and rock slides happen here. Green, leafy canopies that shaded us from the intense sun during our first grad school meetings gave way to picturesque golden walkways, then to skeletal brown arms that seem to reach for the sky in search of the elusive November sunlight. The pikas we once heard while passing talus slopes on campus have quieted down for the winter. Even Diablo Lake which greeted us in July with shades of turquoise, emerald, and serpentine now matches the color of the sky – a mix of blues and grays.


Aside from these beautiful, and occasionally stark, phenological changes we’ve witnessed, another major change has taken place: the end of the fall season of Mountain School. Cohort 14 got the sink-or-swim introduction to grad school, moving without rest from a month-long field expedition to a two week fall training at the ELC, and then into six weeks of teaching hands-on science curriculum to over 900 of western Washington’s fifth graders.

Much has been written about Mountain School over the years in Chattermarks, and with good reason. Along with the flora and fauna at the ELC, these energetic 10 and 11 year olds bring such a sense of life and activity to this ecosystem. For six weeks we taught lessons on rocks, the water cycle, and different biotic elements of this area, and found our own lessons changing with the seasons. We marveled right along with our students at the first sight of snow on Pyramid and Colonial Peaks, and then at the lowering snowline or, as I put it, the inescapable advance of winter. Our teaching flow and our choice of group games changed as sunlight waned and temperatures dropped. Hikes to the waterfall became less frequent, often being replaced by indoor lessons accompanied by hot chocolate.


Mountain School ended for the season on November 7th, the same day as the start of the Youth Leadership Conference. While the YLC deserves its own post, I will say that the theme of the conference – reflection and planning ahead – felt like a perfect way to mark the transition into the winter at the ELC. We too, staff and graduate students alike, are reflecting on the past weeks: lessons learned, experience gained, and goals for next season. We are planning for our own hibernation as programming at the ELC slows down and grad students turn our attention to non-profit management and curriculum design.

Very appropriately, just two days after the end of the Youth Leadership Conference and on the second day of the ongoing WildLinks Conference, we saw our first flakes of snow.

We are grateful for an amazing fall season of Mountain School, for the time to reflect and learn (indoors!) for the winter, and excited for the first 2015 session of Mountain School to begin which will, undoubtedly, carry with it a harbinger of spring.


Gery Ferguson’s “The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness”

November 12th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Editor’s note: Gary Ferguson teaches a Nature Writing Workshop for the Chuckanut Writers program at WCC on Nov 18, 9:30-4:30, $75. Co-presented by North Cascades Institute, Ferguson will instruct how to blend natural world, memoir, myths and archetypes in to your own story. More information at; register at or by calling (360) 383-3200. Ferguson’s workshop will be followed by a free public reading at Village Books at 7 pm for his new book, The Carry Home. Info at

By Christian Martin

Gary Ferguson has been a voice for the wilderness for the past 25 years. His steady, sturdy prose has translated the power of wild places in to 22 nonfiction titles like Hawk’s Rest, The Yellowstone Wolves, The Great Divide and Walking Down the Wild.

Combining lyrical images, scientific research and hard-won, first-hand experiences, Ferguson has shown readers how the untamed natural world challenges, informs, inspires and awes us.

In his latest book, The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness from Counterpoint Press, Ferguson explores another dimension of the power of wild places: healing.

Ferguson, Gary (c) Mary Clare

The Carry Home chronicles Ferguson’s quest to scatter his wife Jane’s ashes in several locations that she specified: the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, near a Forest Service cabin in southern Montana, a remote corner of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone and Wyoming’s Absaroka Range.

It is one last adventure in the Great Outdoors for the couple, married for 25 years and bonded through their shared love of exploring, hiking, canoeing and roadtripping (they put 350,000 miles on a 1979 Chevy van).

Ferguson invites us to join him on this intimate journey, and as the tale unfolds, we witness the healing balm that nature provides.

“At first, the journeys broke my heart,” he writes. “Later they helped me to piece it together again.”

Ferguson’s books have excelled at telling other peoples’ stories, like wildlife biologists studying grey wolves or troubled teens in a wilderness therapy program. The Carry Home turns the author’s focus on himself, and his chronicle of grief is unstinting and raw, deftly avoiding maudlin and over-sentimental prose. The reader travels alongside Ferguson — riding shotgun in the Chevy, hiking trails, paddling rivers — as he revisits hallowed ground and meditates on love, wild places and how both came to be braided together in the story of their marriage.

» Continue reading Gery Ferguson’s “The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness”


Mountain School: a campus in the great outdoors

November 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Vince Richardson for the Skagit Valley Herald

DIABLO LAKE — To truly learn about the great outdoors, one has get out into it and experience the sights, sounds and smells.

Touch the bark, feel the moss, hear the birds, feel the breeze.

Children who attend Mountain School can do just that.

The school is a 7 million-acre campus with the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center serving as its lecture hall.

Mountain School runs from the middle of September to the middle of November, and from late February to mid June.

“We are very fortunate to be able to offer this program,” said program coordinator Chris Kiser. “It’s an opportunity for students to make friends and learn about themselves as well as the outdoors. They learn all about producers, consumers and the ecosystem.”
Mountain School packs a lot into three days. The focus is on science, and the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades.
Days are spent hiking the nine miles of trails around the Environmental Learning Center. Activities along the trail introduce students to ecosystems and provide up-close looks at diverse ecological communities. Topics of study include wildlife of the North Cascades, biodiversity, food webs, glaciers and geology, watersheds, cultural history, ethnobotany and forest ecology.
Big Lake Elementary School teacher Elaine Glason has been taking students to Mountain School since 1998.

“I have never had a student say they wish they’d never done it,” said Glason.

On a recent Mountain School session, Cecilia Trejo, a 10-year-old student of Glason’s, spent time checking out a stream as it rushed around a massive boulder at the base of waterfall.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “I have learned so much about things like rocks. There are igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. There is so much to learn.”


Before there was an Environmental Learning Center, Mountain School was held in canvas tents in Newhalem.
While the facilities have changed, the expressions on the faces of Glason’s fifth-grade students are no different than the ones she saw back in the 1990s.

Glason took over the trips when another teacher left the school. After she retires at the end of the school year, she’ll pass along the responsibility to another.

“It is so wonderful for the kids,” she said. “And honestly, I really get to know my kids when we come up here and they get to know the outdoors.

“It is just awesome. It’s important for these kids at this age to get out and start learning about environments and habitats in order to develop an affinity for the outdoors and its conservation. They are impressionable and they need to realize they have a huge impact. They have the opportunity to take it all in and see it through their own eyes.”

Glason and Kiser agree that the school’s night hike is a hit with the kids.

“Seeing the forest at night is something completely different,” Glason said. “You can see how intent they are on listening to the sounds. That is a huge piece of the educational puzzle. Then there is the solo hike where students pick up and walk by themselves.”

On the last day of Mountain School, groups hike to a waterfall in the Sourdough Creek drainage.


“It’s the perfect setting,” Kiser said. “You can see the valley and the mountains and they can see where this watershed gets its start. It’s really fantastic.”

Along the trail to the falls, instructor Max Thomas stopped, taught and questioned. He asked the students what they noticed?
Raised hands were followed by such observations as tall trees in the upper valley and along the sides.

Why do you think this is, he asked?

Answers ranged from glaciers to avalanches to raging runoff.

“Those are all great observations,” he said. “Now ask yourself, ‘Why is that area so open? What is it about that spot?’”

As the students pondered those questions, they walked on.

Stopping at the base of a large slide, Thomas raised more questions. What happened here? What could have caused this?

Then a pica made itself visible. The tiny member of the rodent family raced between the rocks.

“They are like a baked potato with fur,” said Thomas. “They are little farmers. They roll grasses into tiny barrels and then store them in dry areas for eating during the winter.”

Reaching the waterfall, the group had lunch.


Thomas said Mountain School is about kids having fun, and learning to analyze not only their surroundings but themselves. There is the added benefit of being outside.

“There are never two days that are the same when you work with kids,” Thomas said. “That is what keeps it exciting. Walking along the trails, they observe everything. You have to imbibe that. If you look over there, you can see kids putting a leaf in the water, then watch it as it goes downstream. That’s what kids do and it’s great.”

Sitting on a rock below the falls was 11-year-old Ben Hedberg. His father Tim was along as a chaperone.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Ben Hedberg. “We have learned a lot. How the glaciers came down and took everything with them. I really like the outdoors. The beauty of this area is awesome. It’s nice to be able to come out here with my class and it’s nice to have my dad along.”

Classmate Ashton Hall was enjoying the outdoors as he ate a sandwich.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I like to camp and be outside. It’s a lot better than sitting in class. Class can get boring. This is a lot of fun.”

Trejo wasted no time rattling off the trees she’d seen, including paper birch, Douglas fir and maple. And then there were the ferns.

“There are so many ferns,” she said. “I think we’ve seen more ferns than just about anything else. It’s quite a hike to get up here, but it is worth it. And being able to sleep over with your friends, it is so much fun. I have really been looking forward to this field trip.”


Originally published in the Skagit Valley Herald, October 29, 2014

All photos by Vince Richardson.

CW cover Wild Nearby

The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby

November 4th, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Editor’s note: The following essay is an excerpt from the new book The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby, published this fall by Braided River, a conservation imprint of the Mountaineers Books. Please join North Cascades Institute at one of our book launch celebrations in Mount Vernon or Bellingham this week (with related presentations happening in Twisp, Darrington and Seattle) — details at Read a review of the book in the Everett Herald here and the Skagit Valley Herald here.

By William Dietrich

The North Cascades are surrounded by seven million people, crisscrossed by jetliners, and threaded by highways. Their retreating glaciers have become a barometer of climate change. At the same time, grizzly, wolf, wolverine, and eagle, once shot and trapped, are coming back. There is a new Environmental Learning Center across Diablo Dam, and new philosophies about forest fires, ecosystem management, and outdoor recreation. The North Cascades are exactly the same, and completely different.


Life in the Pacific Northwest has accelerated. Microsoft and Amazon have supplanted resource-based companies such as Weyerhaeuser as economic drivers. Computers have globalized us. We’ve all become minutemen, with once-a-day mail delivery giving way to minute-by-minute email, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds. An entire vocabulary of technical jargon has been mastered, society has become more diverse, and newcomers have injected their own take, deciding to call Puget Sound “the” Puget Sound, out of our inexplicable drive to complicate everything. Manual labor has given way to sedentary jobs, and in response camping and backpacking equipment has gone high-tech and recreational choices have exploded. We’re connected, busy, isolated, worldly, and stressed. Accordingly, the North Cascades represent escape and self-fulfillment. They beckon as last-stand glory, temple, and playground.

A woman ascends a rocky ridge in the South Picket Range, North Cascades National Park, Washington.

There is the reality of the mountains, that difficult terrain wracked by evolving change. “It is incredibly wild,” says Chip Jenkins, a former North Cascades National Park superintendent now serving as deputy regional director. “It is raw. It is physically and psychologically demanding.” And there is the ideal of the mountains, a place frozen into a calendar photo. The North Cascades are besieged and yet sacrosanct. They are eternal, and yet their purpose is constantly being reinvented in our minds.

Tucked into the fourth corner of the United States, these mountains were the last to be explored. They are still remote, jungle-dense on their western slopes, and relatively unknown. Fjord-narrow lakes wind into the mountain fastness; it is a fifty-five-mile boat trip from Chelan to the mountain hamlet of Stehekin in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, at the southeastern edge of North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades Highway, opened in 1972, brings three-quarters of a million people through a corridor between the two halves of that park each summer season, but only twenty-six thousand walk far enough from their cars to enter the park proper. Gettysburg Battlefield gets more visitors in a busy weekend than the halfmillion- acre park gets in a year. It is deliberately roadless. You have to seek it.

Cars drive Highway 20 at night over Washington Pass, North Cascades Scenic Highway Corridor, Washington.

The park is also truncated. Because of political compromise, Mount Baker is outside the national park “complex” (which technically includes the park lands and adjacent national recreation areas). So is the other glaciated volcano in the range, Glacier Peak. There is a bewildering patchwork of land designations, a contentiously debated road network, and a consortium of agencies.

Which brings us to peril. Visionaries protected this range over many decades of political battle in the twentieth century. What one sees today from the summit of Mount Baker—craggy Mount Shuksan, the fanged Picket Range, the ice cream mound of Glacier—now needs a new generation of stewardship. How shall we manage these crags? Can their complex succession of ecosystems be sustained? Will salmon survive in the rivers? Will grizzlies, wolves, and wolverines roam? How can the North Cascades be resilient in the face of climate change? Since 1915, average air temperatures at Diablo Dam on the Skagit River have risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit, global warming shrinking the average snowpack. Can an alpine environment thrive if adjacent lowlands are paved over? Can we help native plants and organisms resist invasive species? How can a growing and aging urban population visit this landscape without overpowering it? What does wilderness mean when it abuts a megalopolis of thickening development that stretches from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon?

A hand rests on the trunk of an old-growth western redcedar (Thuja plicata) in Mount Baker National Forest, Washington.

In a frenzied world, the North Cascades are a refuge of calm. In a warming world, they are a remnant of the Ice Age. In a homogenous world, they remain exotic. In a crowded world, they are empty.

They are best befriended on foot.


Excerpted from The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby (Braided River, an imprint of Mountaineers Books, Sept. 2014). Mountains photo by Steph Abegg; climber, night photos and tree by Ethan Welty.


Educating the Heart

October 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

North Cascades Institute has always believed that the route to conservation passes through the head and the heart — “we take children outside to fall in love with the world,” Saul Weisberg, our executive director, has remarked, “so that they learn to care, and take care, of this special place they call home.” With this is mind, our communications coordinator attended the Heart-Mind Summit last week in Vancouver to learn about efforts underway in BC schools to “educate the heart” of young students. As the Vancouver Sun reports, “It turns out that children who learn to be kind and resolve conflicts, who live free of fear and anxiety, who are compassionate and present in the moment, grow up to be happier, healthier and more productive in nearly every way that social science and psychology can measure.”


Attending the Youth Dialogue session at John Oliver Secondary School, our staffer Christian Martin expected to learn more about the new Heart-Mind Index, to be inspired and perhaps get a peek at one of his heroes, the Dalai Lama, who was in town to promote these efforts. What he didn’t expect was this encounter in the school library!


Read more about BC’s Heart-Mind education experiment at

Heart-Mind Online provides resources and activities that build capacity in parents and educators so they in turn can support the children in their care in areas such as anxiety, stress, managing conflict, friendship and other key domains of a child’s Heart-Mind well-being.

“Heart-Mind Online is a really exciting project,” says Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, interim director of the University of British Columbia’s Human Early Learning Partnership.  “It is so important for parents and educators alike to have a place where they can find practical resources and tools, rooted in science, that really educate the heart. These competencies, like empathy, altruism and compassion, are so critical not only in childhood, but also later in life.”

Top two photos by Christian Martin; bottom photo by Thandi Fletcher/Metro Vancouver.