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The Social Lives of Trees: Part 2 Mycorrhizal Fungi

August 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Sourdough T downed tree

By Emma Ewert, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort. Take a look at part one of her series on the social lives of trees!

It is almost impossible to distinguish root systems from the fungi that they are connected to. In fact, the term mycorrhizal means “fungi-root”, and refers to the root system as a whole, including both the tree roots and mycelial hyphae systems (Fungi are most commonly associated with mushrooms, but these visible structures are just the fruiting bodies of a network of thin string-like hyphae that create webs underneath the soil). Within three months of germinating, tree seeds have developed a mycorrhizal network, and while the species of fungi changes throughout its life, a tree will always maintain this partnership. Mycorrhizal fungi have existed for over 400 million years, and evolved along with plants as they moved onto dry ground. All conifers and most broad leafed trees have mycorrhizal partnerships, and it is probable that both  the fungi and the trees need this partnership to survive. Mycorrhizal fungi has three major roles. First, they extend the root system further into the soil, and allow a tree to access 1000 times more soil and water then they could with their roots alone. Secondly, they access and dissolve critical minerals and nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium or phosphorus into compounds that a tree can absorb and use. Finally, they can detect potentially harmful fungi or bacteria, act as an immune system for the tree.

» Continue reading The Social Lives of Trees: Part 2 Mycorrhizal Fungi

trees K. Renz

The Social Lives of Trees: Part 1

August 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emma Ewert, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

I have always found trees comforting and familiar. Playing in the dense woods surrounding my childhood home, they were the walls of my forts or the home of woodland fairies. Living in the Salish Sea, my childhood trees were the stately Douglas-firs, scrappy Shore Pines, somber Grand Firs, and the beautiful, queenly Madronas. Before starting the graduate program at NCI,  I took this connection for granted. I knew forests, I could sense the differences in species and size that came with different climates and succession stages. However, for the most part, I was more interested in getting through the forests to the high places where I could REALLY see something.  

As I learned more about trees and forests, I became more aware of each and every tree. Each new species I learned to see, each new forest I became familiar with added to this growing interest. I started to notice peculiar patterns. Cedars and Western Hemlocks grew tightly along the sides of Douglas-firs, taking advantage of their shade, and creating odd pairs of intertwined trees. Depending on the climate, the same species of tree could look like a gnarled shrub or grow tall and straight, reaching hundreds of feet into the air. I wanted to know why this happened, to get a sense for how and why trees chose to grow in these weird ways.

» Continue reading The Social Lives of Trees: Part 1

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Mapping a Sense of Place

August 15th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Aly Gourd, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Imagine a world that makes sense. Mentally erase all of the tangled lines on the old, industrial-age maps — city, country, state, and provincial boundaries, highways and railroads, the international borders. Let the original face of the place shine through: rivers, mountains and valleys, coastlines and plateaus, sea and sky. −David Aberley

Maps are visual stories of place. They are rooted in observation and drawn by experience in landscape. Powers emanate from maps as they tell stories of direction, resources, and boundaries.

Consider the creators of maps. They are deciders of lines. Lines that often delineate who the land belongs to and who has the right to use what is there. Maps can splice, draw borders and represent the landscape in ways that can restore and destroy the environment.

Maps have the power to communicate and have served as a mechanism to support and discourage social and environmental justice.

As European settlers arrived in North America, explorers mapped the North American region as they learned of land and resources. Political borders were disputed and eventually drawn with little consideration for the topography and the responsibility to the region’s ecological systems. Many delineations of place drawn at this time continue to be represented on current maps.

» Continue reading Mapping a Sense of Place

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Walking Washington’s History

August 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Four villages — Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven — grew along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay and rode every boom and bust that swept the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whatcom surged on sawmills and a gold rush; Sehome boomed on a coal mine and railroad hopes. They merged in 1891 to become New Whatcom. The next village south on the bay, Bellingham, had a brief fling with coal but was swallowed up by Fairhaven to the south, which had visions of railroads and ended up with canneries. In sequence, they inhaled opportunity, exhaled optimism, and built long docks into the bay.

Bellingham is one of 10 Washington cities that Bentley provides brief but engaging historical overviews for, along with walking routes that explore our region’s past on foot (or bicycle). Seattle, Olympia, Walla Walla, Everett, and Yakima are other destinations that Bentley—who also wrote the bestselling Hiking Washington’s History—explores and interprets for her readers.

Each tour is a loop from two to seven miles long, with each city chosen to represent a distinct chapter in the post-European settling and development of the Evergreen State: Vancouver as the earliest significant settlement in the Pacific Northwest, Port Townsend as an important port of call for sailing ships in the mid-1800s, Spokane symbolic of urban renewal and reinvention efforts of the 1970s, and so forth.

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Bellingham, in a chapter subtitled “Reluctant City,” is symbolic of the many frenzied waves of resource extraction that created booms and busts throughout our region: coal, gold, timber and salmon.

» Continue reading Walking Washington’s History

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Urban Foraging: A back-country approach to front-country living

August 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Rob Healy, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Somewhere at the murky crossroads of a lifelong passion for preparedness and survival, the excitement of days spent hunting, fishing and foraging, and the soul crushing reality that is the ratio of time spent in front versus back country, I hatched a plan. Whether famine, natural disaster or simply recreation, it is hard to dismiss the appeal of being able to “live off the land.” This notion conjures images of remote mountain ranges, swaths of wild timber and circumstances that have gone terribly wrong. While entertaining and informative, the age old fantasy of surviving in a backcountry location with nothing save your wits is, realistically, pretty damn unlikely. We concrete denizens are far more likely to be sitting at a desk or slumbering in our beds when the fecal matter hits the fan. My project was to take the same principals of hunting, fishing and gathering then to assess the viability of backcountry survival techniques in a front-country setting. The details of my discovery are available in an essay I wrote afterwards, and you may contact me there if you want to know more. In short, not only was I able to find a wealth of food in the streets of south Seattle, but I found connections and lessons that I had not expected.

» Continue reading Urban Foraging: A back-country approach to front-country living

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Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

August 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

I wedged myself between two boulders on the summit of Silver Star Mountain in Okanagan County, Washington and peered out over the North Cascades range. It was May 1, 2016. Mount Baker was crystal clear some 100 miles to the west across the snow cover peaks. The mountains were shimmering, almost blindingly so, in all directions with miles and miles of snowfields. The day was hot, almost 60 degrees in the sun at an elevation of 8,875 feet. Our ski boots were standing on a snowpack of over 8 feet deep I was trying to fathom the amount of frozen water surrounding me. Looking to the east I saw the Methow Valley and Okanagan County expanding into the horizon and tried to imagine the journey that the water molecules beneath my feet will make, providing habitat for migrating steelhead trout, nourishing Cottonwoods, and irrigating crops that become food to nourish the people. I chugged the last bit of water that was in my Nalgene, filled it to the brim with snow, stuffed the bottle in my pack and skied down 5,000 feet of glorious spring corn snow.

Snowpack in the North Cascades has declined between 20% and 40% since 1950 (Stoelinda, Albright, Mass, 2009, p. 1). Snowpack in the mountains is stored water that provides life to all organisms including humans by irrigating and growing the food we eat. Snowpack is declining due to natural climate fluctuations and anthropogenic global warming.

» Continue reading Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

Catching Alaskan salmon for the Learning Center

July 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As part of our Foodshed initiative, North Cascades Institute strives to deliver the highest quality meals for all participants at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center because the food choices we make impact not only our bodies, but our planet too. The methods by which food is grown, processed, transported and prepared has consequences on the air and water that all of life depends on, as well as issues of social justice, local economics and community well-being. That’s why we seek out locally-grown and produced produce, meat, dairy products, grains, herbal tea and seafood, including the amazing Alaskan salmon caught, processed and delivered by Nerka Sea. Here’s a recent report sent to us by Tele Aadsen from the Nerka in southeast Alaska


Greetings from Sitka, Alaska, where Southeasterly winds currently have the good ship Nerka snug in her stall. It’s hard to believe the Nerka is already one-third of the way through her salmon season. We’ve successfully completed two trips, the July king opening and our first coho delivery. Both have been good, very good, with this year’s runs of both species appearing abundant and strong. 

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Joel and I did our best: rising at 3 AM for 19-hour days, hooks shimmying through the Gulf of Alaska’s legendary Fairweather Grounds. I wish you could see the furrows on Cap’n J’s brow through those days, the shadows beneath his eyes as he agonized over every decision, so anxious not to make a wrong call during our limited opportunity. And I wish, too, that you could see the humpbacks breaching alongside us, their breath hanging over the ocean, catching rainbows in the sun, and that you could hear the wolves howling in Lituya Bay, the glacial-walled sanctuary where we rested up before the opening. We didn’t plug the Nerka in those five days, but came back to Sitka with a respectable share of black-mouthed beauties, a good variety of fat-bellied torpedos and long-bodied racers.

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Joel and I have always prided ourselves on the care we devote to our catch. All conscientious fishermen do. What differentiates us from others is that it’s just the two of us on board, a pair of boat kids who grew up doing this work, knowing salmon as something far greater than mere product or paycheck. We’ve cleaned salmon side-by-side in the Nerka’s cockpit for ten years now; we have a synchronicity and routine that vessels with fluctuating crew simply can’t achieve. That difference was never more evident to me than at the end of this trip, when I glazed those kings.

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Bundled to withstand three hours in the Nerka’s -40 degree fish hold, individually dipping every fish into the sea water bath that preserves the just-landed quality unique to frozen-at-sea salmon, I personally inspected every king we’d caught. I checked for bloodless veins and spotless collars. I was so proud of those fish, the obvious care they’d received, I couldn’t help choking up a bit. This wasn’t the biggest load of kings we’ve ever delivered, but it was the most beautiful. That was because of you. Forty-five miles offshore, you were with us. It shows. I’m so glad you’ll get to know these fish as we did, as glorious in your hands as they were in life.

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Words and images © Tele Aadsen.