Chattermarks

From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

Archives

GrayWolf

Howling to be Heard: Wolf Evolution and Behavior

May 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

by Mike Rosekrans, M.Ed. Graduate Student
This is the second article in Mike’s “Howling to be Heard” series; you can read the first one on wolf folklore here.

Wolves have been a part of the American landscape for a much longer time period than humans have. Evidence shows that gray wolves appeared in North America around 15,000 years ago during a period of oversized mammals. The gray wolf’s much larger cousin, the dire wolf, was the primary predator until it went extinct about 8,000 years ago. It is believed by scientists that because dire wolves were much larger they could not keep up with the ungulates that had become much faster and adapted to run through forested areas after the retreat of the last glaciers at the end of the ice age. The smaller and quicker gray wolf, which hunted in packs, was much more suited to this newly forested environment. Following the extinction of the dire wolf, the gray wolf became the top predator in North America.

The gray wolf is the largest member of the Canid family and the third largest predator in the Northwest after the grizzly and black bears. The gray wolf’s closest relative, the coyote, has taken over much of the gray wolf’s former range due its near eradication during the early 20th century. It is believed that these two species separated on an evolutionary scale about 1.5 million years ago. In fact, all domestic dogs have evolved from gray wolves.

Other than primates, wolves have the most complex social structure amongst land mammals. The social structure of the wolf is centered around the pack, a group of 2-20 wolves that take on specific roles and functions within the community. Each pack has an alpha pair consisting of one male and one female, which is usually the only breeding pair within a pack. The rest of the pack members consist of the alpha pair’s offspring. Some pack members may eventually break away and set off on their own to either establish their own packs or join another. If a male leaves a pack or is kicked out by the alpha it will often become the alpha of another pack.

» Continue reading Howling to be Heard: Wolf Evolution and Behavior

Uplift Group

Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau

May 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the pillars of North Cascade Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. graduate program is a “sense of place.” This can be hard to define, but often includes an understanding of the natural landscape, knowledge of cultural history, and the feeling of community. Over the past nine months, the mountains of the North Cascades and the shore of Diablo Lake have become a second (or third, or fourth) home. There is another place that has always felt like home: the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado Plateau is a 130,000 square mile area that spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. It is home to ten National Parks, 17 National Monuments, the Colorado River, and mountains standing up to 11,000 feet high.

The Colorado Plateau gave me my most rewarding employment and confirmed for me that I am destined for a life outdoors and many years of teaching. It was there that I first developed a deep connection with land and learned innumerable lessons about myself. So, I when I heard about the Grand Canyon Trust holding a conference in mid-April, I knew I had to go. With the blessing of all the staff at North Cascades Institute, I flew to Flagstaff, AZ on April 17th.

» Continue reading Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau

DSC_0096

Path for Youth: Emma Ewert

May 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Fifteen year after attending North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School at Newhalem, Emma Ewert is coming full circle. This fall, she will join our fifteenth cohort in the Masters of Environmental Education degree program and teaching Mountain School!

Emma attended Mountain School with her 5th grade classroom from Lopez Elementary School, where her father Greg Ewert was a teacher.

“We were at the Newhalem campground and what I remember most is the rain,” she recalls. “It rained a lot and we were outside most of the time, yet we still had so much fun.”

Emma still remembers learning the names of Cascadia’s native trees, and today can point out a Western hemlock or Douglas fir. She also recalls learning the cultural history of many plants, such as nettles, and how enthusiastic the instructors were.

She felt comfortable at Mountain School because of a lifetime spent exploring the outdoors with her family, including frequent trips to the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula.

“It is so important to get kids to learn where they come from, what we have here,” she says. “If we don’t understand what we have, it is easier to not to take care of it. Making decisions about sustainability and conservation is much easier if you have already learned to love it.  This is especially important since we are so urban these days.”

Later on, Emma left Lopez Island to study international development abroad. She returned back to Lopez when her father got cancer and, with her mom and two sisters, made the most of his last nine months, spending precious time together.

In his last days, Greg received notes from a broad spectrum of students, friends and colleagues who said over and over how inspired they were by him as a teacher and mentor. Every fall, he took his students camping in the Olympics, and this stuck with his students too.

Emma enjoyed the special time with her father until he passed away in August 2012.

Considering her next move, she wondered how to combine the elements of the things she loves — education, being with kids outdoors, learning about nature – and her earlier Mountain School experiences kept coming up.

“I realized that it is in these moments – backpacking, camping, loving the outdoors ‑ when I am the happiest, so why not figure out how to do this as a job?” Emma explained. “Plus, doing this work keeps me connected to my father, getting to pass a love for the outdoors on to kids continues his legacy.”

Offered in partnership with Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, North Cascades Institute’s M.Ed. residency program prepares students in all aspects of environmental education while living among the towering peaks of the North Cascades at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake. In the first year of the program, students take classes on teaching strategies, natural history and curriculum development – skills that they are able to instantly put in to practice through teaching 5th through 12th grade students in Mountain School.

“I was drawn to the Institute’s M.Ed. program because it is really experiential and hands-on,” Emma says. “Sure, there are classes too, but you’re also immediately doing something with this information. I’m just really excited to get up there and start the program!”

Fifteen years after learning about native plants and glaciers in the rain as a Mountain School student, Emma will return to the North Cascades this summer, as a teacher, as a graduate student and as a proud daughter carrying forward her father’s legacy of education and loving the great outdoors.

Indira

Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez

April 29th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Indira Mejia-Chavez was born in Mexico, but her mom raised her and her two younger siblings in the Skagit valley, where she lives today. Her first experience with North Cascades Institute was in 2004 when she attended Mountain School with her fifth grade class. Now 21, Indira still has a vivid memory of that first experience with North Cascades Institute.

“Mountain School was a whole new world I’d never seen before…and it was pretty cool,” she remembers. “We were exposed to a natural setting, we made our own bracelets, tasted healthy food that we didn’t know could be made (because you know, it has to be bad for you to taste so good)!”

She recalls how going to Mountain School brought everyone in her class together more. The cliques that were already starting to form in her class were broken up by the trail groups; everyone was able to mesh together and bond.

And her favorite activity at Mountain School? Water quality testing!

“I really liked putting two and two together,” she explains, “if the water isn’t producing animals, then the water isn’t good quality. It just made sense. I still remember the guy that was leading us told me, ‘You’re very smart, you could be a scientist.’”

For a time, Indira thought she wanted to be a community police officer, but she realized that she wants to do something she loves, and share that love with others. Her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water quality. Although she is taking a break from school after several terms at Western Washington University, her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water

Although Indira’s initial experience with Mountain School made a big impression, she didn’t stop there. In 2009, she participated in North Cascades Institute’s North Cascades Wild program. Two years later she was back at the Institute for our Cascades Climate Challenge program (the two programs are now combined into our Youth Leadership Adventures program).

Between the two courses, Indira spent over a month in the backcountry of the North Cascades pushing herself to overcome the challenges that everyone experiences when placed far outside their comfort zone and the familiarity of home and family.

“When I went on North Cascades Wild,” she says, “I spent a lot of time focusing on the negative – this is so hard, I wish we’d take a break – I complained a lot! With Cascades Climate Challenge, I knew what to expect and didn’t want to miss out on anything. It was so beautiful and I didn’t want to get distracted. I grew so much from the opportunity to lead others.”

» Continue reading Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez

MSConcrete

Local Students Explore their Backyard National Park

April 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

by Katie Griffith, Americorps VISTA, Youth Programs Outreach Specialist, North Cascades National Park/North Cascades Institute 

Mist shrouded Diablo Lake’s surrounding peaks as Concrete and Darrington’s school buses drove over Diablo Dam. The overcast weather did not dampen student excitement as fifth grade students from both local schools arrived at North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center to attend Mountain School within North Cascades National Park Complex. Sixty kids unloaded sleeping bags, backpacks, and boots, well prepared to spend three days exploring the ecosystems of the park.

The residential environmental education program teaches science concepts in an interactive, outdoor setting; glaciers, rivers, and forests surrounding the Learning Center make up the Mountain School classroom. The visiting students participated in the Ecosystems Exploration curriculum, in which students investigate the abiotic and biotic factors that make up North Cascades ecosystems.

“I love science and fishing and it was really cool looking at stuff we collected under a microscope!” said fifth grader Coho about the program.

“We went on a night hike to the dam and it was awesome!” said fifth grader Anya, while Kiawa said “the five mile hike to the waterfall with my friends was the best.”

The trip also included plenty of hiking, locally-sourced meals and a campfire with skits and games.

In 2015, Mountain School is celebrating its 25th birthday! But Mountain School didn’t always happen at the Learning Center on Diablo Lake; for the first fifteen years, Mountain School students camped in tents at Newhalem Campground, an experience some Concrete teachers may remember. In 2005, the North Cascades Institute was thrilled to build the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake as part of the terms of Seattle City Light’s federal hydroelectric license renewal. Since 2005, thousands of students from all over the region have benefited from programs based out of the Learning Center.

MSGroupGraduate student Chelsea Ernst makes observations about a tree with her students

Institute staff members and National Park Service rangers were excited to welcome the most local schools to Mountain School last week. “It was so inspiring to teach such an excited, inquisitive, and observant group of young learners,” said graduate student and Mountain School Instructor Chelsea Ernst. Both Darrington and Concrete Schools participated in the Skagit Watershed Education Project with the Institute from 1994-2004, but this is the first year since the ‘90’s that Concrete has attended Mountain School. Concrete was able to attend with support from Washington’s National Park Fund. Darrington’s fifth graders had never attended a full Mountain School program; they attended with support from North Counties Family Services. North Cascades Institute also prioritizes fundraising to subsidize participation for public schools.

It is “hugely important” for the Institute to work with its most local schools, says Christen Kiser, Mountain School Coordinator. “Connections between their home communities and their experience at Mountain School are much more evident and integrated into their daily lives than students who travel from further away to attend.”

Local students will integrate ecosystems concepts learned at Mountain School into their classes throughout the rest of the year.

For more information about Mountain School and other programs at North Cascades Institute, visit the website or call (360) 854-2599.

SAVE THE DATE! You’re invited to celebrate Mountain School’s 25th anniversary at a free BBQ picnic and open house at the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center on August 23. Details can be found here.

This article originally appeared in the Concrete Herald.

YLA2014Group

Behind the Scenes: A Visitor Day with Youth Leadership Adventures

April 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Guest post by Matt Dolge

My morning started off at 4:30am on August 9th, 2014 with a 3-hour solo drive to Ross Lake in the North Cascades. I had a lot of time to think about the day ahead yet had no idea how much this day was going to change my life. A month earlier I had accepted the invitation to participate in a day trip with Youth Leadership Adventures, which I had no prior knowledge of. But the offer to hike the North Cascades and explore Ross Lake on a guided boat tour was a chance I couldn’t pass on—and I’m glad I didn’t.

By 7:30am the sun was rising over the mountains peaks, which made the lake, sparkle like diamonds. At the trailhead an energetic group of strangers prepared for a hike down to the lake. The strangers were just friends that I had not met and they warmly welcomed me into their group. We tightened our hiking boots, stretched out the legs, and began to make our way down to the “Mule.” The hike was an easy scenic stroll on well-kept switchbacks. We took our time to observe wildlife, take photographs, and learn about the history of North Cascades Institute.

Once we reached the dam we could see that the lake stretched all the way up to the Canadian border. Being an avid hiker who has hiked 4 out of the Mighty 5, Utah’s National Parks I thought I had seen all the colors that nature could provide, but Ross Lake’s naturally blue-green color is surreal and the water is so clear that fish can be seen 10 feet below the water’s surface. This protected land is so pure and raw it cannot be reproduced through photographs.

Before boarding the Mule, which is a more of a barge than a boat, we discussed the activities for the remainder of the day. Amy Brown from North Cascades Institute leads the conversation and let’s us in on why we are here. “YLA is a hands-on outdoor leadership program focused on mentoring students in field science, communications, and public speaking. It is our goal to listen, learn, and support them in their passion for conservation”.

After about an hour on the boat we arrive at the campsite the youth leaders have called home for the past ten days. Their campsite is primitive with no running water or restrooms, but has an incredible view, sitting on a bluff which overlooks the lake. I mentally add this as a place to camp to my bucket list. We pick up the group of students and return to the Mule to troll northward to a secluded shoal. This remote area is heavily shaded with overgrown trees and lichens are thriving. It’s lunchtime and we break into small groups to learn why the youth have chosen to participate in YLA. It is at this point that I learn why I made the three-hour drive…

YLA2014Student+Gerry
An Institute Board member talks with a YLA student

These youth leaders felt empowered to take responsibility for the environment and hearing them speak about conservation, sustainable practices, and stewardship was truly awe-inspiring. Standing before us were the next stewards of the environment. What they needed from us is support, leadership, awareness, and access to resources. What they already had was the determination to protect the environment; they just needed to know how to do it. Thanks to Youth Leadership Adventures these passionate environmentalist now have the leadership skills to make an impact in their local communities. Environmental activism doesn’t begin behind a desk or closed doors it begins in the North Cascades being inspired by youth who have the passion to become stewards of the environment.

YLA2014StudentPresenting
A YLA student shares her story with the visitor group

Visit Matt’s blog here, and learn more about Youth Leadership Adventures here

SalishSea

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

April 14th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

As part of our “Nature in Writing” series, Joseph K. Gaydos and Audrey DeLella Benedict read from The Salish Sea, Thursday, April 16, 7 pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham. Free!

We paddle and sail on it, comb its beaches, stroll its shores. We are drawn to it for fishing, birdwatching, tidepooling, crabbing, sunset gazing and occasionally even swimming. The Salish Sea defines life in the Fourth Corner, providing not only livelihood and sustenance but also opportunities for relaxation, play, adventure and spiritual nourishment.

A new title from Sasquatch Books, written by the Chief Scientist for the SeaDoc Society and the founder of Cloud Ridge Naturalists, aims to educate Pacific Northwesterners about the intricate ecosystem of our inland sea. Joseph K. Gaydos and Audrey DeLella Benedict combine engaging science writing with an array of stunning photographs to produce The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest.

Several local photographers provided images for the book, including Brett Baunton, John D’Onofrio, Jessica Newley, John Scurlock, Art Wolfe and the Whatcom Museum archives.

The idea for grouping together the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia under one moniker originally came from Bert Webber, a retired professor of environmental and marine science at Western Washington University. Thinking of the interconnected, transboundary waters as one cohesive whole — the Salish Sea — helps citizens to “think like a watershed” and better strategize international management of the ecosystem and its wealth of resources.

Wise management is crucial as approximately eight million people live in the Salish Sea ecosystem, with another million projected to settle here over the next ten years. The impacts from extensive human development of the shorelines and uplands are being felt throughout the region.

The Health of the Salish Sea Report, issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, gives our treasured inland sea mixed grades.

What they’ve found: 113 marine species and sub-species are formally listed as being at risk or vulnerable to extinction, including 56 birds, 37 fish, 15 mammals, three invertebrates and two reptiles. Also, marine-dissolved oxygen is in long-term decline, and the last few decades have seen steep declines in iconic orca whales and Chinook salmon. Ten of the 17 rivers studied show strongly significant decreasing summer flow trends due to lower snowpacks in the mountains, surface and groundwater withdrawals, and other issues.

On the positive side, air quality has been improving, freshwater quality is general holding steady, nearly 4,00 acres of previously closed shellfish beds in Puget Sound have re-opened due to improvements in water quality and levels of PCBs and PCBEs are declining in harbor seals.

This new book — which is divided into sections that explore different ecological niches like “Life at the Edges,” “Denizens of the Deep” and “Bizarre and Beautiful Fish” — takes the approach of saving the Salish Sea by educating people about it.

“Once people know a place…they become connected to it,” the authors write. “And once people connect to an ecosystem, it becomes personal and they want to protect and restore it.”

Through maps, charts, satellite imagery, nature photography and writing, Benedict and Gaydos concoct an engaging presentation of the natural history of our “jewel of the Pacific Northwest.”  Their mantra of “know, connect, protect and restore” is a hopeful way forward in to a challenging future.

Read the Health of the Salish Sea Report at http://www2.epa.gov/salish-sea/marine-species-risk