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Institute Comments on North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan

March 24th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

To: Superintendent, North Cascades National Park Service Complex

From: Saul Weisberg, Executive Director, North Cascades Institute

Subject: Institute Comments on North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to comment during the scoping process for the North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan / Environmental Impact Statement.

North Cascades Institute strongly supports active restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem.

For nearly 30 years North Cascades Institute has brought students of all ages to explore the mountains and rivers of the North Cascades. Ranging in age from 8 to 80, our participants come to experience, discover, learn from, and share this special part of the world. Now, the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and their partner agencies have the opportunity to restore a critical missing part of the wilderness puzzle that is the North Cascades – healthy populations of Grizzly Bears.

There are many reasons why grizzly bears should be restored to the North Cascades:

  • Grizzly bears are a keystone species of the North Cascade. Through predation, scavenging and ground disturbance they impact the ecosystem and its wildlife and vegetation in profound and important ways. The loss of the few remaining grizzly bears would significantly degrade the ecosystem, from both a ecological and cultural point of view.
  • With the restoration of grizzly bear and pacific fisher populations, the North Cascades ecosystem will have its full complement of native wildlife. This represents a plus for park visitors, as well as sustainable growth in local and regional economies through increased visitation and longer stays. Grizzlies, and wolves, fuel year-round visitation, guiding services and education opportunities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
  • Public support for grizzly restoration in the region is strong. While there would be challenges to restoration, in a predominately wilderness ecosystem of nearly 10,000 sq. miles, conflict with humans and livestock should be limited and controllable. Ongoing education and monitoring will be needed and has demonstrated success in other regions of the west.
  • Restoration would contribute to ecosystem biodiversity and benefit present and future generations of Americans who live in ever increasing numbers in the ten counties that make up and surround the North Cascades.
  • The North Cascades provide excellent grizzly bear habitat. Even though these magnificent animals have been nearly eliminated from the ecosystem, research indicates the North Cascades provide excellent grizzly habitat. Grizzly restoration would likely succeed with active support from the land management agencies and local communities. Such activities should begin soon.

 

Because North Cascades Institute brings significant numbers of people to the ecosystem to take part in conservation education programs, we have looked into issues of safety and risk management with peer organizations that operate in grizzly country. Yellowstone Association Institute and Teton Science Schools have worked with tens of thousands of school children, families and adults for over 40 years in the Yellowstone backcountry. If grizzlies were restored to the North Cascades, the additional protocols we would put in place, in addition to standard “bear aware” practices that we already require from all participants, is a minimum group size of four, with group leaders carrying bear spray. These protocols are basic for anyone visiting wilderness areas that contain large carnivores.

At North Cascades Institute we look forward to educating our students about grizzly bears, and one day standing with those students, looking out over an intact, healthy ecosystem, knowing the grizzly has returned home.

Mount Rainier Milky Way

Starstruck: One Grad’s Perspective on the Night Sky

March 19th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

by Lauren Ridder, M.Ed. Graduate Student

There are only a couple of things that can stop me in my tracks. When clouds part to reveal a night sky full of stars, my gaze is irresistibly drawn upwards, and I feel my perspective shift. My breathing slows and my awareness sharpens, as my mind races far away from the Earth’s surface to find those familiar patterns in the sky.

What I love about constellations is that I could be anywhere in the world, feeling lost and overwhelmed by the chaos of everyday life, but as soon as I spot those sparkling forms high above my head, I feel re-oriented. It feels like an ancient connection to not only centuries of human folklore, but also to pages in stars’ life stories that are long gone as their light travels through all the layers of time and space to reach Earth.

I have several favorite constellations to search for including: Orion, Delphinus, Cygnus, and Andromeda. Orion is the first constellation that I can remember identifying on my own, and I’ve loved tracing its path across many night skies throughout my life. As a winter constellation, Orion appears in the Northern Hemisphere in late November. Orion is usually portrayed as the Great Hunter charging across the sky with shield in one hand and sword in the other. Another more seasonally linked version of the story comes from the Ojibwe people who name this star group, Biboonkeonini the Wintermaker. The prominence of the three stars that make up Orion’s Belt leads to this constellation’s familiarity across cultures. Alnitak, the leftmost star in the Belt, means “the girdle” in Arabic; Alnilam in the middle, translates as “string of pearls”; and Mintaka, on the right, means “the belt”. On March 6 of this year, Orion was due south, standing upright at his highest.

The two most recent additions to my constellation library, Cygnus and Delphinus, are located near each other in the northern early summer and mid-autumn skies. Cygnus swims along the Milky Way with Delphinus leaping out near the swan’s left wing. Cygnus is easy to spot on a clear night with the bright star, Deneb, marking the swan’s tail, and four other prominent stars within its body that form a grouping also known as the Northern Cross. Delphinus is harder to pick out and requires a softening of the gaze and a little patience. Once the little Dolphin makes itself known though, it’s hard to forget.

» Continue reading Starstruck: One Grad’s Perspective on the Night Sky

Profile of a Graduate M.Ed. Student: Lauren Marziliano

March 14th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

“I have looked back on that time over and over again as one of the most informative times of my life.”

Lauren Marziliano reflects on her experience in our Graduate M.Ed. program, and how it led to her current job as teacher at the Waskowitz Environmental Leadership School, in our new video. Lauren is an alumni who graduated from North Cascades Institute and Huxley College of the Environment’s Graduate M.Ed. Program in 2004. In this short video, she shares why she signed up for the program, what she got out of it and what opportunities awaited her when she graduated and started looking for a job.

 

You too can establish your career in environmental education by earning a Master of Education while working with the Northwest’s best educators, naturalists and conservation leaders! North Cascades Institute offers a unique professional residency program designed to prepare students in all aspects of environmental education while living among the towering peaks of the North Cascades region in Washington State.

Unlike many other graduate residency experiences, our professional residency is fully integrated into a degree program at Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

A Master of Education in Environmental Education is earned upon completion of the the seven-quarter program, along with Certificates in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration and Northwest Natural History awarded by North Cascades Institute. Course work explores environmental education while placing an emphasis on field science, cultural studies, teaching and nonprofit administration.

For more information on how to apply, visit www.ncascades.org/study or email to ncigrad@ncascades.org.

Interview and editing by Christian Martin. Shot by Benj Drummond.

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Cordata Elementary’s Mountain School Report

March 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

We love transitions at the Environmental Learning Center. The transition from winter to spring which is more evident by the day, and our most recent transition: back to Mountain School!

Today was the first day of the spring season of Mountain School, and ELC staff welcomed Little Mountain Elementary from Mt. Vernon. We kicked off the week with plentiful sunshine and warm temperatures and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Cordata Elementary shared this wonderful video with us from their time at Mountain School last year. Watch below and enjoy the footage of lots of smiling kids playing outside!

April 21st Weekly News from Cordata Elementary on Vimeo.

Thanks, Cordata! We loved having you here!

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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

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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.