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Jack and Crater Mountain with flowers

Subalpine and Alpine Wildflowers and Pollinators of the North Cascades: Part 2

February 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Lauren Ridder, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort. This is part two of Lauren’s natural history project. Find part one here.

The Biome: Subalpine to Alpine
The alpine lifezone or biome is most often described as the area above or near treeline on mountaintops. In the North Cascades, the elevation range of the alpine zone is from about 6,400ft to about 8,530ft (Douglas & Bliss, 1977). The subalpine biome often shares many characteristics with alpine plant and animal communities as the boundaries between the two lifezones are rather indistinct (Billings, 1974). The varying topography blends these two biomes, making the assignment of plant communities highly subjective. Among the main features that designate an area as subalpine are the discontinuation of the forest and the formation of “scattered tree clumps in a meadow mosaic” (Taylor & Douglas, 1995, p.4). These tree clumps are pioneers in harsh soil and growth conditions and “are normally short, with spreading branches, but [they still] retain definite crowns and do not develop the dense, low, thicketlike growth form known as krummholz” (Taylor & Douglas, 1995, p. 5-6). Krummholz is generally found on higher slopes and marks the beginning of the alpine zone (Taylor & Douglas, 1995). It would be much easier to assign general characteristics to these biomes if the mountain were flat ground with consistent weather patterns. However, nature provides large doses of interest and variety in vegetation patterns through vastly different slope aspects, substrate conditions, and extreme daily ranges in temperature, wind speeds, solar radiation, and water availability.

The combination of these abiotic factors creates many different habitats with microclimates and vegetation stripe communities occurring within those habitats. Fellfields are most common in the alpine biome, and are “characterized by rocky ground and dry soil, and are typically less than half covered by vegetation…Plants that grow here must be short in stature or they will be desiccated by freezing wind in winter and blasted by wind-driven sand in summer” (Visalli, 2014b, p.3). The constant frost action and avalanche potential acting on the slopes causes the soil to be unstable, poorly developed, and easily eroded as well, and pioneering plants must act quickly to establish roots when possible (Douglas & Bliss, 1977). Vegetation stripes can occur in the talus and scree slopes of fell- and boulder-fields, where soil and moisture has found a path of least resistance to percolate through or flow down and created a pocket of nutrients for plants to capitalize on (Douglas & Bliss, 1977).

» Continue reading Subalpine and Alpine Wildflowers and Pollinators of the North Cascades: Part 2

Conversation at Curriculum for the Bioregion 2016

Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad’s Perspective

February 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Living at the Environmental Learning Center near Diablo, WA changes how we approach everyday decisions. Little trips, for instance, turn into a three day down valley adventure! This last weekend the 15th graduate cohort (along with a few from the 14th) traveled to two conferences in three days: Storming the Sound and Curriculum for the Bioregion.

Our first leg of the journey had us hit the road at 6 am from Diablo. After so many wilderness journeys with my cohort it was strange to see what “gear” changed and what didn’t with this adventure into civilization. No tents. No trekking poles. But some still packed in their hiking backpacks! After a few hours travel along SR 20, we arrived in La Conner.

First Leg Labled

First leg of our three day trip. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Storming the Sound is an “annual conference for environmental educators in the north Pudget Sound region.” Since 2000 in Padilla Bay Reserve, the event has brought environmental organizations, teachers and students together to not only learn from one another but to better connect the environmental education field in the Puget Sound region. There were thirty one sponsor organizations this year which gave us graduate students a great view of how strong the environmental education presence is in this region. This year’s event was held in Maple Hall in La Conner, WA.

» Continue reading Down Valley Conference Adventure: A Grad’s Perspective

sunrise flowers

Subalpine and Alpine Wildflowers and Pollinators of the North Cascades: Part 1

January 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Lauren Ridder, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort.

Nothing can quite prepare the hiker for the beauty of a subalpine meadow in full bloom. The contrast of the delicate flowers’ vibrant colors splashed across a backdrop of jagged peaks provides a moment for reflection and appreciation for the stark beauty of Cascadia. As the other senses kick in and notice is taken of fragrance on the breeze and a buzzing at the feet, the connections between plant, animal, insect, soil, water, and air become all too clear. Those relationships observed between plant and pollinator have been shaped by innumerable abiotic factors over millions of years. Wandering through a high mountain meadow provides a brief glimpse into the fascinating evolutionary history of wildflowers and their pollinators.

A Brief History of Plant Evolution
While observing the beautiful complexity of a wildflower, it can be hard to imagine the selection process that led from a single-celled photosynthetic organism living in a vast, watery world to a flower living high on the flanks of a mountain. Constantly changing environments guided the expansion of the plant kingdom and resulted in the development of vascular systems, seeds, and flowers (Visalli, 2014b). The green algal common ancestor found success over time in the colonization of land through embryo protection and the growth of a more solid tissue system. This tissue system, or vascular system, transports water and nutrients throughout a plant, and is a more recent evolutionary development that allows for survival in harsher, drier environments.

History of plants

This cladogram of plant evolution shows the development of plant systems and the diversification of the plant kingdom over time (Guertin et al., 2015).

» Continue reading Subalpine and Alpine Wildflowers and Pollinators of the North Cascades: Part 1

Censored Cover

Dear Mountain School,

January 21st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Dear Mountain School,

Thank you for the fun hikes and delicious food. I loved looking at pieces of the forest in the microscope lab.

Sincerely,

Student

It is rare to hear first hand from students what they remember the most from their educational experiences. Whenever it happens it is one of the best gifts an educator can receive. Early this week Whatcom Hills Waldorf School sent the Mountain School staff letters about their time spent last fall season in the mountains of the North Cascades.

Each letter was filled not only with thankfulness but depictions of some of the best teaching spots during Mountain School. All of the names have been censored for the students’ protection.

Censored Stream

» Continue reading Dear Mountain School,

Copper Peak And Glacier Peak, Looking To The Southwest

Hope Within Wildness

January 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Written as an essay for the Conservation Psychology class at Western Washington University.

“In wildness lies the hope of the world.” John Muir

Today, our world faces many problems that can seem overwhelming and almost too much to bear. In a world facing issues such as climate change, terrorism, racism, poverty, hunger, etc it is easy to become distraught. When we are exposed to multiple media sources each day and countless advertisements we start to lose the ability to cope and think for ourselves. Far more dangerous than any social or environmental issue are the issues of ignorance and apathy plaguing society. In the world of environmental work the weight of these issues can become overbearing and lead to anxiety, depression and a sense of helplessness that prevents us from doing our work effectively. It is important in times like these that we do not lose hope. Hope is the antidote to apathy, and when apathy is eliminated ignorance can be as well.

In this paper I will discuss how hope might be our greatest weapon to defeating our world’s problems today and how we can prevent a sense of hopelessness when society tells us there is none remaining. I will discuss how we must look to wildness for inspiration and how in wildness some of our hope can be restored. Spending time in nature and preserving our wild areas can foster hope in a seemingly hopeless world. It is important that people in environmental work are able to find success stories and sources of inspiration to restore their hope so they can in turn fight apathy and ignorance and restore hope within others.

Unfortunately, studies indicate that learning about global problems can trigger profound feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and hopelessness (Eckersley, 1999; Hicks & Bord, 2001; Holden, 2007; Searle & Gow, 2010; Taber & Taylor, 2009; Tucci, Mitchell, & Goddard, 2007). It is important then that we seek out sources of hope and inspiration to help guide us and keep us motivated in challenging times. It can be difficult to find these sources, especially in environmental work. “Conservationists live with a high degree of negative emotional experience as part of their daily awareness of the problems that ensue from human degradation of the natural environment…Prophecies of a doomed planet may not only miss their intended audience but may also cause extreme emotional distress among those working in environmental advocacy” (Fraser et al, 2013).

According to Cheryl Hall, “ Gloom and doom foster despair and resistance, they worry instead of hope and motivate to change” (Hall, 2013). Stress in environmental work is rooted in knowledge and beliefs, specifically with environmental loss (Clayton & Myers, 2009). It is important then that people in environmental work find some stories of environmental gain and success to rekindle hope. Finding success stories that they can grasp on to and keep them motivated is vital to eliminate feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. Even in bleak times such as these, stories and symbols of hope do exist. Success stories associated with the endangered species act and the preservation of wilderness are stories that, when looked at correctly, can rekindle our sense of hope to keep us motivated amongst the doom and gloom.

» Continue reading Hope Within Wildness

Meal at FSS

North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015

January 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, Tyler Davis, and Ginna Malley-Campos who are all graduate students in the institutes 15th cohort.

On December 4, 2015, over 20 local farmers, educators, chefs, advocates and organizers from our region gathered at the Environmental Learning Center to connect on challenges and opportunities to strengthen the health of our regional food system. The weekend was filled with lively conversation and inspiring stories. The North Cascades Institute was inspired to host this particular group of community change makers because of our belief that in order to protect the North Cascades ecosystem we need to also protect the health of our local foodshed, the region where our food comes from.

Friday night started with a locally sourced meal followed by a discussion led by Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition. Mary has over 30 years of experience working as a food systems advocate in Washington State. The group identified that in order to move forward with discussion we needed to understand what each person does, and is motivated by, on an individual level within this complex food system. Friday night offered an open space for story sharing and connecting with individuals such as Don Power and Joel Brady-Power, father and son and co-owners of Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon. Don and Joel gave us a multigenerational look at how they have provided sustainably caught fish for the institute for over 10 years. These personal stories about where our food comes from were intertwined throughout the weekend and we recognized a need to tell these stories; where and who our meals come from and, most importantly, why this matters.

Activity at FSS

Deep into discussion.

» Continue reading North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015

Grizz with cubs

Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 4)

January 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Recovery came swiftly to the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems, unfortunately the same could not be said of the North Cascades. Like the glaciers that move so slowly, grinding their way through the high country, the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) Recovery Plan has moved no faster than the glaciers. One could even argue that with the increased melting of the glaciers due to climate change the glaciers are now moving faster than the grizzly recovery project.

The North Cascades Recovery Zone differed from Yellowstone and Glacier because when the recovery zones were established, the North Cascades had much fewer numbers than the other two parks in the recovery zone. As stated above the last grizzly sighting on the American side of the North Cascades was in 1996. Occasionally a track in the mud will be found, but it is estimated now that ten or fewer bears inhabit the North Cascades Ecosystem.

This lack of a viable population presents several problems for potential recovery. Grizzlies are very slow reproducers with an average life expectancy of 25 years. One may think that 25 years is a rather long lifespan in comparison to most wild mammals, giving them plenty of chances each year to reproduce. But when looking at some of the evolutionary habits of the grizzly we start to see that 25 years might not be enough to increase the population.

A female grizzly will not start mating until the age of 5 – 8 years. When the female finally does mate, she will spend 3 to 4 years with her cubs. The average female bear will only mate 2 or 3 times in her life. Survival of cubs is yet another concern. A female grizzly will normally have two cubs of which, under typical environmental circumstances, only one will survive. Grizzly cubs have to face the challenge of eluding other predators such as cougars, wolves, and even other male grizzlies. Male grizzlies have been known to kill cubs that aren’t theirs in order to ensure that their own offspring carries on. Also, in an ecosystem where there may be less than 10 other grizzlies it can be very difficult just to find a mate, considering that grizzlies have a large range of up to 500 square miles.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 4)