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Dogwood First Leaf

A Question of Scale: Plant Phenology Across Time and Space

September 5th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Joe Loviska, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

March 20, 2016. I’ve been keeping an eye on the western flowering dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) out in the parking lot of the Learning Center. It’s a small tree, maybe twelve feet in height. Its gray trunk and branches are spindly, filling out the vague shape of a mop standing on its handle. This dogwood grows at 1,220 feet above sea level on the west slope of the Cascades. It occupies a site that has good southern exposure, with dry, well-drained soil and a closed canopy of Douglas firs above. All of these facts and more dictate the beginning of the spring season for this particular tree, which is today. Today its leaf tips are poking out. Yesterday they were not. My friend the dogwood tree is awake.

Now it just so happens that today, March 20, the 80th day of the year (DOY), is also the vernal equinox. That is, the year-long wobble of Earth’s axis has tilted in such a way that the equator is squarely facing the sun. Translation? Equal amounts of day and night across the globe. In the Northern Hemisphere, this means the first day of spring, right in time for the dogwood to open its buds. Coincidence? You decide.

» Continue reading A Question of Scale: Plant Phenology Across Time and Space

lichen "roots" Katherine

The Social Lives of Trees: Part 3 Underground Partnerships

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

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

While the partnerships between trees and fungi that I have been discussing in my previous posts are fascinating, what really intrigues and excites me is how these mycorrhizal networks we have been talking so much about help trees connect to each other, and how they form the basis for almost every aspect of the forest ecosystem. The relationships between trees allow them to survive and adapt to the world around them. It certainly helps explain why a tree that relies so much on access to the sun would choose to live so closely together that their ability to photosynthesize might be compromised.

At the moment, what we know is that mycorrhizal fungi not only play a huge part in keeping trees alive, but they also connect trees and plants, creating a forest ecosystem where almost every plant in any one square mile is directly connected to every other plant. This underlying mycelial structure allows trees and plants to share resources and warn each other of dangers.

» Continue reading The Social Lives of Trees: Part 3 Underground Partnerships

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Wolverines: A Natural History

August 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Tyler Davis, graduate student of the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Wolverines are elusive creatures that are primarily found in the far reaches of wilderness areas. These animals are symbols of the wild, strong and seemingly fearless. They are also a source of fear stemmed from misunderstandings. Sadly, there is still a lack of knowledge about the behaviors and needs of wolverines; however, natural resource managers are now trying to find the best ways to enable wolverine survival through behavior, distribution, and needs assessment studies. There are still important things we have to learn in order to better understand this animal, but with the relatively recent increase in wolverine research, there are some incredibly important pieces of information that should be considered.

Gulo gulo, which translates to glutton glutton, was the Latin name given to wolverines by Linnaeus. They are the largest land dwelling member of the Mustelid, or weasel, family. These animals are built to survive in winter dominated climates. With their Latin name in mind, one might not be surprised to find out that these wolverines have one of the strongest jaws in the world. Their strong jaws enable them to rip meat off carcasses, even when frozen, and they can crush through bone in just one bite. This is not to say that wolverines are mindless savages, eating whatever comes their way. In fact, they are highly intelligent creatures. They have even been known to stand on their back legs using one of their paws to shield their eyes from the sun while scanning an area.

» Continue reading Wolverines: A Natural History

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


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.

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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