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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.

» Continue reading Mapping a Sense of Place


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


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

Sourdough Lookout

In the Era of Fire Lookouts: Fire Suppression in the North Cascades

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

By Adam Bates, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Fire lookouts have captured the imagination of the American public for over seventy-five years. The notion that one could spend a summer atop a mountain in solitude and seclusion holds a certain romanticism that was perpetuated by numerous authors, poets, artists and backcountry enthusiasts. Therein lies my interest in and affinity for fire lookouts, the romance and challenge of mountaintop hermitage.

Retired National Park Service employee Gerry Cook spent three summers as a lookout, using his earnings to entirely pay his through his undergraduate degree at Washington State University. “You can revel in your time there (on lookout) for the rest of your life,” says Cook. “It’s romanticized in everyone’s imagination. So, once you’re done, you can go right into that fantasy world and live there forever.”

» Continue reading In the Era of Fire Lookouts: Fire Suppression in the North Cascades


Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): A story…

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

By Ginna Malley Campos, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Long, long ago, when ice and snow covered the land as far as the eye could see, we speckled the landscape. Only a few of us grew here and there.  But soon came a time when the ice  and snow began to retreat. And as it did, ever so slowly, so we followed. Growing along the rich wet soils left behind, we became more and more abundant along the Pacific Northwest.  In some places, we made up to half of all the vegetation in the forest. We grew and we continue to grow, but of course never without giving back!

We gift our sapwood to Black Bear when they roam the forest hungry, waiting for Salmon to arrive. Our saplings we gladly offer to Deer and Elk, whom depend on this for survival.  Our foliage has been home to numerous mosses and lichen. Our shade provides habitat for fern, salal, and devil’s club. We give Earth carbon from Sky by befriending special fungi through our roots.  Forest creatures gift us in return in many, sometimes invisible ways. Salmon travels unimaginable distances bringing the gifts of Ocean deep into the forest.  Bear and Eagle bring their decaying bodies to our feet, and with them we grow stronger and we continue the cycling of all.


Deep Forest by Ray Troll

» Continue reading Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): A story…

white nose

Watch your nose: Understanding White-Nose Syndrome and the Bats of the North Cascades National Park, part 2

July 14th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Photo taken by Alan Hicks. Retrieved from

This is part two of my series on bats. You can find part one here.

On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with White Nose Syndrome. -U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Now that we know which bats live in the park and their ecological significance, we can dive into white-nose syndrome.

What is white-nose syndrome?

The first case of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in the U.S. occurred in February, 2006 in Albany, New York. Researchers documented a white substance around the muzzles, ears, and wings on both alive and dead bats in the Howes Cave. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the substance was a fungal growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly Geomyces destructans). The fungus colonizes best on thinner outer tissue of bats (nose, ears, wings), eroding the skin and thriving off of inner-connective tissue. To date, it is thought that over six million bats have died to the syndrome in North America.

While the exact cause of death is uncertain, scientists hypothesize that the fungal growth disrupts their hibernating habits. Deceased bats with the syndrome have been reported with having significantly lower body weight compared to the population average at that time of year. When bats hibernate in cool, damp places over the winter P. destructans infects the bats. Whether awake or asleep, this added stress causes bats to use fat storage at a faster rate than normal. If a bat wakes up it will most likely not be able to find a food source at that time of year and die of starvation.

» Continue reading Watch your nose: Understanding White-Nose Syndrome and the Bats of the North Cascades National Park, part 2