The grizzly has been a part of the North American continent for fifty thousand years. Grizzlies are part of the Brown Bear family that originated in Eurasia and crossed the Bering land bridge during the last ice age. For nearly 10,000 years grizzlies and humans coexisted in North America. Many first nations and indigenous tribes revered the great bear and honored it in ceremony. Many Native American legends even include the grizzly in creation stories. North America once held as many as 100,000 grizzly bears in a range extending from the northern-most tip of Alaska, across the Yukon, down through the Cascade, Sierra Nevada, and Coast ranges of Washington, Oregon, and California, down the entire stretch of the Rocky Mountains, into the great plains as far east as Minnesota, and down to Mexico’s Sierra Madre. Today the grizzly bear inhabits a mere 2% of its former range in the contiguous United States. How did an animal as great as the grizzly, a top predator in the ecosystems it inhabited, nearly reach the point of extermination? To answer this question we need only look to one of America’s proudest accomplishments, the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The grizzly bear has been an animal surrounded by myth and has been associated with trepidation and animosity since the Lewis and Clark Expedition first came across the large bruin in 1804. Journals from the expedition described the grizzly as a “monster bear and a most terrible enemy.” The killing and eradication began with this expedition where they were said to have killed about 40 grizzlies. After the Lewis and Clark Expedition returned, Europeans began moving west and encountering grizzlies along the way. Bill Schneider (2004) states in his book Where the Grizzly Walks that upon the discovery of the grizzly taxonomist George Ord gave it the scientific name Ursus horriblis, or “horrible bear.” It seemed that the great bear was doomed from the moment the white man came across it. In the mid-1800’s rapid expansion west began in the United States. Gold was discovered in California, sending a horde of people to the golden state. Washington and Oregon began to grow as well, as the fur trade attracted rough and grizzled mountain men in search of striking it rich not from gold however, but from animal pelts. In 1810 two British fur-trading companies combined forces and merged under the Name “Hudson’s Bay.” They built posts in four different locations in what is now the State of Washington and one in Vancouver, British Columbia. The main target of the fur trade was the beaver, but any fur-bearing animal was fair game, including the mighty grizzly. The fur trade eliminated what was once a friendly relationship between the native tribes and the grizzly. White settlers set up shop and would pay the natives to do the hunting for them. According to David Knibb (2010) in The Grizzly Wars, over 4000 grizzly hides were shipped from various fur trading posts throughout the Northwest in a thirty-year period with an estimated 15 to 20 percent coming from the North Cascades region. Knibb stated that by 1860 a grizzly population in the North Cascades that once numbered near one thousand had been reduced to less than 350. Two more waves of killing further reduced the grizzly population in the years to follow In the North Cascades. After the booming years of the fur trade, prospectors came to the mountains, killing off an estimated 200 grizzlies while in search of gold in the. The final wave came when grazing opened up in the west and ranchers began killing grizzlies to protect their sheep and cattle. Knibb states that between 1900 and 1960 ranchers killed thirty-five grizzlies. Then In 1967 in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Rocky Wilson killed the last grizzly ever shot in the state of Washington. In just over 150 years a grizzly population of 1000 had all but been exterminated from Washington. Occasionally there will be a sighting or a grizzly track in the mud, but since 1967 confirmed grizzly sightings in the North Cascades have been few and far between. The last confirmed grizzly sighting on the American side of the border came in 1996, and the last grizzly spotted in the entire ecosystem was in 2010 just north of the U.S. border in British Columbia. Today there seem to be more Sasquatch sightings in the North Cascades than grizzly bears, but hope remains.
The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center received 2.5 inches of rain over the last 48 hours, and more is expected through Friday! All of the wildfires in the Upper Skagit Complex are diminished and the Goodell Fire is no longer considered a significant threat to the Environmental Learning Center or Diablo. The Washington State Department of Transportation opened State Route 20 at noon on Sunday, August 30, and our evacuation order was lifted. North Cascades Institute is currently working to reopen the Environmental Learning Center and assume normal operations, including the start of Mountain School as scheduled on September 14.
As Learning Center Director Kristofer Gilje remarked, “This all ended as fast as it started.”
We still have concerns about travel in the Newhalem Gorge. Even during non-fire years, this much rain brings debris down onto the roadway. The DOT is keeping the road clear, but take special care when traveling through the Gorge. You may encounter rocks and trees on the roadway, and be prepared to turn back or to be delayed in your return. Temporary, intermittent closures may be required for helicopter and heavy equipment work on power lines and towers. For the latest updates, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades or contact the North Cascades Highway Hotline at (360) 707-5055.
North Cascades National Park reopened the Newhalem Visitor Center and many campgrounds and trails. For current park conditions visit, www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/current-park-conditions.htm.
North Cascades Institute thanks each and every one of you for the continued outpouring of support. You’ve helped us evacuate the Learning Center safely, opened your homes to our displaced staff, voiced your concerns and sent us countless messages of hope. We continue to be grateful for you, for our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service and for the firefighters, first responders, National Guard, U.S. Army servicemen and women and others working on the wildfires across Washington State.
Your financial support is another way to help us in this tumultuous time of program cancellations and restructuring, lost revenue and displaced staff. Thank you for making a gift today at www.ncascades.org/support.
We also encourage you to support families in need on the eastside of the state. The Community Foundation of North Central Washington has compiled a list of resources at www.cfncw.org/fire.
Yes, Washington State is on fire; and we’re still here. We are posting updates on the Upper Skagit Complex wildfires and their impacts on the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and North Cascades Institute on our website at www.ncascades.org/wildfires and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ncascades. Additionally, we are uploading photos and maps on our Tumblr at www.ncascades.tumblr.com.
State Route 20, the Learning Center, Newhalem, Diablo and most North Cascades National Park facilities remain closed to the public. Wildfire conditions are changing rapidly, and the Institute is working with our partners around-the-clock to keep on top of things. It is becoming clear that the range of impacts to the Institute and our operations will have both near-term and far-terms impacts.
We are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from Institute supporters, partners and friends over the past week. Thank you.
Photographs from the Goodell Creek Fire in North Cascades National Park Complex on 8/19/15 by RyanLF. He writes, “I was one of the last cars to make it though the North Cascades Highway yesterday. The smoke was so thick it blocked out the sun. Lots of debris on the road and ash in the air…Hopefully they can get it under control soon.”
A view looking west from Diablo Dam down the Skagit River Gorge towards Newhalem and the Goodell Creek Fire from Wednesday 8/19, 3:15 pm. By Institute graduate student Joe Loviska. We’re posting more photos from the wildfire at ncascades.tumblr.com. North Cascades Institute updates are at www.ncascades.org/wildfire and on our Facebook page at facebook.com/ncascades.
We regretfully have decided to cancel our Anniversary Celebration Picnic and all related activities at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Saturday and Sunday, August 22-23.
The Goodell Creek Fire burning near Newhalem unexpectedly grew yesterday, State Route 20 was closed down and the decision was made to evacuate the Learning Center as a precaution. The Learning Center isn’t in imminent danger and all of our staff, graduate students and guests were able to leave the area safely. With this said, there are many uncertainties that we are actively monitoring and conditions in the upper Skagit Valley are uncomfortably smokey.
We also feel it is not appropriate to host a celebration at this time as we are deeply saddened by the loss of life of three firefighters in Twisp yesterday, and by the injuries sustained by four others. We send our condolences to all of the family and friends of those impacted by these traumatic wildfires.
Our focus at North Cascades Institute is making sure that our displaced staff and graduate students are taken care of and to provide any assistance we can to our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service.
We still hope to celebrate the milestones of the Learning Center’s 10th anniversary and Mountain School’s 25th anniversary and we will keep you posted as plans progress.
~ North Cascades Institute staff and board
Useful Links for North Cascades Wildfire Info
Photo by Jason Ruvelson
North Cascades Environmental Learning Center evacuated as Goodell Creek Fire grows, State Route 20 closed
Sedro-Woolley, WA 8/19/15 3:30 pm: We received notice that Highway 20 has been closed by the Washington State Department of Transportation at milepost 118 at Thornton Creek near Newhalem due to complications with a wildfire in the area. There is no passage across the North Cascades Highway at this time. The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and town of Diablo are being evacuated to the east as a precautionary measure. We have cancelled all programs at the Learning Center for Thursday 8/20 and Friday 8/21 including Skagit Tours and Base Camp.
We are closely monitoring the situation to decide whether our scheduled Anniversary Picnic Celebration at the Learning Center on Sunday will occur; we’ll announce information on our website at www.ncascades.org/news and on social media as things develop.
Photo by Jason Ruvelson
North Cascades Institute in The Seattle Times: “Mountain School makes the magic of the wilderness real for kids”
We are thrilled with The Seattle Times‘ story on Mountain School, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and the Institute’s 30 years of environmental education in the North Cascades. It appeared as the cover story in the Times‘ Pacific Northwest Magazine on August 9, 2015 and features a wealth of amazing photos, many quotes from MS students and teachers and an interview with our founder and executive director Saul Weisberg.
“DO NOT LET the sly grin fool you. Nika Meyers is not joking around.
Out here amid the firs and ferns and tiny birds and devil’s club above Diablo Lake, she makes certain things clear to her young charges. Today’s lesson on getting in touch with the earth? It’s not some cute metaphor. It is exactly that: On your knees, boys and girls. Right down there with the spiders and rotting leaves and — Holy Crap! Is that a centipede?
This is how it’s done at Mountain School: One pair of happy, grubby, fifth-grade paws at a time. Multiply by 2,800 kids from 53 schools this year alone, stir, and enjoy.
The concept behind the school, run by nonprofit North Cascades Institute, sounds simple: In a three-day mountain camp experience, imbue in school children a visceral connection with this special place — the thumping, mountainous heart of Northwest wilderness. Make its magic real to them at a micro level, in the hope that some of them will feel the pull to return as powerfully as a salmon headed home to spawn. Slip into their consciousness rudimentary skills of a naturalist — the ability to observe and make the same personal connections to other wild lands.
Oh: Also do this without boring the amped-up, digitally dependent kids out of their skulls.
Mountain School still represents what Saul Weisberg espoused from the beginning: A chance for Northwest kids to get out in nature — many of them spending nights away from home for the first time — and go home with mountain air embedded in their hearts. While the Institute’s unofficial mission has always been to “save the world,” it’s official task is to put people and nature together and stand back in awe watching what happens. It can’t happen without the dirty hands.”
Read Ron Judd’s excellent story on our Mountain School program at www.seattletimes.com!
And watch a 4-minute video by Steve Ringman at http://bcove.me/5b5mbuaz!