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You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

February 7th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Recently, graduate student Marissa Bluestein became a volunteer at Rockport State Park. She also earned her Junior Ranger badge and learned about old growth forest ecology. Below are her words on the experience:

I stood with my right hand raised in the converted maintenance shed serving as the Discovery Center at Rockport State Park and repeated after Ranger Amos:

“As a junior ranger, I promise to protect the environment, pick up trash, explore the outdoors and protect state parks for current and future generations.”

It was my first day volunteering at Rockport State Park, and I’d just went on my first guided hike. Within 45 minutes, I learned that Rockport has one of the last remaining old growth forests in the Skagit Valley, with some trees as old as 500 years. The Park’s camping is now forever closed due to diseases invading these old trees, causing them to die and fall.

The forest is made up of salmon. Salmon hatch in freshwater and make their way to the ocean where they eat food containing Nitrogen 15. Nitrogen 15 is only found in the ocean, and as salmon make their way back up their river of origin to spawn, they carry that chemical makeup with them. After salmon die, their bodies are taken from the river by eagles, which sometimes drop carcasses in the forest, or they are drug into the forest by bears and other wildlife. Salmon remains are left on the ground. The decaying fish enrich the soil with Nitrogen 15 which help trees grow taller faster and are more resilient to drought and parasites.

Photo of Rockport State Park by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

Naturalist Notes: See the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018

January 29th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

On January 31st, 2018 humans across the west will witness a special convergence of three astronomical events tied to the full moon. It’s something so special it deserves its own notable name: the Super Blue Blood Moon. But what’s in a title? 

Here’s a Naturalist Note by graduate student Gina Roberti about what is most exciting in our upcoming super-blue-blood moon.

1)  A BLUE MOON

To get emotionally hyped for the Blue Moon portion of this celestial trifecta, we recommend you listen to the song Blue Moon by The Marcels (a throwback to the year 1961).

The full moon on January 31st will be the second full moon to occur in one month, an event known as a blue moon. A full moon occurs roughly every 29.5 days, and our calendar months are 30-31 days long. On the occasion that the full moon falls in the first two days of the month, it is likely that a Blue Moon will occur at the end of the month (except perhaps in leap years!). The expression “once in a blue moon” is not as rare as it implies, as this phenomenon occurs regularly every thirty-two months.

It is possible for the moon to literally appear blue, but this has nothing to do with an event on our calendar. In 1883, the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in Indonesia threw enormous plumes of ash into Earth’s atmosphere. Some of the ash particulates were exactly large enough to scatter red light and let other colors to pass through (slightly wider than 1 micron). Through this veneer, the dominant red wavelengths of the sun’s light will instead appear blue. Since the moon reflects light from the sun, it also can appear blue. It is common to see a blue-colored moon after the eruption of any large volcano. Blue moons were reported after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in 1983 (Mexico), Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Volcanic eruptions in Indonesia have been some of the largest recorded in modern history. The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 led to an unexpected outcome: the invention of the bicycle! The year 1816 was called “the year without a summer” as Tambora’s release of such large volumes of ash persisted for years. The bicycle was introduced as an alternative to horse and buggy because without crops, horses became too expensive to feed. Image and info courtesy of UNESCO.

» Continue reading Naturalist Notes: See the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018

Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

December 17th, 2017 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This post is the first of a 3-part series describing graduate students’ ten-day field excursion to the Methow Valley, as part of their fall Natural History Course. Below is writing by Brendan McGarry, graduate student in the North Cascade Institute’s 17th cohort

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was frost coating the inside of the rainfly. I could hear the crepuscular stirrings of my fellow campers, and gave myself a silent pep talk to get moving despite the chill. This was going to be an exciting day after all, we were here to see raptors. 

My cohort and I were part way through the field section of our Natural History of the North Cascades course when we trundled up to Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch Station. It was only October, but we’d seen the hints of winter coming to the high places. The hawks we hoped to see migrating were another hint that the seasons were changing.

The rugged terrain stretching down toward Lake Chelan; photo courtesy of Brendan McGarry

The Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch station was established in 1998 in a partnership between the Okanogan-Wenatchee District of the US Forest Service and HawkWatch International. The goal was to learn more about the raptors migrating through Washington, down the Pacific Coast Flyway. Here, starting in late August, ending in late October, intrepid biologists scan the skies, and count hawks. With luck, they also lure them into traps to band the birds and release. While we were grumbling about the cold, they were already out doing their jobs.

The first bird, an immature Cooper’s Hawk that zipped by during breakfast, was spotted by Kent Woodruff. This was apt because he was our host. Kent, a retired Forest Service biologist who established the station, was full of stories about the wildlife of the North Cascades. Yet, never was he more animated than when he spoke of the birds overhead.

» Continue reading Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

When the Skagit Floods and Diablo Turns Green

December 1st, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

In the photo above, WSDOT contractor crews replace washed out riprap to protect and repair State Route 20 along the Skagit River east of Rockport.

WSDOT Word of the Day:

 rip·rap
/ˈriprap/
North American
noun
noun: rip-rap
1. loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure.

Have you noticed the washout near Cascadian Farm?

Or the unusual color of Diablo Lake?

Last week the Skagit River rose to a high of 34.69 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Concrete. The highest levels of flooding since 2006, according to the National Weather Service. Flood level is 28 feet.

What was originally forecasted to be minor flooding became major flooding throughout Skagit County, causing significant property damage and road closures.

» Continue reading When the Skagit Floods and Diablo Turns Green

Plight of the Pollinators

November 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kay Gallagher, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Imagine yourself walking down to the local summer farmer’s market down by the town square. It’s the first warm day and you cannot wait to make a large juicy bowl of fruit salad for lunch. Summer time in the valley is your favorite, all winter you have eagerly anticipated the first fruits of the season. With your list in hand that you scribbled down this morning, juicy red tomatoes, green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash, perfectly round peaches, you set off.


Produce from the local Twisp Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

After a short walk, you arrive at the farmers’ market, ready to fill your basket to the brim. You walk around and notice the usual vendors. The local bakery selling loaves of freshly made artisan bread, the various craftsmen selling their woolen blankets and knit scarves, the goat farmers selling their savory cheeses and assorted dairy products. Then you notice there are no fruit stands. No vegetable stands. There isn’t so much as a rogue berry in sight. Where are the fruits of summer you have been dreaming about since that first warm day of spring? It’s almost as if they have vanished overnight. They’re not there.


The colorful mosaic landscape of Patterson Mountain. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

You leave the farmer’s market quite perplexed, and decide to hike your favorite summer trail instead. On your drive to the trailhead you can picture the lush mountain sides and vast fields full of a colorful array of wildflowers from last summer, you can visualize the river coursing its way through the landscape in the valley below, with animal life whirring and scattered about. You arrive at the trailhead, and hop out of the car, eager for your adventure in the colorful mosaic. As you begin to hike, you notice that things aren’t as colorful as they used to be. There aren’t nearly as many wildflowers, the earth seems dry and crumbly with serious signs of erosion along the river bank below. The landscape is made up of various shades of brown. The air is noticeably quieter, without the hums and whizzing of winged insects flying about. The chatter of birds is absent, and the silence seems a little eerie. It’s a little too quiet. Something is missing, and then you realize …” Where have all the pollinators gone?”

» Continue reading Plight of the Pollinators

Better with Beavers: How partnerships with a rodent are helping restore watersheds in the Pacific Northwest

October 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Rob Rich

“In the beginning, there was nothing but water and ice and a narrow strip of shoreline,” says the oral tradition of the Nuxalk, the coastal people who have lived for millennia near present-day Bella Coola, British Columbia. As the last ice age waned 12,000 years ago, their ancestors found home in that fertile rim of land and sea. And as temperatures rose, the once-frozen land must have churned in a vast soupy spillage, learning with ice-melt the forms we now call river, stream, pond. In this great thaw, when the earth emerged soaked and naked and surging to green, I trust a beaver knew what to do. I trust beavers were there, and also farther south in present-day Whatcom County, Washington, where I live. Before the county – and the creek, town, and lake – took the Whatcom name, I trust beavers were near the creek mouth and fish camp the Nooksack people dubbed Xwótqwem after the sound of water dripping, fast and hard.

» Continue reading Better with Beavers: How partnerships with a rodent are helping restore watersheds in the Pacific Northwest

Animals in the City: Encouraging Children to Get to Know Their Nonhuman Neighbors

September 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Sarah Clement, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Transference is a concept that often comes up in discussion among environmental educators. How do we, as educators, help our students make connections between their experiences with us in “nature” and their daily lives? We teach out students about the North Cascades ecosystem, but we want them to make connections between what they learn about the mountains to what they already know about their homes. We want them to understand that an ecosystem functions in the North Cascades in the same way that ecosystems in and around their home communities function. Above all, we want our students to understand that even though they traveled hours to reach Mountain School, they don’t have to do so to find the importance and wonder of natural spaces.

As human population growth continues to explode around the world, more people are migrating to urban areas. Over 80% of the population of the United States already lives in urban areas, and the influx of people to cities continues to grow. Washington State is no exception to these trends. As of 2016, our population has grown to well over seven million people. Most of the increase comes from people migrating from out of state to large urban areas along the Interstate 5 corridor in the western half of the state. With this population growth comes increased urbanization: more land is being converted to urban infrastructure. Wild habitats are being fragmented or drastically altered in the process.

» Continue reading Animals in the City: Encouraging Children to Get to Know Their Nonhuman Neighbors