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Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6

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

Much of the opposition to the recovery efforts of the grizzly in the North Cascades stem from hikers, climbers, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who fear recreating in grizzly country. Where hiking in grizzly country brings more risk, hikers in the Northern Rockies and Alaska will tell you that it brings a new thrill and sense of wildness to the outdoor experience.  Being aware of how to responsibly recreate in grizzly country can greatly reduce some of the risks involved with hiking and fishing in bear country. There are many resources available on how to recreate in grizzly country from the National Park and Forest Services as well as many non-profit organizations such as; Western Wildlife Outreach, The Great Bear Foundation, and The International Grizzly Bear Committee.

What people also fail to realize is that even if the North Cascades were to start recovery of the grizzly population, it would be 25-50 years before people started to see them, and another 100 years before the population recovered completely, due to how slowly grizzlies reproduce.

The problem in the Pacific Northwest as stated above is that we have never had to deal with grizzlies unlike the people in the Northern Rockies. The only thing we know about the grizzly is from what we have seen from American culture, and unfortunately American culture has not painted an accurate portrayal of the grizzly bear. If the North Cascades is to effectively implement its recovery strategy it needs to succeed on two levels; first it needs sound science to back it up, which it has, and secondly it needs support from the public, and the only way that the public will become okay with the grizzly bear walking around in the Cascades is if we begin to tear down these false images of the grizzly and start to properly educate people.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6

Joshua Winter 2016

Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

March 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As the snow is melting and Spring is is coming in full force, winter’s grasp is quickly fleeting from our minds. It’s hard to imagine that just a month ago the 15th Graduate Cohort of the North Cascades Institute was on their Winter Natural History retreat in the Methow Valley, then a winter wilderness! The retreat was the second retreat we had taken this year, in which we delve deep into the natural landscape to get first hand experience with our local wilderness. In this particular trip we learned about astronomy, wolverines, avalanche science and even tracking. Our whole trip had us centered at the Skalitude Retreat Center located in the Methow Valley.

Skalitude Retreat Center


Skalitude Retreat Center located in the heart of the mountains.

After traveling for seven hours into the Methow Valley, for Washington Pass is closed in the winter, the road into Skalitude was the definition of a remote mountain road: covered with animal tracks, steep, and windy. The whole road was encased in a thick forest. As soon as we reached the retreat the trees opened up to showcase the excellent valley and the pristine snow! Living in Western Washington this winter made me forget how much I had missed feet of clean, beautiful snow.

Good meals

Good friends and good food! Photo courtesy of Aly Gourd.

» Continue reading Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

red huckleberry buds

A Phenology Fix

March 24th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

The shifting of seasons. Temperature begins to rise as the arch of the sun lifts. Winds push and pull pendulous crowns of Hemlock and Western Red Cedar while gusts careen through limbs of Doug fir. Rains drench the lichen and moss covered landscape. Sun surprises. Days overshadow night. Subtle, sweet scents of spring waft unexpectedly in a warm breeze. Buds begin to break. Robins appear overnight.

Red Huckelberry

A Red Huckleberry limb with breaking buds along the Diablo Lake trail at the Environmental Learning Center.

The shifting of seasons. Spring is recently arrived, but the harbingers have slowly appeared up here in the North Cascades at 1,200 feet: buds of Willow, Red Flowering Currant and Indian Plum awaken, the catkins of Hazel and Alder open and dangle in preparation of pollen release, Varied Thrush, Robins and Pacific wrens sing the morning alive, a frog note travels through the air at dusk. At least a few of us up at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake are tuned to the frequency of phenology as we have eagerly awaited the firsts to unfurl. Phenology is essentially the study of seasonal cycles in the natural world, paying particular attention to the connectivity of the species within an ecosystem. Phenology encompasses events such as bird migration, phases of buds on trees and shrubs, hibernation and the hatching of insects related to changes in temperature, amount of sunlight and precipitation associated with shifts of seasons.

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March 17th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Tireless bear activist Chris Morgan Wildlife has shared a new 7-minute video about grizzlies in the North Cascades. WANTED: GRIZZLY BEARS? is an educational short film that captures the beauty of grizzlies and delves into people’s perceptions and misperceptions of these natives to the North Cascades.

Wanted: Grizzly Bears? from ChrisMorganWildlife on Vimeo.

“We interviewed people from all walks of life for this film short…there are a lot of perceptions of grizzly bears out there and they all deserve to be heard. My hope is that the film will trigger curiosity and perhaps help people learn more about these fascinating mammals that are part of the Washington State landscape,” said Morgan, who has hosted TV productions for PBS, National Geographic Television, BBC, Discovery Channel.

You can learn more about grizzly bear ecology in our ongoing series by Mike Rosekrans at


Glacial Ice Worms: Ancient Story Tellers

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

By Gavin Willis, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort.

So much of natural history is about storytelling. Whether it is telling about the budding of Indian Plum last spring, the migration pattern of Spotted Towhees last decade, or the historical path of a river, the idea of imparting to present and future generations the story of what was once observed is integral to the ideals of natural history. However, the stories aren’t always complete, and the quest to fill those gaps can unearth all kinds of interesting science and research methods.

The first thing that strikes most visitors to the North Cascades is the rugged mountainscapes that surround them. The story of the glaciers that carved those mountains is older than the park itself, by millennia. The most recent story is that of the Puget Lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, which is said to have advanced south from the Waddington Range and engulfed the entirety of the North Cascades. Geological evidence tells the story of its retreat approximately 12,000 years ago, but attempts to determine the path it took while fleeing the area have unearthed as many questions as answers.

There are many different voices that tell the story of the retreat of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Jagged mountain peaks tell tales of the ice sheets’ height, while scarred bedrock told legends of its mighty power. However since I’m a biologist, and not a geologist, I can’t translate any of these stories. Instead, I chose to listen to the voice of the ice worm.

» Continue reading Glacial Ice Worms: Ancient Story Tellers

Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 5

March 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

People in Montana and Northwestern Wyoming have been living and recreating in close proximity to grizzlies upon settlement. In Washington nobody has seen a grizzly in nearly 20 years. For those who do not live in grizzly country it is an animal associated with danger and fear. Common misconceptions and ignorance about grizzlies are major reasons why they have nearly gone extinct and may have an even tougher time recovering in The North Cascades. In Grizzly Wars David Knibb states, “Ignorance breeds fear. Ironically, because people around the Cascades lack firsthand experience with grizzlies, they are more afraid and thus more likely to oppose recovery efforts” (Knibb, 50).

People that do not live in grizzly country and those who have never encountered a grizzly before, like those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, are going to have the preconceived notion that the American culture has created about the grizzly, a culture created by the media to make a fixed story in our minds about what to believe about something. I have yet to see a Hollywood movie where the lost children or the lonesome cowboy come across a grizzly eating berries as it glances up noticing the people and simply returns to eating berries. Instead of this natural occurrence, the bear almost always attacks, only to have the children rescued by a brave outdoorsman or the cowboy besting the monster by pumping multiple gunshots into its pelt. This all too often scene has been played out hundreds of times through the American public’s television screens and feeds into the notion that man has dominion over all of nature. Wilderness is the antagonist and needs to be tamed and subdued by man, and nothing speaks of wilderness more than animals like wolves and grizzlies.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 5


Natural Notes on the Pacific Wren and Saw Whet Owl

February 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hannah Newell, a M.Ed. Graduate student of the Institute’s 15th Cohort

Pacific Wren

This avian is a year round resident in our coniferous forests but to me has gone unnoticed until fall when all the other commanding voices of spring and summer have slowly disappeared. The first one I noticed was on a typical rainy fall day with leaf litter covering any empty space on the forest floor. This unfortunate wren had gotten stuck under a leaf just as big as it’s tiny body and was trying desperately to fly away from my forthcoming presence. After a few flitters and hops around, it was able to free itself from the leaf and left me laughing to myself in a quiet forest.


Pacific Wren. Photo courtesy of

As we’ve come into the colder months of winter their call has morphed into a short and quiet chirp that they use as they hop around the forest floor looking for food. More often than not, I hear their hopping before I see their bodies emerge from the leafy debris under my feet. To my amazement they seem at home in the cold, snowy forest. One has to wonder how their tiny bodies cope with the extreme cold.

Journal Wren 1

Hannah’s notes on the Pacific Wren (bottom right) in her journal.

I’ve heard that in summer and spring they make intricately woven nests of moss that are attached to root balls or thickly branched trees. Their call becomes strengthened and elongated to rival those of the big shots (pileated woodpecker, american robin). I’m looking forward to my continued observation of this small yet powerful bird.

» Continue reading Natural Notes on the Pacific Wren and Saw Whet Owl