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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

Who Cares About Beavers? We Do!

June 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Melissa Biggs, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Everyone, meet Chompers!  In October 2016, during the fall natural history trip, my cohort helped the Methow Beaver Project volunteers to release the last 3 beavers of the season.  So much fun! We carried the beavers for several miles and released them at Beaver Creek. When we opened the cage, Chompers went right into the water.  It was fascinating to watch the three beavers explore their new environment.  This summer, the Methow Beaver Project workers will locate Chompers and the other two beavers to record their journey since the fall. This experience made me more curious about beavers and their role in the ecosystem. As I did more research, I realized how awesome beavers are!

Beavers are so wonderful that they are known as environmental engineers.  Beavers are known as a “keystone” species because of their large effects on landscapes.  It only takes a few beavers to transform a watershed entirely.  Beavers, with the exception of human beings, do more to shape their landscape than any other Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets! Beavers are also a “foundation” species because their presence and their creations, such as dams, allow other plants and animals to exist.  

Beavers’ creations are essential to its environment for many reasons.  First, beaver dams are natural filters, as they capture and store much of the sediment.  Streams that have been shaped by beavers have 10 times greater purification capability than streams without beavers.  Also, beaver dams store water, thus leading to the increased size of wetlands. Beaver dams can help mitigate the effects of drought and the loss of wetland and riparian habitats due to their abilities to store shallow groundwater and retention of surface water behind dams.   This is important because almost half of endangered and threatened species in North America rely upon wetlands.  Also, freshwater wetlands have been rated as the world’s most valuable land-based ecosystem.  Beaver ponds increase both the water we can see on the surface and also what is stored beneath the pond.  This helps increase the riparian area and vegetative productivity.  Not only do beaver dams store water, they also help slow down the water flow, which is why they are known as ‘nature’s speed bumps.’  They reduce stream velocity and power, which helps reduce erosion rates and the amount of sediment carried downstream.  This effect across the upper watershed could provide more time for flood planning, protection and evacuation of high risk, residential areas.  Beaver ponds also help stabilize the water temperature both in the shallow and deeper areas – they help cool down streams, creating better conditions for fish, especially trout.  Last, but not last, beavers’ modification on watersheds help increase organic material, such as cut wood and flooded plants, sediment with nutrients attached and more water surface area for photosynthesis to occur, which results in more aquatic biodiversity and food for fish.  Without beavers and the role they play in watersheds, most of the biodiversity that are associated with wetland habitats would disappear.


Chompers in his cage right before he’s released! Image courtesy of Melissa Biggs

» Continue reading Who Cares About Beavers? We Do!

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Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

November 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Chompers and Lewisa, the new beaver residents of Beaver Creek, quickly became much more active as their wire cages were placed in the cold creek, splashing about and looking to explore. The beavers looked on disdainfully as we humans created a small dam in the creek, to give them a suggestion of where to build their new home. We then opened their cages and they immediately swam out, eagerly exploring their new territory.

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The NCI graduate cohort was on our Fall Natural History Intensive. We spent a week in the Methow Valley, observing classes at Classroom in Bloom (a community garden that works in conjunction with the Methow Public Schools) visiting salmon restoration sites, printmaking, and continuing our coursework. On this day, we had the opportunity to help out with the Methow Beaver Project. We had started the day at the Winthrop Hatchery, where beavers from the Methow Valley Restoration Project were held in the time between being removed from problematic areas (areas where beaver dams would flood homes or buildings) and being moved to new homes where the ponds they create would benefit the entire ecosystem. Beaver ponds not only create vital open habitat that increase biodiversity, they also act as a storage area for fresh water, decreasing flood possibility, decreasing erosion, and recharging water aquifers.

» Continue reading Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

With trap builder Bergen Patterson

Ecosystem Engineers: A beaver curriculum

June 6th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Hannah Newell, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

A person’s perspective on the beaver is malleable. Some believe they are pests that need to be eradicated while others look deeply into their connection to the ecosystem and how they help shape our environment through their lifestyle.

Two North Cascades Institute Graduate students partnered with the Methow Beaver Project to create a curriculum to serve the Independent Learning Center in a few ways. One being the need for a biology class for their ninth to twelfth grade students and two, the desire to inform these students about the place that they live in and the beaver’s role in that place.

With four field trips planned over the course of four weeks, students were introduced to beavers at the Winthrop Hatchery, explored nearby wetlands to research macroinvertebrates and watershed development, and concluded their experience at the Twip Town hall where they conducted a mock town hall to view stakeholder opinions on the matter of the presence of beavers in the area.

» Continue reading Ecosystem Engineers: A beaver curriculum

Liz Beaver home

Giving a “Dam”: A Natural History of Beavers

February 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Liz Blackman, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort.

As I slide over the edge of the raceway and landed knee-deep in water I can barely see the almond-colored nose of the buoyant beaver as he floats beneath his cinderblock temporary home behind a large pile of aspen cuttings. He seems minimally threated by my presence, exhibiting none of the displays one would expect from a recently captured wild animal. No tailslapping or aggressive presentations as I slop through the water toward him, awkward and weighed down by the oversized boots and waders protecting me from the cool water. The closer I get the more aware I become of just how gentle this creature must be. We make eye contact before he dips his torpedo-shaped head beneath the water and begins to swim smoothly away from me toward the wall of the raceway. His waffle-pattered leathery tail is smaller than I expect and moves both vertically and horizontally as he alternately propels and rudders himself through the water. It takes only a few minutes of following Chuck around the raceway for him to swim directly into the cage being held in the water ahead of him. No wonder these animals were trapped nearly to extinction. In less than five minutes and with no struggle whatsoever the young male is securely caged and ready to give some third-graders an unrivaled first-hand experience with the country’s largest rodent. The musky smell of castor is unmistakable in the morning air and although entirely new to me, the scent quickly becomes familiar. I am hooked.

Beavers are nature’s most misunderstood rodents. Docile, diligent, tidy and familiar, Castor Canadensis does more to shape waterways and landscapes than any of their mammalian relatives and plays an integral role in the delicate riparian balance of Washington’s diverse ecosystems. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Beavers have an ancient history with damns dating back over 10 million years and there are estimates of more than two hundred million beavers historically residing in the continental US. Indigenous American stories describe the beaver as co-creator of the land and sea alongside Great Sprit. Beaver appears in countless ancestral stories of Eastern Washington including the Confederated Tribes of the Coleville Reservation Upper Columbia River Book of Legends. Published in March 2007, the Coleville Book of Legends is full of references to the Beaver Tribe. Beaver is credited with a variety of great feats including stealing fire from the Sky People and bringing firewood to the tribes (How Beaver Stole the Fire) as well as marrying Coyote at Kettle Falls on the Columbia River and becoming the salmon chief (Why Coyote Changed the Course of the Columbia River).

Liz holding beaver

Liz holding a beaver at the Methow Beaver Project.

» Continue reading Giving a “Dam”: A Natural History of Beavers

fall-SWW

Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November

January 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Joe Loviska, Graduate Phenology Assistant

Phenology is the study of how plants, animals, and other biotic organisms change with the cycle of the seasons. As the graduate phenology assistant at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), it is my job to collect and organize data on the weather, mammals, and birds around the center.

Weather

Weather Data from ELC Station

From these few numbers we can see that this fall has generally been cooler than the last two years, with the exception of the November lows in 2013 and 2014. 2014 was a very wet year overall, but this year has already seen more rain than 2013. A few weather events have stood out this fall. Most impactful to our place was the rainstorm from August 21 to September 3. During this period 4.41” of rain fell, effectively stopping the Goodell Creek fire and allowing us to move back into the ELC on August 31. On Halloween (October 31) it dumped 2.29”. Finally, the two rainiest days of the season were November 13th and 17th when 3.08” and 3.67” fell, respectively. This was during the biggest rainstorm of the season, from November 10 to November 18, during which it rained 9.54”. Wow!

Saul Weisberg’s (executive director of the North Cascades Institute) birthday fell on November 16, along with the first snow of the year at the ELC. On November 19, J. Loviska observed that the sun left the ELC amphitheater at 2pm, blocked by the ridge south of the lake. Thus began winter, despite what the calendar claims.

Mammals

We kicked off the Mountain School season well with a black bear (Ursus americanus) sighting in the ELC parking lot on September 14. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Two trail groups were on hand to observe the bear as it trundled down the road; then, upon noticing us, it hustled into the forest on the north side. Other notable traces of megafauna: J. Porter heard a gray wolf (Canis lupus) howling early in the morning on September 15 at Black Pine Lake; a wolverine (Gulo gulo) was picked up by the remote camera station on October 1 in Fisher Basin. This collared individual was later identified as Special K; A. Gourd observed a beaver swimming in Diablo Lake near Power Tower Island on October 5. White wood and trees with tooth marks have been observed near the mouth of Thunder Creek, but if anyone has seen beaver activity closer to the ELC, please let us know; on November 11 a coyote was seen crossing Highway 20 in Newhalem, near a deer carcass.

Wolverine Special K Caught on camera.

Wolverine “Special K” caught on camera on 10/01/2015.

» Continue reading Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November

Zachary with Hawk

Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

November 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Woke up at 0555 to a pack of coyotes (Canis latrans) howling and barking in a playful manner with one another for about ten minutes. During this time a barred owl (Stix varia) was making some small hooting. Still very dark, the weather was mostly fog with a 70 yard visibility at 40*F.

This is how my journal entry for the 2015 Fall Natural History retreat started on October 8th, 2015.  As part of the Graduate Program at North Cascades Institute, the fifteen of us students  in the newest cohort along with our instructors Joshua Porter and Lindsey MacDonald went over to the Methow Valley to get first hand experience with our natural home. As future environmental educators, it is vital for us to understand our local ecosystem through experience so that we can lead the next generation in outdoor experiences.  With this trip in particular, the first day focused on beavers, while the second on hawks.

We had spent the night in the Gardner Hut on Rendezvous Pass.  When we awoke we heard a chorus of coyotes and owls, but could not see them due to two factors: low visibility due to heavy fog and little sunlight, and rather comfortable and warm sleeping bags. Despite this, we packed up, ate breakfast, and heading for Winthrop.

Ponderosa at Gardner Hut

Packing up from our night in the Gardner Hut. Two Ponderosa Pine are pictured.

» Continue reading Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015