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Mtn School Nat Geo Oct 2016

Mountain School in National Geographic magazine

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled to have been included in Tim Egan’s cover story for the October 2016 issue of National Geographic!

“In early fall I went to North Cascades National Park — the American Alps, chock-full of glaciers containing the frozen memories of wet winters past. A bundle of high peaks in Washington State, the park is one of the most remote places in the contiguous 48 states and also one of the least visited parks. But here, deep in the forested embrace of the upper Skagit River Valley, you can find the next two generations of Americans getting to know a national park. I heard hooting like owls and howling like wolves, coming from a circle of fifth graders and their wilderness instructors. The kids were from Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham, Washington, a school where almost half the students are nonwhite and most had never been in a national park. They were there for Mountain School, three days in outdoor immersion run by the North Cascades Institute. Their guides—staff naturalists, park rangers, graduate students—were all millennials. Without exception, the instructors thought the concern about their generation’s attachment to the land was valid, but overstated.

“It’s not like all of a sudden people are going to stop loving nature,” said Emma Ewert, who had gone to Mountain School and returned as an instructor. “But you do need the exposure, the fun of playing in the woods.” For that, perhaps, we should look to today’s parents, those afraid to let their children wander a little bit on their own.

The institute’s co-founder and executive director, Saul Weisberg, is a self-described Jewish kid from New York by way of Cleveland. He’s 62 now, wiry, with a bounce to his step. He learned to love the parks from his family, camping in a tent not unlike the one my folks used. He became a seasonal ranger at North Cascades and noticed a troubling pattern among visitors. “I don’t think I ever saw a person of color in the backcountry,” he said. He started Mountain School in 1990, partnering with the Park Service. About 3,000 students a year go through the program.

Though these kids lived only two hours or so away, this park was a strange new world for them. Many said it was the first time they’d been off the electronic leash of a family smartphone. “They have a very short attention span,” Ewert said.

At Mountain School, the instructors note changes in behavior over the few days the kids spend in the forest. They start to identify types of trees and small animals, and notice distinctions in sounds and smells. “Parents say, ‘What did you do to my child?’ ” said Carolyn Hinshaw, a teacher at Birchwood.

The parks director, Jarvis, is a big fan of Mountain School and similar programs, like Nature Bridge, which brings 30,000 students every year to a half dozen national parks. But he cautions that one visit does not a park lover make. “Something clicks, a light goes on, just by having some exposure,” he said. “I think it takes three touches for someone to change. A great first impression, but no follow-through, is not enough.” What’s needed, he said, is a broad cultural shift—a return, of sorts, to a time when outdoor exposure was a basic nutrient of American life.”

Read the rest of “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?” at www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/10/unplugging-the-selfie-generation-national-parks.

Whatcom_Museum._Citizens_Dock__Sophia_1982_.83_.8-o_

Walking Washington’s History

August 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Four villages — Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven — grew along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay and rode every boom and bust that swept the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whatcom surged on sawmills and a gold rush; Sehome boomed on a coal mine and railroad hopes. They merged in 1891 to become New Whatcom. The next village south on the bay, Bellingham, had a brief fling with coal but was swallowed up by Fairhaven to the south, which had visions of railroads and ended up with canneries. In sequence, they inhaled opportunity, exhaled optimism, and built long docks into the bay.

Bellingham is one of 10 Washington cities that Bentley provides brief but engaging historical overviews for, along with walking routes that explore our region’s past on foot (or bicycle). Seattle, Olympia, Walla Walla, Everett, and Yakima are other destinations that Bentley—who also wrote the bestselling Hiking Washington’s History—explores and interprets for her readers.

Each tour is a loop from two to seven miles long, with each city chosen to represent a distinct chapter in the post-European settling and development of the Evergreen State: Vancouver as the earliest significant settlement in the Pacific Northwest, Port Townsend as an important port of call for sailing ships in the mid-1800s, Spokane symbolic of urban renewal and reinvention efforts of the 1970s, and so forth.

9780295996684_FChigh

Bellingham, in a chapter subtitled “Reluctant City,” is symbolic of the many frenzied waves of resource extraction that created booms and busts throughout our region: coal, gold, timber and salmon.

» Continue reading Walking Washington’s History

Pacific Wren

Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

November 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

By Rob Rich

I came to the Pacific Northwest for many reasons, but one of them was, well, for the birds. Were those harlequin ducks for real? What was so special about the Pacific wren? And oh, how I longed to see the red-shafted Northern Flicker! These were some of my last thoughts before finally chasing the sun towards the Salish Sea. But since most birds don’t migrate from East to West, I knew I’d need a guide to set me straight.

Thankfully, I’d planned North Cascades Institute’s Spring Birding to be my first stop upon arrival. That’s right, I signed up from 3,000 miles away, tossed out my moving boxes in Bellingham and settled first things first: learning birds in the field with Libby Mills.

If you too feel like a lost goose at times, do not fear. Spring Birding is back, as are a host of other older Institute favorites – and some new ones that look out of this world. Literally. Where else but North Cascades Institute can you take a class that is astronomically synchronized for the nighttime awe of photographers? And where else can you hang out with snake experts, or decipher the clues of wildlife tracks in our precious winterscapes? As always, the great unveiling of the Institute’s January-June courses will expose natural curiosities you never knew you had. Experienced and emerging naturalists alike will both be forced to reckon with a growing list of reasons why the North Cascades are where it’s at.

Night photo

» Continue reading Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

Trans Trek Mike Coffee

Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

November 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Adventures

For the North Cascades Institute’s 14th cohort of Graduate M.Ed. students, it was a year marked with adventure, struggle, triumph and togetherness.

Our cohort is a very tight-knit, close community where we all share our various skills and talents with one another to make for a more comfortable and enjoyable living arrangement, and family for that matter. From Petra’s primitive skills to Kelly’s crafting projects and to Kevin’s rock climbing, we each bring something special to the group, sharing our lives, talents, hopes, dreams and abilities with one another to improve and enhance each other’s lives and to make the world a better place.

After a year of living in the North Cascades — a year that saw “fire and rain and sunny days that we thought would never end,” to quote James Taylor — it was time for our cohort to transition to the second year of the program at Huxley College of the Environment on the Western Washington University campus. (After a cohort does the residency program at the North Cascades Institutes’ Environmental Learning Center for a year, they “trek” down to Bellingham to finish the degree.) It seemed only fitting that leave our homes in the mountain for the city of Bellingham by traveling the river that connected us from the Environmental Learning Center to our new home on the Salish Sea: the mighty Skagit River. We realized that eventually our time at the Environmental Learning Center and campus portion in Bellingham would merge into one, and a river runs to it.

» Continue reading Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

6.26.15 Corvids E Petrovski

Welcome to Subirdia: Q&A with John Marzluff

April 1st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

As part of our “Nature in Writing” series, John Marzluff reads from Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife, Friday, April 3rd, 7 pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham. Free!


Q: You started your research studying crows, jays, and ravens. What was the catalyst for making the transition to birds and wildlife in urban areas?

JM: Moving to Seattle in the late 1990s, I was confronted with a rapidly growing urban area that was spilling into relatively wild country. When a large forest near my home became a high-end subdivision, I knew I had to take a closer look. Previously, scientific information for urban systems was mostly descriptive or nonexistent.  Researching how birds and other wildlife responded to development was a perfect way to combine my love of pure science with my desire to offer planners, developers, and others relevant ecological knowledge.

Q: Could you please define subirdia?

JM: The geography of life, or a physical place (the rich mix of built, planted, and natural lands that fringe our cities) and the web of life linking people with their natural world.

Swainsons_Thrush
Swainson’s Thursh

Q: The research you and your students and postdocs undertake requires many patient and persistent observers. How long and about how many have contributed to our understanding of subirdia?

JM: In this type of work, a year’s effort yields only a single data point. To understand the ups and downs of bird populations and the natural booms and busts of birth and death requires a decade or more of standardized measurement. For thirteen years, eight to ten of us took to the woods and streets every spring and summer. During this time, my team included many undergraduates and interns, three postdocs, eight doctoral students, and six master’s students. I am proud that they now teach in some of our nation’s top universities, contribute to the management of our wild resources, and direct research in non-profit conservation organizations.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from their experience of encountering Welcome to Subirdia?

JM: A better understanding and appreciation for the ecosystem we call “home” and the tools needed to nurture a life enriched by our wild neighbors.

Banded_Spotted_TowheeBanded Spotted Towhee

Q: What is your favorite bird or wildlife encounter you relate in the book?

JM: The great thing about field research is the collection of memories I take home each season. I can still recall the broods of hungry thrushes I measured and the extraordinarily old birds I was able to recapture. But my favorite memories from subirdia mostly involve mammals. For example, sitting quietly as a band of angry crows approached and seeing that the object of their scorn was a brash bobcat; playing bird calls by a mist net in the cold dawn and having a coyote rush in; and the look on one kid’s face as he extracted his bicycle from a (different) net and wondered what he was going to tell his mom. (Well that’s not in the book, but it was sure fun!)

European_Jay_Peppered_mothsEuropean Jay and Peppered Moth
All bird art is by Jack DeLap, taken from Marzluff’s book, Welcome to Subirdia. DeLap writes, “While I produce images in various media, from graphite, pen and ink, to acrylic and oils, the current work in its final form was created freehand using a digital tablet and stylus (Wacom Cintiq). My process involves sketching in the field, as well as from museum specimens and photographs to create an original composition that seek to capture aspects of the species’ natural history and physical form. Dr. John Marzluff and I collaborated on the conceptualization and narrative sequence of images. My primary objective for these illustrations was to utilize my passion for drawing in direct service of natural science education.”
Juvenile_American_Robin

Welcome to Subirdia: An Excerpt

March 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

As part of our “Nature in Writing” series, John Marzluff reads from Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife, Friday, April 3rd, 7 pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham. Free!

by John Marzluff

My research and that of other urban ecologists suggest that, despite the great loss of biodiversity caused by our actions, we also have a lot to celebrate. I’ve spent most of my spring and summer mornings counting birds in national parks, industrial parks, and suburbs. It is not surprising that the most-heavily paved portions of the city hold few birds, but it is not the case that the least-disturbed places on Earth always hold the most birds. Wild reserves provide shelter for unique birds not found in the city, and they are absolutely essential. But the greatest variety of birds is often found in the suburbs. [1]

With my graduate students I have counted birds from Seattle’s urban core to its fringing forests nearly every spring and summer morning for the past decade. We expected the suburbs between the city center and the forested reserves to support an intermediate number of species, but when we listened as these neighborhoods awoke each morning, we were astonished by the dawn chorus of thrushes, tanagers, wrens, towhees, finches, crows, and woodpeckers. Here we often tallied 30 or more species in a single count. We found birds from the industrial city mixed with some from the protected forest, and we encountered a whole new set of birds that use more open country. [2]

Black_throated_gray_warblerBlack-throated gray warbler

Compiling standard bird surveys from more than 100 locations in and around Seattle revealed to us a consistent, but unexpected, relationship between the intensity of development and bird diversity. The greatest diversity was not in the most forested setting. Instead, bird diversity rose quickly from the city center to the suburbs and then dropped again in the extensive forest that eases Seattle into the high Cascades.

We had discovered “subirdia.”

» Continue reading Welcome to Subirdia: An Excerpt

Nature of Writing Fall 2015 Poster

The Nature of Writing Speaker Series * Spring 2015 in Bellingham

March 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

A SERIES OF FREE NATURAL HISTORY AUTHOR READINGS AT VILLAGE BOOKS / 1200 11 STREET, BELLINGHAM

Join Village Books and North Cascades Institute in welcoming our region’s most gifted writers on the natural world to Bellingham. From wildlife in the city to botany, local marine ecology to poetry inspired by our Wild Nearby, you’ll learn more about our wondrous planet when these gifted writers share their latest literary works.

Friday, April 3, 7 pm
John Marzloff’s Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife

We all know that human development is threatening our environment. Runoff pollutes our streams. Homes and businesses encroach on wilderness habitat. Energy use warms the planet. Too many species are in decline. And yet, for some of our most charismatic wild creatures, suburban and urban habitats offer surprising opportunities to thrive. Our suburbs and city parks are often remarkably rich in bird diversity—holding more species than either wilderness areas or urban centers. In fact, suburbs may play a key role in preventing loss of species in the face of the dramatic disruptions of climate change and other human impacts. Welcome to Subirdia shows us how. This event is part of our Nature of Writing series, in partnership with North Cascades Institute. John Marzluff is James W. Ridgeway Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, where he teaches classes in ornithology, urban ecology, conservation and field research. His previous books include In the Company of Crows and Ravens (with Tony Angell), Dog Days, Raven Nights (with his wife Colleen) and Gifts of the Crow (with Tony Angell). He is teaching the class In the Company of Corvids at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center June 26-28.

Friday, April 11, 7 pm
Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

Seeds are everywhere. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothes, they give us food and fuels, intoxicants and poisons, oils, dyes, fibers, and spices. Without seeds there would be no bread, rice, beans, corn or nuts. They support diets, economies, lifestyles, and civilizations around the globe. And yet, despite their importance in nature and their role in human survival, their awesome story has never fully been told.

In The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, award-winning conservation biologist Thor Hanson explores the story of seeds by asking a simple question: why are they so successful? Seed plants have become so abundant that it’s hard to believe that for much of evolutionary history, they did not even exist. Hundreds of millions of years passed where other plant life dominated the earth – first algae, and then spore plants like quillworts, horsetails, mosses, and ferns. Once they evolved, though, seeds became an incredibly efficient mechanism for plants to reproduce, protect themselves, and travel long distances. The evolutionary history of seeds shows not only why they have been able to thrive in nature, but also why they are so vital to human survival.

Blending expert, yet understandable, explanations of science with humorous first-person reportage and fascinating historical anecdotes, The Triumph of Seeds deftly traces the history and science of seeds. From a mountaintop overlooking the Dead Sea to 300 feet below an Illinois coal mine, from an encounter with vipers to a misguided attempt to crack and ironclad nut, Hanson takes readers on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds.

Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group. The author of Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

Thursday, April 16, 7 pm
Audrey DeLella Benedict & Jospeh K Gaydos’s The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest combines a scientist’s inquiring mind, breathtaking nature photography, and wondrous stories. Straddling the western border between Canada and the United States, this unique ecosystem is brought to life on the page with a lively narrative that looks at the region’s geology, fauna, and history.

Audrey DeLella Benedict is a biologist, a writer, and a passionate advocate for the conservation of the global ocean and Arctic and alpine environments the world over. She is founder and director of Cloud Ridge Naturalists and is currently a member of the board of the SeaDoc Society.

Joseph K. Gaydos is Chief Scientist for the SeaDoc Society, a marine science and conservation program focused on the Salish Sea. He is a licensed wildlife veterinarian and has a PhD in wildlife health. For over a decade he has been studying the fish and wildlife of the Salish Sea.

April 18, 2015
Saul Weisberg’s Headwaters: Poems & Field Notes

North Cascades Institute is excited to announce the forthcoming publication of selected poems of Institute Founder and Executive Director Saul Weisberg!

» Continue reading The Nature of Writing Speaker Series * Spring 2015 in Bellingham