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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

Our Water, Your Future: The Story of Climate Change and the Skagit River

August 20th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Jihan Grettenberger, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort.

What do you love about the North Cascades and the Skagit Valley?

I love the burning feeling in my legs as I hike up the switchbacks on the trails that travel through thick forests of Douglas Firs, Western Hemlocks, and cedars. The sounds of the forest bring me bliss. The birds calling in the distances, the winds rushing over tree tops, and the buzz of bees pollinating plants. Most importantly I am in awe by the abundance of water. In the spring, the North Cascades fills with raging creeks from snowmelt and from lookout points I can see snow covered peaks. I know summer is coming when Diablo Lake changes from a greyish blue to a vibrant aquamarine color.

Diablo Dam with Pyramid Peak in the background. Photo courtesy of Jihan Grettenberger 

How important is water in the North Cascades?

The North Cascades is water rich and named after all of the cascades that flow through the landscape. In the winter, snow piles up on the mountaintops; in the spring the snowpack melts, supplying water to the streams; in the summer glacier melt feeds our alpine lakes and dam reservoirs. The rainy fall then replenishes our dry summer soils and increases the flows in our rivers.

Thanks to our abundant water supply and diverse ecosystems, the North Cascades and Skagit Valley have all five native Pacific salmon species. Eagles soar through the sky, ospreys hunt, and wolverines dig deep dens in the snow. When the supply and timing of water changes in the mountains, it also changes the watershed. People, agriculture, hydroelectric production, plants, and creatures, all depend on reliable water sources to thrive.

» Continue reading Our Water, Your Future: The Story of Climate Change and the Skagit River

Stories of Change: Storytelling as a Means of Climate Communication

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hanna Davis, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

There are various facets to graduate life at North Cascades Institute: taking classes, a teaching practicum, work study positions. And throughout every aspect, nearly every of my residency this past year, a common theme has appeared: climate change. Specifically, how do we, as environmental educators, talk about climate change? It’s a topic that comes up so continuously in my work here that hardly a day goes by that I’m not talking about how to talk about climate change. So naturally, my natural history project is all about how we can improve climate literacy, specifically here at NCI.

If you’ve gotten a chance to look at NCI’s new Strategic Plan, you may have noticed the goal to “Strengthen the Institute’s impact and meet the needs of diverse communities by pursuing new opportunities for programs, partners and audiences [by]…integrating and expanding climate literacy throughout Institute programs.” Now, a strategic plan may seem like a mundane obligatory document, but if you can get past the admittedly dry language, you’ll find the heart of NCI: these are the values we believe in, the goals we strive for. So by including climate change literacy in this plan, we are saying: this work is crucial.

» Continue reading Stories of Change: Storytelling as a Means of Climate Communication

Photo Roundup: April 30 2017

April 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

A beautiful sunset at Washington Park in Anacortes, where graduate students closed day one of their field trip. Photo by Angela Burlile

On Wednesday, our graduate M.Ed. students went to Anacortes for a three day field trip that explored climate change impacts on the lower Skagit through the lens of food production and agriculture.

 

Shannon Point Marine Center staff member, Gene McKeen, giving grad students a tour of the campus. Photo by Angela Burlile
Grad students (Jihan Grettenberger, Smokey Brine and Ash Kunz) having fun at the SPMC touch tank. Photo by Angela Burlile

On the first day of their trip, graduates were introduced to the Shannon Point Marine Center, a Western Washington University marine laboratory located in Anacortes, Washington. During their visit, grad students were able to meet with Dr. Erika McPhee-Shaw, Professor and Director of SPMC, who presented on the topic of sea level rise and ocean acidification here in the Pacific Northwest.

Grad student, Ash Kunz, attempting to identify sea birds just outside of Anacortes. Photo by Ash Kunz
Harbor seals as seen through a pair of grad binoculars. Photo by Angela Burlile
Alexei Desmarais and Kay Gallagher can’t contain their excitement about bird identification! Photo by Angela Burlile

On the final day of their trip, staff at Shannon Point Marine Center took grads out on their research vessel for the opportunity to view marine and bird life around Puget Sound. Harbor seals and peregrine falcons were just a few of the species spotted during their time out on the water.

Grad student, Kay Gallagher, biking down Highway 20 past the road closure. Photo by Kay Gallagher

With the road closure beginning just miles down the road from our Environmental Learning Center, grads and staff are taking advantage of the empty highway before WSDOT clears all the accumulated winter snow.

The most recent update from the WSDOT Highway 20 reopening page states:
“The west side crew cleared to within 2 ½ miles of Rainy Pass and the eastside crew is about the same distance from Washington Pass. The difference is on the west side the snow is three feet deep. On the east side, snow is 7 feet deep and the Liberty Bell avalanche zone is still ahead where there’s 45 to 55 feet of heavy wet snow on the roadway. 

On the westside the work is progressing well with a plow truck and the loader-mounted blower. On the eastside, the two big caterpillars have begun cutting down the huge piles of snow in the Liberty Bell avalanche zone.” 

*Find weekly updates on the WSDOT webpage*

Animal tracks on the Evergreen Trail at Rockport State Park. Photo by Angela Burlile

Grad student, Sarah Clement, spotted these cougar tracks during a run around the Evergreen Trail at Rockport State Park. The tracks seemed to be quite fresh, as they appeared during her third loop around the park!

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 30 2017

North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Call of the wild: can America’s national parks survive?
America’s national parks are facing multiple threats, despite being central to the frontier nation’s sense of itself
by Lucy Rock
published January 14, 2017

Autumn in the North Cascades National Park and soggy clouds cling to the peaks of the mountains that inspired the musings of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg 60 years ago. Sitting on a carpet of pine needles in the forest below, protected from the rain by a canopy of vine maple leaves, is a group of 10-year-olds listening to a naturalist hoping to spark a similar love of the outdoors in a new generation.

This is one of 59 national parks which range across the United States, from the depths of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the turrets of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All – plus hundreds of monuments and historic sites – are run by the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centenary last year. The parks were created so that America’s natural wonders would be accessible to everyone, rather than sold off to the highest bidder. Writer Wallace Stegner called them America’s best idea: “Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

It’s easy to agree. Nicknamed America’s Alps, Washington State’s North Cascades is an area of soaring beauty, a wilderness of fire and ice thanks to hundreds of glaciers and dense forest where trees burn in summer blazes. The Pacific Crest Trail – made famous by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon – runs through the park. Walking along Thunder Creek one midweek morning, the only sound is rushing water and birdsong. The view is a nature-layered cake of teal water, forested mountain slopes and snowy summits. But it is here that you can also observe the threats facing the parks in their next 100 years. They are fighting a war on three fronts: severe underfunding, climate change and a lack of diversity and youth among their visitors.

Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades surrounded by silence and rocky spires, far from the drink, drugs and distractions of his San Francisco life. He drew on his Cascades experiences in Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler and Desolation Angels, in which he wrote: “Those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snow-covered rock all around…” Those views look different today. Climate change is causing the glaciers to melt: their square footage shrank by 20% between 1959 and 2009.

Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute, an environmental educational organization, said that the difference between photos from September – when the seasonal snow is gone – in the 1950s and today was, “Incredibly dramatic. Snow is melting back more and more and now you see a lot more rock when you look at the mountains.”

» Continue reading North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

andy porter baker ice

Integral Ice : A Creative Residency reflection

June 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Manasseh Franklin

For much of the lower 48 states, it’s easy to consider glaciers as distant, sometimes extraordinarily so. A great deal of my research and writing focuses on closing this distance in order to give access to the beauty, vitality and total importance of ice on the decline throughout North America. To do this, I rely on intimate first hand experiences, scientific counsel and the compelling narrative of the landscapes themselves.

I came to the North Cascades Institute to write about ice. Fittingly, this region is home to the largest concentration of glaciers remaining in the lower 48. What I didn’t realize prior to arrival, however, is just how much that ice is integral to the livelihoods of people in this region, and how accessible that makes it on a day-to-day basis, both on the ice itself, but primarily off.

Being stationed at Diablo Lake provided the perfect starting point: glacial waters flowing through hydro-electric dams that power neighboring cities. Waters that, without glaciers, would not be able to provide the growing capacity of electricity needed in those places.

Through conversations at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I was able to see the bigger picture not only of water and electricity but also glacial melt and how both its temperature and flow are integral to salmon runs. Glacial melt and its contribution to irrigation for orchards that supply fruit to the entire country. Glacial melt and the incredible milky emerald hue Lake Diablo took on during the final weeks of my stay in early June.

Not only did the landscape provide access to these integrated systems, but my encounters with the Environmental Learning Center did also, both for me and for the many groups of children and adults who were stationed there when I was. I found the mission of the center to resonate with my own mission in writing: using intimate and educated experiences in the outdoors to inspire conservation (and appreciation) of diminishing resources.

Of course, the landscape provided that connectivity as well. Evidence of ice resounds in the countless waterfalls, hanging valleys, and the glaciers themselves—roughly 300 in the park alone—perched in high valleys and cirques. They, like glaciers throughout the world, are diminishing, but still very physically present in the lush landscapes of the North Cascades.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciated my time at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only was I able to be physically proximate to actual ice, but I was also able to integrate in a community of people passionate about sharing the intricacies of this incredibly diverse and inspiring ecosystem with others.

* * * * *

Top photo of Mount Baker by Skagit photographer Andy Porter, available for purchase on his website at www.andyporterimages.com

Manasseh Franklin was a Creative Resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in the Spring of 2016. She is a writer, mountain guide, educator and adventurer who seeks big, hearty landscapes, and then writes about the experience of them. Franklin graduated from the University of Wyoming with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Environment and Natural Resources and seeks to bridge the gap between science and experiential narrative. Her words have appeared in AFAR, Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, Western Confluence, Aspen Sojourner, Yoga International and Suburban Life River Towns magazines, in addition to several newspapers, blogs and websites. Learn more about her work at http://glaciersinmotion.wordpress.com and http://manassehfrass.wordpress.com.

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Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change

April 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Join North Cascades Institute at Village Books in Bellingham on May 3 at 7 pm for a free reading by Kathleen Dean Moore from her new book Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change.

Oregon writer Kathleen Dean Moore founded her reputation as a top-notch writer through several books that gracefully combined natural history, philosophy and meditations on being human, as in Riverwalking, Pine Island Paradox and Wild Comfort. Her focus took an urgent turn in 2011 with Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, a collection of essays she co-edited featuring essays from thought leaders like E.O. Wilson, Thomas Friedman, bell hooks and the Dalai Lama on the moral responsibilities we have for safeguarding Planet Earth.

Moral Ground made the case that the threatened climate catastrophe was a moral catastrophe, and it called for a strong moral response based on our love for the children, commitment to social justice and a reverence for life,” she explained to me recently in an email. “After the book was published, I hit the road [including a reading at the Whatcom Museum during their 2013 “Vanishing Ice” exhibit]. For three years, I spoke in every place that would have me – church basements to town plazas – listening to the people who so deeply cared, wrestling with the questions they asked, watching the world change.”

Her new book Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change is a result of her climate change “listening tour,” a deeply-felt manifesto that ponders, as Moore explained, “How can I bring some clarity to the hard questions? How can we all find the courage and the communities of caring that make it possible to keep trying? How is it possible to open peoples’ hearts without breaking them?”

With sections along the lines of “A Call to Care,” “A Call to Witness” and “A Call to Act,” Moore has written a guidebook for modern day environmentalists and climate activists that is both grave and restorative.

“Writing Great Tide Rising lifted my spirits,” the writer told me, “because when you look for them, there are logical and creative answers to the hardest questions. When you look for them, there are people all around the globe who are standing up to the forces that would wreck the world. And when you look around, you see that there is so much worth saving. These are the stories I wanted to tell.”

Here’s an excerpt from Moore’s new book:

» Continue reading Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change