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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.

KDM-0503-event

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

Gaines

Patience and Persistence: An Interview with Grizzly Bear Biologist Bill Gaines

December 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Bill Gaines has been at the forefront of the grizzly bear recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest for 25 years. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about the historical struggles of recovery efforts, the impacts of other carnivores in the North Cascades ecosystem and the role education must play in order to successfully implement recover efforts.

Mike Rosekrans: What initially got you interested in bears?

Bill Gaines: I finished my undergrad and went into my Masters pretty quickly where I studied harlequin ducks, so I really wasn’t a bear person coming out of school. I’d always been interested in bears, but it was something I never had the opportunity to focus on. I then went to work for the Forest Service where I was on a crew that was collecting information about habitat for bears in the North Cascades as part of an effort that started in the mid-80’s and ended in the early-90’s to evaluate whether the Cascades had the capability to support a recovered population of grizzly bears. I was working on the habitat side of that process as a field crew person. The fellow who was leading the habitat evaluation wound up moving after a few years, so in the late 80’s I found myself taking over the role of the leader of the habitat evaluation component. It then became pretty obvious to me that I needed to immerse myself in bear biology and ecology.

I began going to different meetings where I got to meet all these interesting people from all over the world who got to work with bears. I immersed myself in the literature, and had an opportunity to get involved with research on black bears in the Cascades for my PhD dissertation. This really gave me the opportunity to get into the research side and get out in the field and track bears around and start learning about how they behave here in the Cascades.

I got to be very intimate with many of the parts of the Cascades and had black bears radio collared on the eastside and the westside. So it was four years of field research that really became a dream job! That got me hooked on bears and I started to become more and more fascinated with their ecology, their intelligence, and their behavior. After I finished my PhD, I became involved with the development of the recovery planning for the grizzly bear in the Cascades.

MR: How important is it to reach the younger generation, who will ultimately be the future managers, to just go out and to educate the general public?

» Continue reading Patience and Persistence: An Interview with Grizzly Bear Biologist Bill Gaines

Jon Reidel

Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

October 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

What do you do if you are a young midwestern college graduate with a degree in geology and a yearning for adventure, wilderness and outdoor work in the West? “You go to where the action is,” says Jon Riedel, and for him, that meant the North Cascades.

The North Cascades’ superlative features would excite any geologist: it’s the most glaciated region in the Lower 48, with the most vertical relief; the bedrock floor of Lake Chelan sits more than two thousand feet below sea level; dozens of ice ages and glaciations have contorted the landscape into an infinite number of “problems” waiting to be solved. And better yet, the region had largely been ignored by geologists due to its remoteness and difficult access. Riedel found his calling and soon landed a job with North Cascades National Park as a geologist.

“The deductive approaches used in geomorphology—the study of the earth’s surface—caught on with me,” he explains.“The ability to read the landscape and see into the past was intoxicating.”

Coming from the Midwest, Riedel found that everything in the North Cascades was different: the brush was thick and the slopes steep, making exposed rock difficult to find and study sites challenging to get to. So Riedel focused on more easily visible surficial geology features such as alluvial fans, floodplains, terraces, moraines, valleys, and of course, glaciers. With persistence and many miles underfoot, Riedel began to understand what makes the North Cascades unique.

» Continue reading Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

Cascades-frog-2

Amphibians of North Cascades National Park: Their Importance, Sensitivity, Habitats, Threats and Management Implications

July 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Chelsea Elizabeth Ernst, Candidate for Master’s of Environmental Education

The North Cascades are a rugged and dramatic landscape that offers habitat to thousands of plant and animal species and is an epicenter for biodiversity in the contiguous 48 United States. The ecosystem within North Cascades National Park (NOCA) is a popular location for mountaineers and naturalists alike. Many of the people who visit NOCA come hoping to see one of its charismatic megafauna, including American black bear, grey wolf, or the elusive wolverine.

However, an often-overlooked group of organisms that thrive in the Park are amphibians. Not only are these creatures fun to search for and fascinating to study, they are an important contributor to the NOCA ecosystem. Wild and preserved places like NOCA offer amphibians a large landscape in which to thrive, in a world where their numbers are rapidly declining due to anthropogenic effects. Proper research, public education and management strategies can help maintain healthy populations in a group of organisms that are incredibly sensitive to human activity and global climate change.

westernredbackedsalamander1

Western redback salamander

The Importance of Amphibians to Ecosystems and People

Due to the nature of amphibious life cycles, being both aquatic and terrestrial, they occupy multiple trophic levels — as predators, primary consumers, detritivores, cannibals, and either specialists or opportunists — and provide a variety of ecosystem services. (Hocking & Babbitt, 2014, pg. 6).

As larvae, many salamanders and frogs are aquatic and regulate nutrient cycling in streams, ponds, and riparian areas. Nutrient cycling contribution by amphibians is apparent in every stage of their life cycle: from eggs that do not hatch providing nutrients to larger riparian consumers to tadpoles scraping diatoms off of rocks. As adults, they can comprise a large portion of the biomass aquatic ecosystems.

Amphibians also play a role in providing ecosystem services that affect people. Frogs often eat insects that that are capable of spreading disease among humans. Culturally, frogs have been important as a clan totem for Native American tribes such as the Tlingit in Alaska. According to the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Center website (2011):

The frog is a sign to our people to put away the winter activities and prepare for a new season. The frog symbolizes cleansing, peace and rebirth. In Northwest Aboriginal Culture, a Frog is a great communicator and often represents the common ground or voice of the people. A Frog embodies magic and good fortune connected with shaman or medicine man and with spiritual and therapeutic cleansing. Frog’s songs are believed to contain divine power and magic. Frog is a messenger and communicator between species being valued for his adaptability because he freely travels between and survives in two worlds land and water, inhabiting both natural and supernatural realms. (Animal Symbology)

Frogs and salamanders have been important throughout history to humans physically and spiritually. They also provide nostalgia for many folks who enjoyed tromping about riparian areas as children in search of amphibious friends.

Western toad

Amphibians’ Environmental Sensitivity

Amphibians are considered indicator species in the ecosystems they inhabit. When their populations decrease, it is often the first sign to humans that other organisms are at risk and that that ecosystem may be unhealthy. Certain aspects of amphibians’ physiology and ecology make them particularly sensitive to changes in ecosystems. As a result of these sensitivities to largely anthropogenic-induced fluctuations in their habitats, Hocking and Babbitt (2014) write that “amphibians are currently the most imperiled class, with approximately 41% of more than 7,000 amphibian species on the planet threatened with extinction” (pg. 1).

Because amphibians require water during part or all of their life cycle, climate change has a substantial impact on them. In the west, important amphibian habitats like high alpine lakes and montane wetlands are drying and warming (Ryan, Palen, Adams, & Rochefort, 2014). Their physiology makes them sensitive to climate change, among other environmental factors. Amphibians breathe cutaneously, absorbing moisture through their skin as part of their respiration process and to stay hydrated. They are ectothermic and require water to regulate their body temperature.

In addition to climate change, deforestation can affect this balance of moisture in ecosystems. Amphibian populations are also sensitive to UV light (Adams et al., 2005), diseases like Chytrid fungus (Chestnut et al., 2014), habitat fragmentation (Pilliod & Wind, 2008), and the introduction of non-native species to habitats (Ryan, Palen, Adams, & Rochefort, 2014).

With the variety of anthropogenic factors that have negative effects on amphibians and the increasing human population, the cause of worldwide amphibian vulnerability is clear. This highlights the importance of amphibian research in relatively untrammelled habitats like NOCA.
Cascades-frog-habitat-1

Amphibian Habitats in North Cascades National Park

» Continue reading Amphibians of North Cascades National Park: Their Importance, Sensitivity, Habitats, Threats and Management Implications

Portraits of Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein’s manifesto on “capitalism vs. the climate”

February 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

By Christian Martin

(Originally published in the Cascadia Weekly, Jan 2015)

In the same week that the Republicans put all of their political muscle in to pushing the Keystone XL Pipeline, the New York Times reported the alarming news that 2014 was the “warmest year ever recorded on Earth.” Another story the next day noted “humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.” The lead author of the new research warned, “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.”

Amidst the unwelcome news, Vancouver-based author and activist Naomi Klein has published the most important book of her career, not to mention “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring,” according to the Times. But be warned: much like reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States of America or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, once you read it, you can never go back to seeing the world the same way as you did before.

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

This Changes Everything is a progressive manifesto, as well as the definitive manual for our warming planet: how we got here, what we’re doing (or not doing) now, and what we need to do next. Klein weaves together climate science, economics, international relations, sociology, geopolitics, psychology, history and more in this fascinating, often dizzying journalistic investigation.

“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” Klein states plainly in the introduction. “Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Klein builds her case for the need to reign in and transform neoliberal free-market capitalism chapter by chapter, page by page, line by line. She zeroes in on three elements of the modern economy that need radical realignment — privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and lower corporate taxation paid for with cuts to public spending –- and excoriates the legacy of free trade and globalization as promoted by the WTO.

Her approach is methodical, and the evidence that she marshals in support of her arguments becomes overwhelming: peer-reviewed scientific studies, public opinion polls, academic research, economic accounting, interviews with experts and activists from around the world. Eventually the reader feels piled on, so overwhelming and frightening are Klein’s findings and prescribed remedies.

But, surprisingly, her main mission with this tome seems to be to deliver hope.

Rather than leave readers with an apocalyptic doomsday vision, Klein writes that global climate change offers us “a catalyzing forces for positive change”:

“It could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights – all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality without our nations and between them.”

The last third of Klein’s book is devoted to explicating hopeful signs that positive changes are not only possible, but already underway. She cites the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, reinvigoration of Indigenous sovereignty, growth of renewable and community-owned energy projects and on-the-ground resistance she dubs “Blockadia.”

“Can we pull it off?” Klein, like her readers, wonders. “All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.”


 

ReSources in Bellingham is offering a free six–part workshop series on “Energy & Climate: the defining issue of our time,” Thursdays 6:30-8 pm through February 26. Info at www.re-sources.org/events/workshops-events.

Other useful online resources for learning about solutions to Climate Change:

www.climatesolutions.org

www.powerpastcoal.org

www.thischangeseverything.org.