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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

polly-dyer

Polly Dyer: NW conservation hero passes away at age 96

November 23rd, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

In the North Cascades, a mosaic of public lands—national, state, and provincial parks, national forests, wilderness and recreation areas—protects many of the region’s most beloved areas. It’s easy to take their stewardship for granted—few today would argue against preserving natural treasures like Mount Baker, the Picket Range, Cascade Pass, and Suiattle River—but in truth, Washingtonians owe a great deal of gratitude to early visionaries like Polly Dyer.

Without Dyer and her ilk, imagine what might have been: Clear-cuts in the Stehekin Valley. A half-mile-wide open-pit copper mine in the shadow of Glacier Peak. The ancient cedars of the Little Beaver Valley drowned underwater. And elsewhere in the state, a ski area, tramway, and golf course on Mount Rainier; the Hoh River valley excised from Olympic National Park and sold for timber. Instead of the most primitive stretch of coastline in the Lower 48, a scenic highway running along the beaches from La Push to Shi Shi.

Dyer’s six decades of writing letters, organizing volunteers, attending meetings, serving on committees, and lobbying legislators in both Washingtons have helped keep some of our most spectacular landscapes intact. And in the era before social media, virtual meet-ups, and online petitions, those conservation efforts required a lot of legwork, fundraising, face-to-face negotiations, and pots of coffee.

Born in Honolulu in 1920, Pauline Dyer saw a wide swath of America as her father moved around the country following Coast Guard postings: Seattle, New York City, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Florida, and finally, Alaska. Summers at Girl Scout camp introduced her to the natural world, but the raw wilderness of Alaska provided what she later called “the basis for my whole life since.”

She met her husband, John, on the trail, and together they explored coastal areas like Glacier Bay in a sixteen-foot skiff, reading John Muir to pass the time. They moved to Berkeley, hiking the Sierra Nevada and becoming active in the Sierra Club, before finally settling down in the Seattle area in 1950, where the Cascades to the east and Olympics to the west fueled their passion for hiking, climbing, and conservation. Polly joined The Mountaineers and chaired the club’s Conservation Committee; established the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club, the first chapter outside of California; helped lead the Olympic Park Associates; and cofounded the North Cascades Conservation Council.

Preserving wild places has been Dyer’s undying passion. “It is a priceless asset which all the dollars man can accumulate will not buy back,” she testified before the US Senate, in support of what would become the Wilderness Act of 1964. With fellow conservationist Howard Zahniser, she is credited with the elegant definition of wilderness enshrined in that legislation: “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Discussing her innate love of wilderness, Dyer exclaims that nature brought her “almost unbounded joy. I wanted to stretch out my arms and bring it all up close to me. I felt that it was literally a part of me.”

» Continue reading Polly Dyer: NW conservation hero passes away at age 96

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We don’t know what we’ve already lost: A road trip

July 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

As much as we love North Cascadian landscapes, we here at the Institute are still called to visit and experience other amazing places on our planet. We publish accounts of the places Institute staff and graduate students visit in our Road Trip series.

By David “Hutch” Hutchison, naturalist at the Institute.

We paddle our small boats upon the black still water, reflecting a mirror image of the great sandstone walls rising perpendicularly from its depth.  The mountains beyond covered in snow on this early March morning provide a stunning backdrop and increase our sense of remoteness.   Each paddle stroke brings us further into the land of sandstone canyons, the land of water reclamation, of summer recreation, and the great pause which the Colorado River makes along its journey to the Sea of Cortez.  We have entered a land of contrast; nature and human design merge here in beauty and tragedy, revealing much, while obscuring much more.

Lake Powell, so named in honor of the first European/American expedition to explore the length of the Green and Colorado Rivers, remains a beautiful place despite the changes made by the Glen Canyon dam.  During our six days on the waterway in sea kayaks, we explore only a relatively small area of this vast reservoir.  Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
The tributaries and channels of the watershed are now backfilled creating a labyrinth of flat, motionless water, a maze of passages which cry out for the slow exploration of motorless boating.  At this time of year, the houseboats and party barges remain quietly moored in their harbors and our only companions are the occasional early-rising fisherman buzzing to a secret spot among the myriad twists of side-canyons and channels which make these hectares of water feel so expansive and at once so intimate.

» Continue reading We don’t know what we’ve already lost: A road trip

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunting in winter snowfall. Ontario, Canada.

Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

December 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

I’m fortunate to get to review books for various regional publications, most often in the Cascadia Weekly. I get the privilege and pleasure of being sent many books throughout the year, usually on “nature topics,” both fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry, art, photography and conservation issues. Here at the end of 2015, I’ve selected some of my favorite coffee table-style books that present the natural world in all of its glory!  — CM

TheLivingBird_PRINT

The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
Photography by Gerrit Vyn (Mountaineers Books)

This handsome volume brings to life the work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a venerable institute that has been researching – and communicating to the public – the complex lives of birds since 1915. Leading chroniclers of the natural world contribute essays, including Barbara Kingsolver, Jared Diamond, Lyanda Lynn Haupt and Scott Weidensaul, but the real star of these pages is photographer Gerrit Vyn. His crisp images of nesting Snow Owls, dancing Greater Prairie-Chickens, migrating Sandhill Cranes, flocking Trumpeter Swans and beachcombing Sanderlings share as intimate a portrait of bird life as has ever been produced. (Top photo of Great Grey Owl by Vyn)


Grizzly 

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Grizzly: The Bears of Greater Yellowstone
Thomas D. Mangelsen (Rizzoli)

Photographer Thomas Mangelson is renowned for his stunning photographs of the world’s wildlife and exotic locales, but for Grizzly, he focuses his lens in on a family of bears in his own backyard: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This veritable Eden is rich with elk, moose, antelope, bison and other creatures, but the return of brown bears (and gray wolves too) is a recent phenomenon. Beginning in 2006, Mangelsen began creating a “visual journal” of the life and times of Grizzly #399, a matriarch of the Ursus arctos horribilis clans of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because she inhabits the frontcountry around Grand Teton National Park, she was relatively visible and attracted a legion of admirers. Grizzly intimately chronicles her life and times raising three cubs, hunting elk, playing in wildflower meadows, swimming the Snake River and doing a delicate dance amongst her humans fan club. This large-format book is empathetic and moving tribute to the more-than-human world.


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Pacific Valley

California’s Wild Edge: The Coast in Poetry, Prints and History
Tom Killian with Gary Snyder (Heyday Press)

Writer and woodcut artist Tom Killian conducts a multi-level exploration of California’s Pacific Coast through art, poetry, Native American stories, records of early explorers and varied contributions from writer, bioregional philosopher and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder. Killian’s 80 stunning, colorful woodblock prints, influenced by the 19th-century Japanese technique of ukiyo-ë, say the most about these places with the fewest words. San Francisco Bay, Pt. Reyes, Bolinas Ridge, Monterey Bay, Pt. Sur, Tomales Bay and other scenic waypoints along the ragged California coast are exquisitely rendered. His carvings blend the accuracy of natural history with the impressionistic imagination of an artist. Striking a fine balance between romantic and representational, his artwork shares what a   landscape viewed through the lens of respect and love looks like.


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Soul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska
John Baldwin & Linda Bily (Harbour Publishing)

» Continue reading Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

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

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Mountain School fifth-graders help restore Bowman Bay

December 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By KERA WANIELISTA for the Skagit Valley Herald, November 23, 2015

BOWMAN BAY — Bracing against the wind at Deception Pass State Park’s Bowman Bay, 10-year-old EmmaLee Grove put the force of her entire body into digging a hole on the beach’s newly restored shoreline.

When the hole was sufficiently deep, EmmaLee and her best friend Kadence Yonkman placed the roots of a small, leafless tree — which they had named Wilbur — into it, then covered the roots with rich, dark gray mud.

“I think Wilbur’s going to be happy,” EmmaLee said.

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Nearby, about 70 Fidalgo Elementary School students planted other trees, shrubs and ground cover.

“We’re rebuilding the habitat for animals and bugs,” Kadence said.

That morning, Fidalgo’s three classes of fifth-graders were the first student group to help restore habitat at Bowman Bay. Three more classes from Island View Elementary School headed to the beach in the afternoon.

“We really just want to re-create the entire ecosystem,” said Lisa Kaufman, Northwest Straits Foundation nearshore program manager. “The habitat (then) can do what it wants to do and what it needs to do.”

The fifth-graders’ work to restore the beach came after a three-day trip to the North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School.

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» Continue reading Mountain School fifth-graders help restore Bowman Bay

MS Fall 2015 Cover

Mountain School: Celebrating 25 Years and the end of the Fall Season

November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

For the past 25 years, the North Cascades Institute has been teaching students about their wild nearby through the Mountain School program. The program started back in 1990 and was based out of Newhalem, WA. Tracie Johannessen, who lead the program when it started and is the current Education Director at the Institute, informed the newest Mountain School instructors during training that “Mountain School used to be based out of tents in Newhalem. Other than the location change (up to the Environmental Learning Center in Diablo in 2005) and tweeks in the curriculum here and there, the program has been consistent.”

The typical, three day program for fifth grade students has a simple ABC format: Abiotic, Biotic and Community days. As Tracie said, every student coming for Mountain School over the past 25 years has experienced the North Cascades in this way. This fall 1,230 students from 19 schools joined this legacy.

MS Fall 2015 Bus

Two students ready for an awesome three days!

After driving anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours on a bus, the students arrive with big smiles and arms full of luggage. Some of the schools have been coming for 25 years, so these students have been hearing about this journey from their older schoolmates. They then drop off the luggage and go through a humorous and informative orientation about the Environmental Learning Center, the North Cascades National Park, and what to expect for the next three days. The students are then divided into trail groups of 10 students maximum per instructor.

» Continue reading Mountain School: Celebrating 25 Years and the end of the Fall Season