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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


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)


Mangelsen_Grizzly- - 6

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.


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.


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


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

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bears In the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 3)

October 26th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

With the near extermination of the grizzly came a tremendous loss to the ecosystem. Grizzlies play an important role in the natural environment as pollinators, seed dispersers, and soil aerators. Grizzlies, by digging with their long claws for grubs and flower bulbs, will upturn many rocks and help to aerate the soil. Through this aeration process, the soil becomes healthier from the turning of nutrients and loosing of the soil, which allows water to flow more freely to the roots of the plants and allowing those plants to better absorb nutrients. By digging and upturning the soil, grizzlies also assist in the pollination and seed dispersal process as well.

The grizzly is what is known as an “umbrella species.” In an article published on The Encyclopedia of Earth website Nathaly Agosto Fillion describes this term, “The concept of an umbrella species has been used by conservation practitioners to provide protection for other species using the same habitat as the umbrella species. As the term implies, a species casts an umbrella over the other species by being more or equally sensitive to habitat changes. Thus monitoring this one species and managing for its continued success results in the maintenance of high quality habitat for the other species in the area. Animals identified as umbrella species typically have large home ranges that cover multiple habitat types. Therefore, protecting the umbrella species effectively protects many habitat types and the many species that depend on those habitats.” (Filion, 2014).

The concept of the grizzly being an umbrella species would provide evidence that the North Cascades Ecosystem is healthy and that other species would be flourishing as well. Having the grizzly bear as a member of the ecosystem and with the anticipated restoration of the fisher, a small carnivore of the weasel family, the North Cascades would be one of only a few North American ecosystems that contain its original carnivore species prior to European settlement (NPS, 2015).

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears In the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 3)


Grizzly Bears In the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 2)

September 10th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

The grizzly has been a part of the North American continent for fifty thousand years. Grizzlies are part of the Brown Bear family that originated in Eurasia and crossed the Bering land bridge during the last ice age. For nearly 10,000 years grizzlies and humans coexisted in North America. Many first nations and indigenous tribes revered the great bear and honored it in ceremony. Many Native American legends even include the grizzly in creation stories.

North America once held as many as 100,000 grizzly bears in a range extending from the northernmost tip of Alaska, across the Yukon, down through the Cascade, Sierra Nevada and Coast ranges of Washington, Oregon, and California; down the entire stretch of the Rocky Mountains; into the great plains as far east as Minnesota and down to Mexico’s Sierra Madre.


Today the grizzly bear inhabits a mere 2% of its former range in the contiguous United States.

How did an animal as great as the grizzly, a top predator in the ecosystems it inhabited, nearly reach the point of extermination?

To answer this question we need only look to one of America’s proudest accomplishments: the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The grizzly bear has been an animal surrounded by myth and has been associated with trepidation and animosity since the Lewis and Clark Expedition first came across the large bruin in 1804. Journals from the expedition described the grizzly as a “monster bear and a most terrible enemy.” The killing and eradication began with this expedition where they were said to have killed about 40 grizzlies.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears In the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 2)


Institute Comments on North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan

March 24th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

To: Superintendent, North Cascades National Park Service Complex

From: Saul Weisberg, Executive Director, North Cascades Institute

Subject: Institute Comments on North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to comment during the scoping process for the North Cascades Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan / Environmental Impact Statement.

North Cascades Institute strongly supports active restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem.

For nearly 30 years North Cascades Institute has brought students of all ages to explore the mountains and rivers of the North Cascades. Ranging in age from 8 to 80, our participants come to experience, discover, learn from, and share this special part of the world. Now, the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and their partner agencies have the opportunity to restore a critical missing part of the wilderness puzzle that is the North Cascades – healthy populations of Grizzly Bears.

There are many reasons why grizzly bears should be restored to the North Cascades:

  • Grizzly bears are a keystone species of the North Cascade. Through predation, scavenging and ground disturbance they impact the ecosystem and its wildlife and vegetation in profound and important ways. The loss of the few remaining grizzly bears would significantly degrade the ecosystem, from both a ecological and cultural point of view.
  • With the restoration of grizzly bear and pacific fisher populations, the North Cascades ecosystem will have its full complement of native wildlife. This represents a plus for park visitors, as well as sustainable growth in local and regional economies through increased visitation and longer stays. Grizzlies, and wolves, fuel year-round visitation, guiding services and education opportunities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
  • Public support for grizzly restoration in the region is strong. While there would be challenges to restoration, in a predominately wilderness ecosystem of nearly 10,000 sq. miles, conflict with humans and livestock should be limited and controllable. Ongoing education and monitoring will be needed and has demonstrated success in other regions of the west.
  • Restoration would contribute to ecosystem biodiversity and benefit present and future generations of Americans who live in ever increasing numbers in the ten counties that make up and surround the North Cascades.
  • The North Cascades provide excellent grizzly bear habitat. Even though these magnificent animals have been nearly eliminated from the ecosystem, research indicates the North Cascades provide excellent grizzly habitat. Grizzly restoration would likely succeed with active support from the land management agencies and local communities. Such activities should begin soon.


Because North Cascades Institute brings significant numbers of people to the ecosystem to take part in conservation education programs, we have looked into issues of safety and risk management with peer organizations that operate in grizzly country. Yellowstone Association Institute and Teton Science Schools have worked with tens of thousands of school children, families and adults for over 40 years in the Yellowstone backcountry. If grizzlies were restored to the North Cascades, the additional protocols we would put in place, in addition to standard “bear aware” practices that we already require from all participants, is a minimum group size of four, with group leaders carrying bear spray. These protocols are basic for anyone visiting wilderness areas that contain large carnivores.

At North Cascades Institute we look forward to educating our students about grizzly bears, and one day standing with those students, looking out over an intact, healthy ecosystem, knowing the grizzly has returned home.


SPECIAL EVENT!: Evolution of the Genus Iris ~ Robert Michael Pyle Reading, Bellingham 5/10

May 5th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Evolution of the Genus Iris
A reading by Robert Michael Pyle
Saturday, May 10, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham

 “What a record we might have of the world’s hidden beauty if field scientists and poets routinely spent time in one another’s company.” — Alison Hawthorne Deming, from “Attending to the Beautiful Mess of the World” in The Way of Natural History

What better than a portable book of poems for a quick fix, one-way guarantee to reconnect with this hidden beauty which Deming conjures? A few stanzas, maybe just a handful of syllables, of sensory salvation for the time stressed, the pressed, those who have renounced staring dumbly at a screen or watching, heaven forbid, televised talking heads.

All Things Considered

Two river otters fished the Salmon,

diving and rising side by side, almost

down to the surf. Watching

their sleek and pointy loop-de-loop,

over and over and over,

I managed to miss

the evening news.

In his first full-length book of poetry, Evolution of the Genus Iris (Lost Horse Press, 2014), Robert Michael Pyle brings us the real news, live and uncensored from the natural world. A naturalist, lepidopterist, writer and field-class teacher at the North Cascades Institute, Pyle interprets the wild field with the eyes and notebook of both a scientist and a poet, as fellow writer Alison Hawthorne Deming wishfully imagines. The union is powerful. But Pyle does more than report from the web of life. He simultaneously offers solace from the verdant house of the holy by penning poetry that keeps us in the present, with feet grounded in the mud and moss. As he asks, also in the aforementioned book, The Way of Natural History, “Isn’t it enough that the pursuit of deep natural history is one of the surest paths toward an entirely earthly state of enlightenment?”

IMG_8236It is hard to ignore the genus Iris. (This is an heirloom bearded specimen from Alcatraz Island, part of another national park.)

Pyle’s Evolution gives a resounding “yes”. Before exploring the book’s ecological innards, though, its cover alone is stunning enough: Purple Fire by artist Lexi Sundell, a painting of a bearded iris with brush strokes from lightest lavender to midnight plum. This tantalizing botany, in tandem with a blank first page of royal violet, is the paper portal into a majestic realm of words, wings and petals. Mimicking pollinators, let’s dive into the center.

IMG_9462The beautiful mess of the natural world: Can you spot the three small invertebrates snug in this lupine? From left to right: An unidentified tan spider, a bumblebee carrying huge sacs of tangerine-colored pollen, a crab spider. So much habitat in one inflorescence!

I like/butterflies/quite a lot./But flies/(minus the butter)/abound,/and few/folks notice/except to/swat. So Pyle writes in “Dip-tych,” raising the banner for those less pretty, feces-loving insects even most naturalists seem to routinely kill without remorse or question. In another poem, “Releasing the Horseflies,” he becomes a screen-door naturalist: ….I can’t stand/frustration in any animal,/and a big fly battering a screen/is the very definition of frustration./And, oh! their stripéd silken eyes/are beautiful. Speaking up for the voiceless and the underdogs (or flies, in this case) is a specialty of both ecologists and poets. Pyle, embodying both, effortlessly lends his own integrity to this tradition.

The use of beautiful natural phenomena to elucidate hateful cultural shortcomings is another of Pyle’s talents as an author and a thinker. “Pink Pavements,” for example, uses the shattered blush blossoms of cherry trees to connect daily life across America to daily life in occupied Iraq. Or take Blues,” which tracks the constancy of azure-winged butterflies and jays across twenty years while, during that same time, 58,022 names were added to the stone wall-list of fallen soldiers. Freedom may not be free, so some chant, but taking flight as bird, insect or flower petal seems the epitome of this cherished concept.

IMG_6243How the sidewalks flush and run/when cherries, crabs, and apples shed/their petal pelts. —from “Pink Pavements”

Pyle finds freedom in the quiet revolution of “The Librarians,” as well (The walnut will drop its leaves, and one of these nights/the spider will freeze. Books too will die,/they say. But don’t believe it.), and in the unencumbered play of children, as described in “The Girl With the Cockleburs in Her Hair:”

We were talking about how children don’t

get out any more. She showed me

her daughter on her cell phone:

big pout, and four big burs

caught up in her hair.

that girl, I said, is

going to be


(Also, semi spoiler-alert: Post-Evolution, it will be difficult to consider a baby bird or a tulip exclusive of each other again.)

Pyle’s 54 poems travel from Tajikistan to Yellowstone, yet some of the best honor local Pacific Northwest celebrities: banana slugs, salmonberries, Lookout Creek. It is exciting to read the names of various species and regional landscapes, like seeing a roster of old friends with their names illuminated on the marquee, our critterly comrades and natural wonders getting the recognition they deserve. There’s pipsissewa and oxalis and varied thrushes and more, many more — a huge sampling of local biodiversity bound in one celebratory book.

banana slug K. RenzA Pacific Northwest gastropod celeb and famous decomposer, the banana slug.

My personal favorite, though, was the collection’s last. “Notes From the Edge of the Known World” is made up of three meaty stanzas telling the story of the whole grand cycle, from birth and life to death and decomposition. This printed poem itself was enough —  it was Every Thing after all, time and matter and space, the whole she-bang. But I’m a sucker for the Acknowledgements page, which followed, for who knows what connections and sweetnesses are to be found in the lists of helpful friends? Evolution‘s was no exception. I noticed that Pyle thanked Krist Novoselic, the bass player of a band from Aberdeen called Nirvana that rose to massive, worldwide popularity in September 1991. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Nirvana was the band that put Washington state on my map when I was twelve years-old. The Vision! Not only did their lead singer teach me the word “empathy,” which I now use almost daily in writing and teaching about the natural world, but had I not been obsessed with running away to Seattle as soon as I got my driver’s license (which didn’t happen), I probably wouldn’t be here now, going to graduate school 19 years later.

So imagine this editor’s surprise and delight to discover that Pyle and Novoselic — who these days is busy with political activism, farming, writing and still, music — teamed up to present “Notes From the Edge of the Known World.” Pyle reads, Novoselic fingerpicks an acoustic guitar and youtube gives viewers easy access to a video interspersed with both the performers and ecological scenery (including a rough-skinned newt!). The writer and the musician are both active in organizing the Grays River Grange, in the Lower Columbia region of southwest Washington. The tune was recorded and mixed by Jack Endino, who also did Nirvana’s 1989 debut album, Bleach.

Good poetry the same as good ecology, and good music: It makes the fallible, all-too-conscious human feel not so alone in the world. Whether drawing out our kinship with a horsefly or with hanging blue cotton panties drying in the wind, Pyle shows, once again, that relationships are everywhere inescapable.

IMG_3868A monarch caterpillar munching on an Asclepias, or milkweed. This plant supplies monarchs with alkaloids that make them toxic to predators.


BPYLE.Benjamin Drummond

The poet himself.

Evolution of the Genus Iris
A reading by Robert Michael Pyle
Saturday, May 10, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham

Leading photo: Graduate student Tyler Chisholm takes a break from teaching Mountain School to read some color-coordinated poetry in the woods.

Photo of Robert Michael Pyle by Benjamin Drummond. All other photos by the author.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Though she rarely watches the Smells Like Teen Spirit video anymore, when she does she’s filled with regret that she failed to commandeer her high school’s cheerleading team.




Sam drawing by Stamati

Alighting the Entire Sky: Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26th, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program



All this time

The sun never says to the earth,


“You owe




What happens

With a love like that,

It lights the



–Hafiz, Persian poet, “The Sun Never Says,” 1325-1390

Hafiz is right. There exists a reciprocation in ecology and cosmology that would do us humans well to observe and emulate in all of our daily acts. And like the sun’s energy, the gifts of gratitude cost nothing. Deriving from the Latin gratis, or “free of charge,” it is a democratic emotion, accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Diablo Sun HaleRadiating from behind Pyramid, offering power in many forms. That ol’ sun just keeps on….goin’. Photo by Samantha Hale.

But perhaps most important, this ability to express gratitude might be one of the best prescriptions in the environmentalist’s medicine chest, providing as it does an antidote to Aldo Leopold’s sagely assertion from 1949’s A Sand County Almanac:

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

Gratitude won’t magically cure the illness, but a dose can’t help but turbo-charge the immune system. Giving thanks is a gracious counter-balance, as well, to the sense of runaway entitlement that could be argued is at the root of our global environmental destruction. Offering small, constant kindnesses humbles ourselves while honoring the others.

In celebration of tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, then, let’s practice a little gratitude, shall we?

“I’m grateful for the rain, for the cold sunshine and for the blustery days. For the frost in the mornings and the (occasional) clear starry nights. For friendships and family, for candles and lots of food. For the approach of winter and the ever-shortening days. I love it all.” – Ryan Weisberg, graduate student and former Chattermarks editor, Cohort 12

friendsgiving.HaleLots of food! An early “Friendsgiving” potluck by the folks at the Environmental Learning Center. Photo by Samantha Hale.

“I’m grateful for having found this graduate program and this institute and the amazing and little-known national park around it!” – Annabel Connelly, graduate student, Cohort 13

» Continue reading Alighting the Entire Sky: Happy Thanksgiving!