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Who Cares About Beavers? We Do!

June 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Melissa Biggs, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Everyone, meet Chompers!  In October 2016, during the fall natural history trip, my cohort helped the Methow Beaver Project volunteers to release the last 3 beavers of the season.  So much fun! We carried the beavers for several miles and released them at Beaver Creek. When we opened the cage, Chompers went right into the water.  It was fascinating to watch the three beavers explore their new environment.  This summer, the Methow Beaver Project workers will locate Chompers and the other two beavers to record their journey since the fall. This experience made me more curious about beavers and their role in the ecosystem. As I did more research, I realized how awesome beavers are!

Beavers are so wonderful that they are known as environmental engineers.  Beavers are known as a “keystone” species because of their large effects on landscapes.  It only takes a few beavers to transform a watershed entirely.  Beavers, with the exception of human beings, do more to shape their landscape than any other Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets! Beavers are also a “foundation” species because their presence and their creations, such as dams, allow other plants and animals to exist.  

Beavers’ creations are essential to its environment for many reasons.  First, beaver dams are natural filters, as they capture and store much of the sediment.  Streams that have been shaped by beavers have 10 times greater purification capability than streams without beavers.  Also, beaver dams store water, thus leading to the increased size of wetlands. Beaver dams can help mitigate the effects of drought and the loss of wetland and riparian habitats due to their abilities to store shallow groundwater and retention of surface water behind dams.   This is important because almost half of endangered and threatened species in North America rely upon wetlands.  Also, freshwater wetlands have been rated as the world’s most valuable land-based ecosystem.  Beaver ponds increase both the water we can see on the surface and also what is stored beneath the pond.  This helps increase the riparian area and vegetative productivity.  Not only do beaver dams store water, they also help slow down the water flow, which is why they are known as ‘nature’s speed bumps.’  They reduce stream velocity and power, which helps reduce erosion rates and the amount of sediment carried downstream.  This effect across the upper watershed could provide more time for flood planning, protection and evacuation of high risk, residential areas.  Beaver ponds also help stabilize the water temperature both in the shallow and deeper areas – they help cool down streams, creating better conditions for fish, especially trout.  Last, but not last, beavers’ modification on watersheds help increase organic material, such as cut wood and flooded plants, sediment with nutrients attached and more water surface area for photosynthesis to occur, which results in more aquatic biodiversity and food for fish.  Without beavers and the role they play in watersheds, most of the biodiversity that are associated with wetland habitats would disappear.


Chompers in his cage right before he’s released! Image courtesy of Melissa Biggs

» Continue reading Who Cares About Beavers? We Do!

What is a Leadership Track?

May 24th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As a current graduate student in the M.Ed. residency program at North Cascades Institute, I and the rest of my cohort, will soon celebrate the end of our spring quarter here in the North Cascades. Our residency at NCI has engaged us deeply with the natural and cultural history of the area through place-based and experiential learning courses and quarterly field studies in the Methow Valley. We have had room to grow as educators, designing curriculum and instructing Mountain School to elementary, middle and high school students across the state. We have learned the inner workings of nonprofit administration under the guidance of Executive Director, Saul Weisberg, and various NCI staff members. With these four quarters completed, the final stage of our time here in the North Cascades is our Leadership Track.

What is a Leadership Track?
Leadership Tracks are the culminating residency experience, serving as an avenue for practicing leadership skills in a professional setting. These summer internships generally fall in a content area that students are interested in pursuing beyond the graduate program. Content areas currently include curriculum and/or program design and implementation, administrative duties, outdoor and environmental education, food sustainability, stewardship projects, and youth mentorship. A $2,500 leadership fellowship is awarded upon completion of the final quarter of the residency portion of the program.

Last year, the 15th graduate cohort filled Leadership Track positions all over the Cascade region. While most of our graduate work throughout the year focuses on programming here at NCI, our Leadership Track position offers us the opportunity to work with different agencies and organizations in the local area. They also allow graduate students to engage with diverse participant audiences or groups that they may wish to pursue working with in the future.

» Continue reading What is a Leadership Track?

Photo Roundup: May 7 2017

May 7th, 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.

Rufous hummingbirds in Diablo, Washington. Photos by Daniel Dubie

A fun photo by graduate student, Daniel Dubie, watching the rufous hummingbirds take over his bird feeder in the town of Diablo. These feisty hummingbirds are common visitors to bird feeders and can be quite territorial, chasing much larger visiting bird species away. Don’t let their tiny size fool you – despite being just over three inches long, rufous hummingbirds travel roughly 4,000 miles from Alaska to Mexico (one-way), during their long migration each year.

Heartleaf twayblade (Listera cordata), a small orchid, near Ross Lake trailhead. Photo by Daniel Dubie

Glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) on the Fourth of July Pass Trail. Photo by Daniel Dubie

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: May 7 2017

Spring Bird Migration in the Upper Skagit

May 2nd, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Here in upper Skagit River valley – a window into the mighty mountains of the North Cascades – spring is in full swing. Along with the milder temps and the breaks in the clouds, we are also welcoming a flurry of seasonal bird species that call these mountains home for the summer. Over 50 species of migratory birds of all types breed in these mountains and use the Skagit River as their door into the high country.

As the heavy snowpack still hangs to the mountains, the valley is slowly heating up, popping leaves and early spring flowers. Though our first migrating birds have been showing up since February, it’s only been since the middle of March that the breeding migrants have really begun to show up. In the cold spring rain, came the local breeders which have spent the winter in the warm temperate Puget Sound. The song sparrow (Melospiza melodia), northern flicker( Collates auratus), spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) and familiar red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus rubern) showed up just as the snow was melting on the lawns and a few insects were emerging.

A northern flicker. Photo by Dan Dubie

Then on the first day of spring, March 20, the first swallows showed up. A flock of 15 violet green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina) welcomed spring to the upper Skagit with their acrobatic insect catching flights over Gorge Lake. These birds eat only flying insects and many times are found congregating over fields and bodies of water. That day they were a sure sign of warmer times after a long wet winter.

A yellow-rumped warbler. Photo by Dan Dubie

After an unseasonably wet March, April brought warmer temperatures and few more beams of sunlight. The first week of April saw our first migrating warbler species, the yellow-rumped warbler (Dendroica coronata). A very prolific species, it is the first warbler to show up in many parts of the country. It has a beautiful robust trilling song that usually teeters off at the end. Being very showy, it is seen singing in most forest habitats and is distinguished by its bright yellow, black and white plumage while having bright yellow patches on its rump Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets.

Following this first warbler, we’ve seen many more birds show up over the last three weeks. As the flowers have started blooming and the insects hatching daily, we’ve seen large numbers of the following species:

  • yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata)
  • ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula)
  • white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
  • tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)
  • northern rough-winged swallows Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
  • American robins (Turdus migratorius)
  • song sparrows (Melospiza melodia)
  • pine siskins (Spinus pinus)
  • rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorusrufus)

Other species that have been seen but in smaller numbers include:

  • common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
  • black-throated grey warbler (Dendroica nigrescens)
  • Townsend’s warbler (Dendroica townsendi)
  • Nashville warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla)
  • orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata)
  • Wilson’s warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)
  • Cassin’s vireo (Vireo cassinii)
  • Hammond’s flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)
  • barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)
  • cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
  • Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
  • chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina)
  • red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
  • Townsend’s solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)
  • western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Out of these bird species, I want to note the types which have traveled the farthest to reside in these deep forests and valleys. Many of our breeding warblers, our one western tanager, some swallows, some flycatchers, our hummingbirds and our vireos, all make an arduous journey which encompass thousands of miles and countless barriers. Some, such as the western tanager, are so bright and colorful that they yell “jungle” and surely they have just completed their journey all the way from the rainforests of Mexico and Central and South America. Many of our warblers, some in bright yellow and green plumage, also take on a huge journey from the tropics to join us here for our warm lush summer.

A yellow warbler. Photo by Dan Dubie

» Continue reading Spring Bird Migration in the Upper Skagit

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

Photo Roundup: April 23 2017

April 23rd, 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.

Photos by Kay Gallagher

The appearance of the sun at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, has been a rare treat this spring. Last weekend, we had a few beautiful days of sunshine and everyone went out to soak up that vitamin D! Our on-campus graduate students kicked off their Easter with a gorgeous paddle around Diablo Lake.

A rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). Photos by Kay Gallagher

This little one and some friends have been hanging around the lilac bush in front of graduate housing in Diablo, anxiously waiting for it to bloom. Fun fact: a group of hummingbirds can be called a shimmer, a charm, a bouquet or a hover!

Beaver signs near Cascade River. Photos by Calvin Laatsch

Conference and Retreats Coordinator, Calvin Laatsch, saw some pretty distinct beaver markings on this tree along the Cascade River in Marblemount. Beavers, (Castor canadensis) cut down trees, shrubs and other available vegetation for food and building material. Beavers are considered ecosystem engineers – their dams slow the flow of water in a stream, creating wetlands which many native North American fauna species rely on. Dams also slow the movement of nutrient-rich sediment in a stream, causing it to build up in a pond. These sediments not only provide food for creatures who live at the bottom of the pond but also enriches the soil once the water drains away!

This week, Seattle City Light opened a flood gate on Diablo dam to let out excess water from the spring melt. Students walked onto the dam to learn the history of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project and see the water cycle in action. Photo by Angela Burlile

A highlight for many students in the Wolverine trail group was our Sit Spot activity. Done each day, students are asked to find a peaceful place somewhere along the trail and to sit silently, making observations about the natural world around them. Photo by Angela Burlile

It was a gorgeous, sunny day on Friday and Lincoln Elementary School took full advantage of the clear skies and sweeping views of Pyramid and Colonial Peak for this group photo. Photo by Angela Burlile

Mt. Vernon’s Lincoln Elementary School arrived on Wednesday to participate in our Mountain School Program. Students explore how all parts of the ecosystem are interconnected through lessons and activities on the trails surrounding our Environmental Learning Center.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 23 2017

Photo Roundup: April 16 2017

April 16th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

After a month long hiatus, the roundup is back! 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.

Capstones are a culmination of the work and passion behind each graduate students’ studies. For her capstone, Annah Young delivered an experiential presentation on food sovereignty and justice. Photo by Kay Gallagher

At the end of March, we celebrated the graduation of the 15th graduate cohort (C15) here at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. This group of individuals arrived to the ELC in the summer of 2015 and began a year long residency of teaching and learning in the North Cascades. Having just completed their final quarter at Western Washington University, grads returned to the Institute to present their capstone projects and receive their certificates in Non-Profit Leadership & Administration and Northwest Natural History.

 

The Passing of the Paddle ceremony with C15 and C16. Photo by Aly Gourd

During this week of capstone presentations, a little known ceremony – Passing the Paddle – occurs between cohorts. This tradition is a time for the graduating cohort to pass down a paddle to the newest cohort, symbolizing that they are now in control of the direction and movement of the program. Along with the paddle, the graduating cohort offers the newest cohort their final words of advice and wisdom and the expectation that this ceremony will continue on for future cohorts to come.

Top photo: Emma Ewert and Joe Loviska graduate in style. Bottom photo: C15 poses with graduate director, Joshua Porter, graduate coordinator, Lindsey McDonald and graduate professor, Nick Stanger. Photos by Joshua Porter

After the week of capstone presentations at the Institute, grads, family and friends headed down valley to attend the official graduation ceremony at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Photo by Angela Burlile

After what seemed like months of darkness and rain, the sun came out and it started to really feel like spring this week! There is still a lot of snow in the upper elevations but many of the trails around the Environmental Learning Center are clear!

Photos courtesy of WSDOT Flickr page

On Wednesday, we woke to news that a rockslide occurred on Highway 20, between Newhalem and Diablo. Unlike the avalanche that extended the stay of Henry M. Jackson high school, students participating in Mountain School were able to leave that day. The road remained closed to traffic into the weekend while WSDOT crews worked to move and break up the large pieces of rock that had fallen onto the highway. On Saturday afternoon, WSDOT opened the road to both lanes of traffic (though the highway still remains closed at mile 134 near Ross Dam trailhead). Check out more photos here on the WSDOT Flickr account.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 16 2017