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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!

Photo Roundup: May 14 2017

May 14th, 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.

Photo by Alex Patia

North Cascades Institute Naturalist and graduate M.Ed. alumni, Alex Patia, snapped this photo of a Canada goose watching over her goslings near his front lawn in the town of Diablo. Canada Geese love to hang out on open lawns as they can feed on grass and (especially with their young) easily spot any approaching predators. These birds mate for life and pairs stay together throughout the year. Most Canada Geese do not breed until their fourth year.

Diablo Lake from the overlook off Highway 20. Photo by Angela Burlile

The North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center is right on the shore of Diablo Lake and it has been a fun little practice of watching it slowly change with the seasons. Much of the water in this lake is fed by glaciers in Thunder Creek Basin. Skagit gneiss (a mineral) or as we tell Mountain School students, ‘glacial flour’, is eroded by ice and flows down glacial streams, entering Diablo Lake. As the sun hits these tiny rock particles suspended in the lake, they reflect off this beautiful jade green color. In the spring and summer when runoff is higher, the lake gets brighter! The top photo is from this past week, the middle photo from December and the bottom photo from last July.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: May 14 2017

30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

December 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As today marks the last day of 2016, what better place than Chattermarks to look back at the memories and highlights of the year here at the North Cascades Institute. I have only recently joined as a contributor to the blog and many of the posts this past year were submitted by guests, naturalists, C15 graduate students and Ben Kusserow – our previous blog editor who left intimidatingly large shoes to fill! Before I started the graduate residency program, I frequently came to Chattermarks to get a better idea as to what my life would be like in the upper Skagit and the work being done by the Institute. The first hand narratives, naturalist tidbits, and expertise of all these contributors painted a rich picture, helping to prepare me for this year of living in the North Cascades. I hope you’ve found their contributions as helpful and informative as I did. Enjoy this look back at 2016!

Mountain School

One last group photo before these 5th graders head back to Bellingham after three days of Mountain School.

In my mind there isn’t a program at NCI that can compete with the energy and enthusiasm of Mountain School. Hundreds of students from all over the state participate in the program during fall and spring, spending three to five days exploring the trails and learning about mountain ecosystems through interdisciplinary activities.

  • We always hope that when the students leave, they are taking with them positive and lasting memories. This year, instructors shared some of the letters they received from students in the post, “Dear Mountain School,” affirming our hopes.
  • In October, we were all excited to see Mountain School in the cover story of National Geographic. The article highlighted the importance of getting young people and people of color into our National Parks.

 

Naturalist Notes

Photo courtesy of Ben Kusserow, from his natural history project on bats in the North Cascades National Park.

2016 was full of educational opportunities here on Chattermarks. If you feel like your naturalist skills could use a brush up or you just want to learn something new, look no further. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything, from fungi to fire lookouts.

» Continue reading 30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

Dogwood First Leaf

A Question of Scale: Plant Phenology Across Time and Space

September 5th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Joe Loviska, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

March 20, 2016. I’ve been keeping an eye on the western flowering dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) out in the parking lot of the Learning Center. It’s a small tree, maybe twelve feet in height. Its gray trunk and branches are spindly, filling out the vague shape of a mop standing on its handle. This dogwood grows at 1,220 feet above sea level on the west slope of the Cascades. It occupies a site that has good southern exposure, with dry, well-drained soil and a closed canopy of Douglas firs above. All of these facts and more dictate the beginning of the spring season for this particular tree, which is today. Today its leaf tips are poking out. Yesterday they were not. My friend the dogwood tree is awake.

Now it just so happens that today, March 20, the 80th day of the year (DOY), is also the vernal equinox. That is, the year-long wobble of Earth’s axis has tilted in such a way that the equator is squarely facing the sun. Translation? Equal amounts of day and night across the globe. In the Northern Hemisphere, this means the first day of spring, right in time for the dogwood to open its buds. Coincidence? You decide.

» Continue reading A Question of Scale: Plant Phenology Across Time and Space

lichen "roots" Katherine

The Social Lives of Trees: Part 3 Underground Partnerships

September 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emma Ewert, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort. Take a look at part one and part two of her series on the social lives of trees!

While the partnerships between trees and fungi that I have been discussing in my previous posts are fascinating, what really intrigues and excites me is how these mycorrhizal networks we have been talking so much about help trees connect to each other, and how they form the basis for almost every aspect of the forest ecosystem. The relationships between trees allow them to survive and adapt to the world around them. It certainly helps explain why a tree that relies so much on access to the sun would choose to live so closely together that their ability to photosynthesize might be compromised.

At the moment, what we know is that mycorrhizal fungi not only play a huge part in keeping trees alive, but they also connect trees and plants, creating a forest ecosystem where almost every plant in any one square mile is directly connected to every other plant. This underlying mycelial structure allows trees and plants to share resources and warn each other of dangers.

» Continue reading The Social Lives of Trees: Part 3 Underground Partnerships

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Wolverines: A Natural History

August 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Tyler Davis, graduate student of the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Wolverines are elusive creatures that are primarily found in the far reaches of wilderness areas. These animals are symbols of the wild, strong and seemingly fearless. They are also a source of fear stemmed from misunderstandings. Sadly, there is still a lack of knowledge about the behaviors and needs of wolverines; however, natural resource managers are now trying to find the best ways to enable wolverine survival through behavior, distribution, and needs assessment studies. There are still important things we have to learn in order to better understand this animal, but with the relatively recent increase in wolverine research, there are some incredibly important pieces of information that should be considered.

Gulo gulo, which translates to glutton glutton, was the Latin name given to wolverines by Linnaeus. They are the largest land dwelling member of the Mustelid, or weasel, family. These animals are built to survive in winter dominated climates. With their Latin name in mind, one might not be surprised to find out that these wolverines have one of the strongest jaws in the world.


Their strong jaws enable them to rip meat off carcasses, even when frozen, and they can crush through bone in just one bite. This is not to say that wolverines are mindless savages, eating whatever comes their way. In fact, they are highly intelligent creatures. They have even been known to stand on their back legs using one of their paws to shield their eyes from the sun while scanning an area.

» Continue reading Wolverines: A Natural History

The Social Lives of Trees: Part 2 Mycorrhizal Fungi

August 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Sourdough T downed tree

By Emma Ewert, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort. Take a look at part one of her series on the social lives of trees!

It is almost impossible to distinguish root systems from the fungi that they are connected to. In fact, the term mycorrhizal means “fungi-root”, and refers to the root system as a whole, including both the tree roots and mycelial hyphae systems (Fungi are most commonly associated with mushrooms, but these visible structures are just the fruiting bodies of a network of thin string-like hyphae that create webs underneath the soil). Within three months of germinating, tree seeds have developed a mycorrhizal network, and while the species of fungi changes throughout its life, a tree will always maintain this partnership. Mycorrhizal fungi have existed for over 400 million years, and evolved along with plants as they moved onto dry ground. All conifers and most broad leafed trees have mycorrhizal partnerships, and it is probable that both  the fungi and the trees need this partnership to survive. Mycorrhizal fungi has three major roles. First, they extend the root system further into the soil, and allow a tree to access 1000 times more soil and water then they could with their roots alone. Secondly, they access and dissolve critical minerals and nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium or phosphorus into compounds that a tree can absorb and use. Finally, they can detect potentially harmful fungi or bacteria, act as an immune system for the tree.

» Continue reading The Social Lives of Trees: Part 2 Mycorrhizal Fungi