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Stinging Nettle 1

Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

October 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

I clearly remember my introduction to the mystery and power of stinging nettle. On a late summer day, I found myself, alongside my graduate cohort, at the Northwest Indian College. Located on the Lummi Indian Reservation in Bellingham, Washington, the college caters exclusively to tribal members across the country and includes a number of programs focused on traditional skills and knowledge. Through their Traditional Plants and Foods program, instructors educate students on native medicine and healing foods. Vanessa Cooper, the program coordinator, spoke to us at length about the healing power of several native plants. I will never forget the transformation of Vanessa’s face when her talk turned to nettle. She became deeply serene and her eyes half-closed as she murmured, “Oh, I just love nettle. She reminds us to pay attention.”

What was it about this much-maligned plant that inspired such reverence in her? What power did this plant hold? I needed to find out.

» Continue reading Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle


Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

June 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Northwest Coast Indian Art
Bill Holm (University of Washington Press)

From blankets to gambling sticks, coffins to rain hats, spoons to shaman’s paraphernalia, seemingly every material aspect of the indigenous cultures of the northern Pacific Coast was decorated with representations of the natural world, usually animals. Salmon, bear, raven, wolf, whale, seal, beaver: the wild creatures of the British Columbian and southeast Alaskan coastlines and islands are memorialized in bold strokes of black and red by Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit artists from time immemorial.

The definitive study of the visual language of Northwest Coast Native art is back on bookstore shelves in a 50th anniversary edition that includes new color photographs, illustrations and reflections from contemporary artists on the impact of Bill Holm’s landmark book.

Holm is credited with decoding the hidden structures of the complex and highly stylized art form, helping “unravel the secrets of Northwest Coast art,” according to one artist. He made his findings in a systematic study of hundreds of artifacts housed in the University of Washington’s Burke Museum as a graduate student.

“I realized there was a sort of grammar or syntax to it not unlike a written language,” Holm writes in a new preface. “There were ‘rules’ that transcended tribal and linguistic boundaries on the northern coast, and these rules were followed with remarkable uniformity by artists of all the tribes in the area.”

Considered one of the most advanced art forms in the world, Holm demystifies the schematics of Northwest Coast Indian Art while also allowing that it is the individual artist’s sensibilities that make the sum of elements greater than the parts.

Even with his deep comprehension of the art, Holm acknowledges mystery too: “It is difficult to understand how these Indian artists, scattered among the inlets of the rugged northern coast, mastered the complexities of the design system to such a degree that only an occasional piece in the vast museum collections of today deviates from that system.”

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

Citizen Science Bioblitzes!

July 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions


Join North Cascades Institute for fun, educational outings to engage in meaningful research in the North Cascades ecosystem. Your participation in our BioBlitzes will provide important contributions towards understanding complex ecosystems and how to best conserve them.

Dragonflies of the North Cascades
AUG 10- AUG 11

Maple Pass Plant Inventory
AUG 17 – AUG 18

Butterflies in the High Cascades
AUG 21- AUG 22

Snakes in North Cascades
SEP 14

Hawkwatching at Chelan Ridge
SEP 20- SEP 21

Information and registration at
or (360) 854-2599

NCI BioBlitz Flier 2014

Mosquito Meadow-Gifford Pinchot Forest

Coming full circle

August 15th, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

After graduating from North Cascade Institute’s M.Ed. program I began working for the Cowlitz Valley Ranger district as an Invasive Plant Technician. It was really just a fancy way of saying I mapped and pulled weeds in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. I have to say it was quite a shift moving from learning and teaching about native plants, to training my eye towards the invasive plants. I spent two summers after grad school walking through the woods alone in hot pursuit of invasive plants such as scotch broom, thistles, tansy ragwort, and Knotweed. While being outdoors all summer long was a bonus, hunting the forest for non-native plants was not my passion, or my calling. I moved on to some jobs in the local school districts—subbing, working as a para-educator, or teaching in the after school program.

Bull Thistle

Bull Thistle, Cisium Vulgare The Most common weed I hunted. Photo by Meghann Wolvert

In August of 2012 I was hired on at the Cispus Learning Center to manage the local AmeriCorps team in east Lewis County. I now spend my time training AmeriCorps volunteers to help in the local schools and provide programming to local youth. I manage the AmeriCorps program budget and leverage funding through the community and through grants. I actively use many of the skills I learned during our non-profit course work in the grad program, as well as many of my lesson planning skills honed over the months of working on the Mountain School Curriculum.

cispus logoThe 2012-2013 Cispus logo, created by Whitney Brooks and Corey Krzan

For me it’s a feeling of coming full circle. I was a member of the Cispus AmeriCorps team before I applied to North Cascades Institute’s grad program and had it not been for the AmeriCorps experience I never would have applied to grad school. Now, because of the skills I learned in grad school, I feel like I am doing a job I’m not only passionate about but a job I’m well trained for.

Leading photo: Mosquito Meadow’s In the Gifford Pinchot Forest. Photo by Meghann Wolvert


Meghann Wolvert was a member of Cohort 8 and graduated in March 2010. After graduation she moved to Randle, WA just southwest of Mt. Rainier. Since graduating Meghann got married and enjoys spending her free time with her husband fishing, camping and playing in their garden. She is now the Project Supervisor of the Cispus AmeriCorps team and works at the Cispus Learning Center in the Gifford Pinchot Forest.



David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work

November 23rd, 2012 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Spokane-based author, naturalist and teacher Jack Nisbet is fascinated with the natural and cultural history of the Pacific Northwest. He is one the most gifted interpreters of the wild bounty that our corner of the country possesses, and also has gone to great lengths to tell the stories of the first European explorers to encounter this native endowment.

His books include Source of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America, The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest and The Mapmaker’s Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau. Each volume retraces the steps of passionate, hardy individuals who made the first strides in understanding the landscape, native people, wildlife and botany of Washington State.

Douglas, the subject of his latest book David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work, landed at the mouth of the Columbia River in the in the spring of 1825, charged by the London Horticultural Society, with blessings from the Hudson’s Bay Company, to learn all he could about the Pacific Northwest ‘s botanical treasures. He had previously pored over the accounts of Lewis and Clark, Vancouver, Mackenzie, Thompson and other explorers and was uniquely adept at scientifically surveying this “New World.” Douglas was passionate about botany and gardening, fastidious about specimen collecting and note taking, young enough to be resilient and adventurous and also wise enough to befriend the native people and others who lived close to the land. This combination of skills, pluck and strategic relationships combined to produce one of the great explorers of America.

His legacy is writ large on the landscape today by way of nomenclature: the Douglas fir, Snow Douglasia, Douglas squirrel, Douglas Brodiaea and over 80 plant and animal species with douglasii in their scientific names.

As exemplified in David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work, Nisbet’s method of interpreting regional history isn’t the usual staid recitation of dates and facts. In pursuit of bringing stories nearly 200 years old to life, he walks trails, visits reservations and tribal elders, charters pilot boats, climbs trees and wildharvests food. His studies may begin by perusing old maps or historical journals in dusty archives, but his curiosity soon has him bounding out the door and in to the same landscapes that his subjects once roamed.

» Continue reading David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work

Stewardship in the North Cascades: 2012 roundup

September 19th, 2012 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

The following is a report of what North Cascades Institute’s Stewardship Program achieved in 2012. Please help us continue to conserve and restore Northwest environments with your financial support: Every dollar donated to the Institute between now and May 9 can be matched 1:1 through a campaign organized by the Skagit Community Foundation.


President Obama has proclaimed September as National Wilderness Month.  Additionally, National Public Lands Day falls on Saturday, September 29.  In celebration of our nation’s public lands, the North Cascades Institute would like to thank our partners, participants, and volunteers for their hard work, contagious enthusiasm, and willingness to get their hands dirty as they pitched in to help take care of America’s public lands this past season.  We’re fortunate that, in the Pacific Northwest, these lands are within reach wherever we go and are managed by a variety of agencies full of hard-working, compassionate folks.  A big thanks goes out to all of these agencies for working with us this season and providing opportunities for volunteers to engage in stewardship and citizen science projects.

Thank you Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, North Cascades National Park, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and Bellingham Parks and Recreation!

North Cascades Institute volunteers and program participants have been quite busy this season conserving and restoring our local public lands.  Over 1,500 volunteers were engaged in stewardship and citizen science projects this season with North Cascades Institute.  This includes over 600 youth volunteers coming from Mountain School, Cascades Climate Challenge, North Cascades Wild, and Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program.  Over 3000 hours of stewardship work was completed.  The work included removing over 5 acres of invasive plants, planting 200 native plants, collecting 50 ounces of seed for future re-vegetation, maintaining campsites, removing social trails, monitoring nest boxes and installing signage designating campsites and trail usage.

Although it may seem like the stewardship season is coming to a close, it is only experiencing a seasonal transition.  When Autumn brings us cooler, wet weather Mountain School students will begin to plant Snowberry, Cedar, Sitka Spruce, and Douglas Fir at parks throughout Bellingham.

So, as the wet season arrives, be sure to grab your rain gear and continue to partake in natural adventures and connect with the endless public lands that we own, love, and care for.

Cascade Pass Subalpine Revegetation
Whatcom County Co-op Day of Caring at Native Plant Nursery in Marblemount with Bellingham REI staff preparing aquatic plants for Ross Lake
NC Wild spring day trip preparing the Native Plant Nursery for the summer season
NC Wild removing the invasive specie Burdock at Buster Brown Campground

» Continue reading Stewardship in the North Cascades: 2012 roundup