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Studying Moths in the North Cascades

June 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Nick Engelfried, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

To my mind, it isn’t truly spring in the lush, green landscape on the west side of the Cascades until the first half-white carpet moth (Mesoleuca gratulata) has flown. This small insect, with its delicate wings of white, gray, and dark brown, is a sign that sunny days and warmer weather have finally arrived.

Mesoleuca gratulata. Illustration by Nick Engelfried

I chose the hundreds of moth species in the North Cascades as the subject for my in-depth study of a natural history topic at North Cascades Institute this spring. I was drawn to moths partly because of their vast diversity—there are some 11,000 species in North America, far more than the 750 or so butterflies—and partly because of how deeply underappreciated they are. If you spend time outside in western Washington, you’ve probably seen an M. gratulata at some point—but most people who take time to notice it at all will likely mistake this day-flying moth species for a small butterfly. Most moths are even less noticed, due to the nocturnal habitats, nondescript colors, and tiny size of many species.

Platyprepia virginalis. Illustration by Nick Engelfriend

This spring, I embarked on a project to seek out moths wherever I could: below lights on the outsides of buildings after dark, hiding on the bark of trees and walls by day, and—for day-flying species—flitting across trails in patches of sunlight in the North Cascades forest.

I identified as many moth species as possible, including those I found this spring as well as specimens collected last summer and fall. I relied on Jerry A. Powell and Paul A. Opler’s excellent reference book, Moths of Western North America, as well as the expertise of editors at the citizen science website Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).

In addition to seeing as many species as I could myself, I generated a list of all moths from eight target families reported on BAMONA from Whatcom, Skagit, Okanogan, and Chelan Counties. This list includes nearly 150 species. For reasons of feasibility, I confined myself to “macromoths,” largely ignoring the smaller and even more numerous but very tricky to identify “micromoths.”

One of the most rewarding parts of studying moths this year has been following the emergence and disappearance of different species as their “flight periods” come and go. Most moths in the North Cascades live in this region year-round, but for much of this time they reside only in the egg, larva, or pupa stages. The length of the adult phase ranges from months in species like the tissue moth (Triphosa haesitata)which overwinters as an adult and emerges to fly in very early spring—to only a few days in the giant Ceanothus silk moth (Hyalophora euryalis), which lives just long enough as an adult to mate and lay eggs.

» Continue reading Studying Moths in the North Cascades


iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

May 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Are your candles ready? Because this summer the National Park Service turns 100! Instead of getting America’s best idea a birthday cake or a gift card, they want only one thing for this special occasion: to get all citizens involved with America’s outdoors. One of the easiest ways to get involved is through their BioBlitz:

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible. In 2016, BioBlitz goes national. The cornerstone National Parks BioBlitz: Washington, D.C. will take place May 20-21, with more than a hundred concurrent BioBlitzes happening at national parks across the county. -National Park Service

One of those concurrent BioBlitzes is happening in the North Cascades National Park. We at the North Cascades Institute can’t wait to participate this weekend in the events happening all over the region. On the checklist of preparation are just two things:

  • Sign up to join a BioBlitz species inventory (including but not limited to lichens, fungi, mosses, beetles and squirrels)
  • Download the free iNaturalist app and join the North Cascades National Park 2016 BioBlitz project

When I downloaded the app and explored my own backyard, I was not only preparing for the BioBlitz but also learning something about the place that I have been living at since December.

» Continue reading iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

YLA 2015 Talking

2015 Youth Leadership Conference: A Confluence of Young Leaders

November 30th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Emily Ford and Ginna Malley Campos

On Friday November 6th, a voice broke the frosty air: “Who wants to be a leader?!” Cheers echoed across emerald Diablo Lake and up the cloudy slopes of Sourdough Mountain. Sixty-one students from Washington and Oregon kicked off the beginning of an exciting weekend at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

The Youth Leadership Conference is an annual event where students with an interest in conservation as a career meet at the North Cascades Institute. The three day conference connects youth with major conservation partners through breakout sessions, projects, and wonderful discussions.

The sixth annual conference included students ages 14-22 who are alumni of North Cascades Institute’s youth programs (including Youth Leadership Adventures, North Cascades Wild, Cascades Climate Challenge, Mountain School and Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program) as well as other youth programs such as Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities (O2), Student Conservation Association (SCA), Darrington’s Youth Forestry Institute (YFI), and InterIm WILD.

YLC 2015 Canoe

Canoeing on Diablo Lake

Students started the weekend by catching up with old friends from their various summer programs. Together, they enjoyed a weekend of learning about service, jobs, internships, college, and summer program opportunities as well as developing professional skills to excel. Highlights from the weekend include:

Small Group Hikes: Students explored near-by nature trails, played games, learned natural history, and reflected on their past, present and future experiences in the North Cascades and other public lands.

» Continue reading 2015 Youth Leadership Conference: A Confluence of Young Leaders

Seattle Times cover

North Cascades Institute in The Seattle Times: “Mountain School makes the magic of the wilderness real for kids”

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled with The Seattle Times‘ story on Mountain School, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and the Institute’s 30 years of environmental education in the North Cascades. It appeared as the cover story in the Times‘ Pacific Northwest Magazine on August 9, 2015 and features a wealth of amazing photos, many quotes from MS students and teachers and an interview with our founder and executive director Saul Weisberg.


“DO NOT LET the sly grin fool you. Nika Meyers is not joking around.

Out here amid the firs and ferns and tiny birds and devil’s club above Diablo Lake, she makes certain things clear to her young charges. Today’s lesson on getting in touch with the earth? It’s not some cute metaphor. It is exactly that: On your knees, boys and girls. Right down there with the spiders and rotting leaves and — Holy Crap! Is that a centipede?
This is how it’s done at Mountain School: One pair of happy, grubby, fifth-grade paws at a time. Multiply by 2,800 kids from 53 schools this year alone, stir, and enjoy.

The concept behind the school, run by nonprofit North Cascades Institute, sounds simple: In a three-day mountain camp experience, imbue in school children a visceral connection with this special place — the thumping, mountainous heart of Northwest wilderness. Make its magic real to them at a micro level, in the hope that some of them will feel the pull to return as powerfully as a salmon headed home to spawn. Slip into their consciousness rudimentary skills of a naturalist — the ability to observe and make the same personal connections to other wild lands.

Oh: Also do this without boring the amped-up, digitally dependent kids out of their skulls.

Mountain School still represents what Saul Weisberg espoused from the beginning: A chance for Northwest kids to get out in nature — many of them spending nights away from home for the first time — and go home with mountain air embedded in their hearts. While the Institute’s unofficial mission has always been to “save the world,” it’s official task is to put people and nature together and stand back in awe watching what happens. It can’t happen without the dirty hands.”


Read Ron Judd’s excellent story on our Mountain School program at!

And watch a 4-minute video by Steve Ringman at!


Government Shutdown Forces Closure of North Cascades National Park Service Complex

October 3rd, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

As a result of the federal government shutdown, the National Park Service was forced to suspend all Cooperative Association Agreements on Thursday, October 3, including the long-standing agreement that guides the close relationship between North Cascades National Park and North Cascades Institute. As a result, we are unable to conduct scheduled programs at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center until further notice.

We are in touch with the groups that this impacts and deeply regret having to cancel programs. All programs happening outside of federal lands will continue as scheduled.

We are in close contact with our friends at both the National Park Service and US Forest Service and we are hoping for a speedy resolution.

Please feel free to contact us with your questions at (360) 854-2599. Thank you for your continued support.

Here is a press release from our friends at North Cascades National Park Complex:

Sedro Woolley, WA – October 3, 2013 –With beautiful weather forecast and new snow on the mountains, many people in the Pacific Northwest may head for the great outdoors this weekend. This is a reminder that the National Park Service (NPS) has closed all 401 national parks, including North Cascades National Park Service Complex because of the shutdown of the federal government caused by the lapse in appropriations. The Complex includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

The North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem and the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount are closed as well as the NPS headquarters office in Sedro Woolley. In Ross Lake National Recreation Area, the Ross Lake Resort and associated water taxi service has shut down; Hozomeen campground and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center are also closed. In Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, visitor facilities including the Golden West Visitor Center and the lodge, restaurant and store at Stehekin are closed.

» Continue reading Government Shutdown Forces Closure of North Cascades National Park Service Complex

Free climate change teacher workshop, August 10-14

July 26th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

Would you like to integrate climate change into your classroom curriculum? Are you looking for new ways to engage your students in the natural world? Join North Cascades Institute August 10-14 for a week in the North Cascades studying the effects of climate change in the Pacific Northwest from climate science experts,Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
resource managers and climate change educators. We will focus on understanding climate change on a regional basis and adapting lessons from existing climate change curricula to your classroom. This workshop is free and provides teachers with clock hours too!

For more information and to apply, visit

News release: North Cascades National Park Ready for Spring and Summer Visitors

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

Days are growing longer and birdsong is filling the mountain air as the North Cascades awaken from the long winter. With the Washington State Department of Transportation having recently reopened the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), North Cascades National Park Complex is ready to welcome you.

The Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount and the North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem are both open for the season. Until June 30, backcountry adventurers looking for information and free permits for overnight stays in the backcountry will find the doors of the Wilderness Information Center open Sunday to Thursday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and Friday to Saturday between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. From July 1 until September 6, its hours will increase to Sunday through Thursday between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and Friday tthrough Saturday between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.

A Park Ranger at Sourdough Lookout ready to welcome visitors.

The North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through June 30, and 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. July 1 through September 8. Visit with knowledgeable park rangers who can help you plan a trip or view the exhibits to learn about the complex ecosystems of the park. Easy hiking trails will take you to the banks of the Skagit River and to viewpoints looking into the heart of the Picket Range.

Explore historic Newhalem and the Skagit Information Center. Beginning May 25, the center will be open Friday through Sunday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. From June 15 through September 3, the center will open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for Skagit Tours. Offered in partnership with Seattle City Light and the North Cascades Institute, a selection of tours are available that explore the natural and human processes at work in the upper Skagit Valley. Learn more and register for a tour at

» Continue reading News release: North Cascades National Park Ready for Spring and Summer Visitors