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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?

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books Stephanie Burgart

Confessions of a Bibliophile

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

It has been almost two years now since I graduated with my Masters in Education from Western Washington University (WWU) and North Cascades Institute’s unique graduate program. My memories are filled with the laughter of Mountain School students, Professor John Miles’ New “Hampsha” accent and endless views of Diablo Lake. While I miss the sunshine, quiet and darkness up there in the mountains, there are days where I also long for the library, research and studying. It may be shocking to some, but it’s true: we did actually do traditional learning and coursework during the residency. With images of the graduate students gallivanting around snowy peaks, dense forests and playing in the sunshine, it is easy for parents and friends to wonder if we were actually trying to “learn anything” in the program. Of course, it’s a very big “yes”.

We were all there to learn. Sure, Dr. Miles did an excellent job of getting us out into the world we preach about, but there were also the necessary times of studying inside. You can’t read heaps of homework out in the rain, at least not everyday. Deer Creek Shelter, for example, is a wonderful place for respite, but I doubt a LAN cord to connect to the servers will reach that far (though I’ve no doubt Nick Mikula, one of my fellow graduates, tried it at least once). Large portions of curriculum writing, nonprofit work and research for various projects all happen in front of the screen or book, but one of the best parts was the individuality of all this learning.

The amount and types of research varied from student to student. Taken out of context, some of the reading we do as experiential environmental educators could come across as crazy. For me, I’m pretty sure the WWU library has me flagged, and with the recent National Security Agency and “Big Brother” news going on, I wouldn’t blame them. I’m into some pretty amazing stuff.

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Bob Mierendorf and the pre-history of Cascade Pass

February 12th, 2010 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

North Cascades National Park archaeologist, and long-time Institute field instructor and former board member, Bob Mierendorf is prominently featured in an excellent new article just published in Washington State Magazine, published by Washington State University. In “Of Time and Wildness in the North Cascades,” Mierendorf interprets his important work in documenting native presence in the higher elevations of the North Cascades:

Mierendorf has spent the last couple of decades trying to convince the archaeological establishment that pre-contact Northwest Indians did not confine themselves to the lowlands, but lived in the North Cascades and frequented the high country. When Mierendorf first started working at the park, Cascade Pass was one of 17 archaeological sites identified within it. Since then, he has identified nearly 300 more. Forty-five of those sites are located between 4,000 and 7,000 feet.

Obviously, population densities in the mountains were nowhere near what they were along the more hospitable coastal lowlands. Mierendorf argues simply that lower density does not mean absence. An earlier assumption by archaeologists was that Indians actually avoided the mountains, and any contact between coastal and interior tribes was accomplished by traveling along the Columbia Gorge. Mountains were a barrier, not a destination. The idea that prehistoric people crossed the Cascades on foot was simply incomprehensible.

Such an assumption is certainly understandable. The North Cascades is tough country. Even though only two volcanic peaks are higher than 10,000 feet, the deep glacier-carved valleys create dramatic local relief, often as much as 6,000 feet between valley floor and peak.

Alexander Ross, a fur trader with the North West Company, made the first non-Indian crossing of the North Cascades in 1814, from east to west, guided by an Indian. “A more difficult route to travel never fell to man’s lot,” wrote Ross.

So why was the question of the Indians’ presence in the mountains such a mystery? Why didn’t archaeologists just ask the Indians?

This article is a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of the cultural history of the North Cascades, and the Institute is understandably very excited to share it widely. You can read the rest of the article here.

In the next week or so, we’ll be opening registration for our spring and summer programs in the North Cascades, including Mierendorf’s long-running, popular field excursion on Ross Lake that explores the region’s cultural history, from native uses through to miners, fire lookouts and the park service (see photo at top of post). “Ross Lake by Boat and Boot: People and Places of the Upper Skagit” takes place July 22-25, with Captain Gerry Cook piloting the Ross Mule, your floating classroom for this exciting learning adventure. (While we can’t offer registration quite yet, you can send an email to and we’ll let you know as soon as it is open for sign-ups!)

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High school mountain school student-3

Spring Mountain School

April 29th, 2009 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Spring Mountain School is so fun!  Middle school through high school students get to study forest carnivores, learn about and explore habitat around the learning center and they get to use field equipment.  How exciting is that?

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