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Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

September 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Written by Master of Education graduate Sasha Savoian

Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop are two of the most heavily-visited trails off Highway 20 in the North Cascades range, offering access to the unique subalpine ecosystem blanketed in blooming heather in the late summer months.

On the eastern flank of the mountains, the trail to Blue Lake winds through engelmann spruce forest singing with golden crowned kinglets and dark-eyed juncos, into a meadow thick with clustered white valerian, dangling meadow rue, purple lupine, and bell-shaped jacob’s-ladder. It then crests above treeline with spectacular views of Liberty Bell Mountain, Cutthroat Peak and Whistler Mountain toward the northwest. As altitude-loving larch trees appear, pink and white mountain heather pierce the edges of rocks along the trail leading to the aptly-named Blue Lake, where mountain goats are often spotted grazing on subalpine foliage 6,200 feet above sea level, a mere 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

Maple Pass in the North Cascades. Photo by Sasha Savoian

Maple-Heather Pass Loop travels 7 miles from the trailhead and back again through a shady forest of subalpine fir and spruce trees. Pacific wrens sing to an open with talus fields catering to furry hoary marmots and peeking pika. Grey crowned rosy finch and clark’s nutcracker songs slide through larch trees above while hearty heather beckons below, filling gaps between rocks among dotted saxifrage, bugle-shaped penstemon, splayed phlox and deep red indian paintbrush atop 6,600-foot rocky Maple Pass–one of the best views of the North Cascades.

But this dynamic alpine ecosystem is fragile! With their woody stems and short growing season, heather is easily crushed. It takes only 50 booted steps to destroy plants that take upwards of 1,000-5,000 years to establish as a successful colony. Heather plants stabilize soil, prevent wind and water erosion, trap nutrients and control temperature in the soil to promote growth of other alpine vegetation.

Restoration projects on Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop began in 2012 when the Methow Valley was chosen as one of 14 designated sites as part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences established to connect people and their communities to their forests and watersheds through community engagement and collaboration.

» Continue reading Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

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Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

November 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Chompers and Lewisa, the new beaver residents of Beaver Creek, quickly became much more active as their wire cages were placed in the cold creek, splashing about and looking to explore. The beavers looked on disdainfully as we humans created a small dam in the creek, to give them a suggestion of where to build their new home. We then opened their cages and they immediately swam out, eagerly exploring their new territory.

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The NCI graduate cohort was on our Fall Natural History Intensive. We spent a week in the Methow Valley, observing classes at Classroom in Bloom (a community garden that works in conjunction with the Methow Public Schools) visiting salmon restoration sites, printmaking, and continuing our coursework. On this day, we had the opportunity to help out with the Methow Beaver Project. We had started the day at the Winthrop Hatchery, where beavers from the Methow Valley Restoration Project were held in the time between being removed from problematic areas (areas where beaver dams would flood homes or buildings) and being moved to new homes where the ponds they create would benefit the entire ecosystem. Beaver ponds not only create vital open habitat that increase biodiversity, they also act as a storage area for fresh water, decreasing flood possibility, decreasing erosion, and recharging water aquifers.

» Continue reading Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

With trap builder Bergen Patterson

Ecosystem Engineers: A beaver curriculum

June 6th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Hannah Newell, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

A person’s perspective on the beaver is malleable. Some believe they are pests that need to be eradicated while others look deeply into their connection to the ecosystem and how they help shape our environment through their lifestyle.

Two North Cascades Institute Graduate students partnered with the Methow Beaver Project to create a curriculum to serve the Independent Learning Center in a few ways. One being the need for a biology class for their ninth to twelfth grade students and two, the desire to inform these students about the place that they live in and the beaver’s role in that place.

With four field trips planned over the course of four weeks, students were introduced to beavers at the Winthrop Hatchery, explored nearby wetlands to research macroinvertebrates and watershed development, and concluded their experience at the Twip Town hall where they conducted a mock town hall to view stakeholder opinions on the matter of the presence of beavers in the area.

» Continue reading Ecosystem Engineers: A beaver curriculum

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Mountain School fifth-graders help restore Bowman Bay

December 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By KERA WANIELISTA for the Skagit Valley Herald, November 23, 2015

BOWMAN BAY — Bracing against the wind at Deception Pass State Park’s Bowman Bay, 10-year-old EmmaLee Grove put the force of her entire body into digging a hole on the beach’s newly restored shoreline.

When the hole was sufficiently deep, EmmaLee and her best friend Kadence Yonkman placed the roots of a small, leafless tree — which they had named Wilbur — into it, then covered the roots with rich, dark gray mud.

“I think Wilbur’s going to be happy,” EmmaLee said.

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Nearby, about 70 Fidalgo Elementary School students planted other trees, shrubs and ground cover.

“We’re rebuilding the habitat for animals and bugs,” Kadence said.

That morning, Fidalgo’s three classes of fifth-graders were the first student group to help restore habitat at Bowman Bay. Three more classes from Island View Elementary School headed to the beach in the afternoon.

“We really just want to re-create the entire ecosystem,” said Lisa Kaufman, Northwest Straits Foundation nearshore program manager. “The habitat (then) can do what it wants to do and what it needs to do.”

The fifth-graders’ work to restore the beach came after a three-day trip to the North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School.

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» Continue reading Mountain School fifth-graders help restore Bowman Bay

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Open Houses on Options for Grizzly Bear Restoration

February 19th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

**Editor’s Note: sharing this information from our friends at North Cascades National Park.

Public Invited to Open Houses on Options for Grizzly Bear Restoration in North Cascades Ecosystem

 Public comment period open through March 26, 2015


SEDRO WOOLLEY, Wash. – The public is invited to participate in a series of informational open houses regarding restoration of grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem. The meetings are being held by the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as part of the Grizzly Bear Restoration Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the North Cascades ecosystem. This is the first opportunity for public involvement in the EIS.  The purpose of the EIS is to determine whether or not the agencies will take an active role in restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The public open houses will be held at these locations and times:

Winthrop:      March 3, 5-7:30 pm
Red Barn Upper Meeting Room
51 N. Hwy 20
Winthrop, WA 98862

 

Okanogan:      March 4, 5-7:30 pm
Okanogan PUD Meeting Room
1331 2nd Ave N
Okanogan, WA 98840

 

Wenatchee:   March 5, 6-8:30 pm
Chelan County PUD Auditorium
327 N. Wenatchee Ave.
Wenatchee, WA 98801

 

Cle Elum:       March 9, 5-7:30 pm
Putnam Centennial Center Meeting Room
719 East 3rd Street
Cle Elum, WA 98922

 

Seattle:            March 10, 5-7:30 pm
Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1
103 West Bertona
Seattle, WA 98119

 

Bellingham:    March 11, 5-7:30 pm
Bellingham Central Library Lecture Room
210 Central Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98227

In addition to these open houses, the public is invited to submit written comments at this link. Comments may also be submitted through March 26, 2015, via regular mail or hand delivery at: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284.

“This is an important phase in the process of assessing environmental impacts,” said NPS Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz. “Public comment at this stage is critical to ensure that all issues are considered.”

The FWS listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

“The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan calls on us to fully consider the restoration of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades, and this process will ensure we solicit the public for their input before putting any plan into action,” said FWS Pacific Regional Director Robyn Thorson. “We will continue to work with our partners to make this an open and transparent process.”

The North Cascades ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia, Canada.  The United States portion of the ecosystem includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

A few grizzly bears have recently been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem, but no grizzly bears have been sighted in the United States portion for several years.

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The Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project

April 25th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Whoa! Wha….?!

Sometimes one’s path is rerouted as they are traveling upon it.

Or so it can seem. It was early January, and we graduate students had recently returned to the Environmental Learning Center from a month away at various winter vacation destinations. We were crammed into a North Cascades Institute mini-van, traveling west on Highway 20 to our organization’s down valley headquarters at Sedro-Woolley. Suddenly, just east of Rockport near milepost 100, the road turned beneath our tires. Instead of rolling past the front of the Cascadian Farms stand at 45mph, we realized we were driving behind it. We checked to make sure we were still on the asphalt, hadn’t off-roaded into neatly planted rows of now leafless berry vines. The two Cascadian Farms structures with the whimsically sweeping roof lines were still there, but we had been re-routed for a different perspective. The whole carload of us did a double-take: Had we all collectively gone mad?

Nope. Rather, we were in the midst of a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) project to repair the Skagit River shoreline. Oh.

The “Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project” is a $10.2 million effort to attempt to permanently remediate the unstable river bank, an issue the state categorizes as a “Chronic Environmental Deficiency”. During five previous years – 1993, 1994, 2004, 2006 and 2007 – emergency rock buffers were installed temporarily as a quick fix. But WSDOT seeks a long-term solution to this problem of massive erosion, and they have a plan.

» Continue reading The Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project

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Elwha: rebirth of a rainforest river

April 9th, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

It’s been hardly a year since the last concrete remnants of the Elwha Dam were removed and already the rebirth of the rainforest river is underway. While most people watching the Olympic Peninsula experiment have been excited about what they hope will soon move upriver—steelhead and all five species of Pacific salmon—the first chapter in the river’s restoration has been more about what is moving downriver: sediment, up to 34 million cubic yards of it in total, with the motherlode of that amount still trapped behind the 2/3rds-demolished Glines Canyon Dam.

“Scientists recently learned there was about 41 percent more sediment trapped behind the dams than originally thought,” reports The Seattle Times’ Lynda Mapes, who recently published Elwha: A River Reborn, “and that the river is transporting more mud and wood than they expected.”

The flushing of the river’s channel, after being pent up behind two dams for the last 100 years, is creating new ecological dynamics that have scientists scrambling to keep up. Fish are adapting to murky waters by pioneering new side channels and feeder streams. Riverbank erosion has been chaotic and unpredictable. And down at the river’s mouth, where the Elwha’s glacially-fed freshwater merges with saltwater at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, all kinds of interesting things are happening: dramatic loss of kelp beds under smothering sand, making way for ecologically-valuable sea grass pastures; a new sand spit emerging, one-third of a mile long and expanding; reinvigorated habitat for important species like sea smelt and sand lance.

It’s only the beginning of an audacious experiment, the demolition of two century-old dams and restoration of a river, a $325 million endeavor that will open up more than 70 miles of pristine spawning habitat. It’s the largest dam removal project in the world, undertaken in a part of the world renowned for harnessing its raging rivers for hydropower, shipping and agriculture.

» Continue reading Elwha: rebirth of a rainforest river