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Wolverine in the Skagit!

April 16th, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Exciting news from our friends at North Cascades National Park:

Look at the paws on this guy! Last summer, a visitor reported … that they had seen a wolverine chasing a marmot while hiking just to the west of the Park boundary in the Skagit watershed. North Cascades National Park biologist Roger Christophersen set up a scent lure to attempt to attract the wolverine to a hair snare and motion camera. The remote camera captured these photos of a male wolverine and the snare caught a useful hair sample.

Keith Aubry, Wildlife Biologist with the US Forest Service had the hair sample analyzed and recently reported that the DNA analysis confirmed this report as the westernmost verifiable record of a wolverine in the last 15 years! In addition, the hair sample identified this wolverine as “Special K”, a previously captured wild study animal. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Special K was caught in a trap near Bridge Creek back in February of 2012, but would not go down during immobilization and had to be released without a radio-collar intended to track movements across its home range. Luckily, biologists had taken a hair sample that allowed this identification that gives researchers another example of how wide-ranging these animals are – the two sites are separated by more than 45 miles and a mountain range!

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The Cascades Butterfly Project: Citizen Scientists Unite!

August 1st, 2011 | Posted by in Institute News

On July 23rd, a group of volunteer scientists joined biologists from the North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park and Western Washington University to say farewell to “the winter that would never end” by kicking off the Cascades Butterfly Project.

The Cascades Butterfly Project is a collaborative effort between biologists and citizen scientists, who will work together to monitor butterfly populations throughout North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 
After a brief classroom session where we reviewed the basics of butterfly ecology and identification, we headed to Sauk Mountain to test our new skills and learn the field study techniques we’ll use to gather this important data.

Satyr Comma perched on the thumb of photographer, graduate student, and volunteer wildlife biologist, Elise Ehrheart.

Mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change, with alpine meadows expected to shrink dramatically throughout the Cascades Mountain Range. Butterflies make ideal indicator species of alpine ecosystem health because they are particularly sensitive to climatic changes, and are relatively easy to identify in the field by scientists and volunteers alike.

Hiking home after a successful day in the field

If you’re interested in joining in on this exciting (and fun!) research, it’s not too late, and no previous scientific experience is necessary.  There will be another volunteer training at Mount Rainier National Park on August 13. For more information, contact North Cascades Institute’s Science Coordinator, Jeff Anderson, at or (206) 526-2574.

2011 programs open for registration – sign up by spring equinox and save!

February 17th, 2011 | Posted by in Institute News

In celebration of our 25th year of connecting people to nature through hands-on experiences in the outdoors, North Cascades Institute has opened over 50 new programs for registration, ranging from natural history classes focused on birds, butterflies and bugs to family camps, art and writing retreats and backcountry adventures in North Cascades National Park. All the details are now available at or by calling (360) 854-2599.

Plan ahead to join us and take advantage of the Early Bird discount. From now through the Spring Equinox (March 20), when you sign up for most programs with tuition over $100, you’ll receive $25 off each registration. It’s a great opportunity to sign up for as many as you like and save! (The Early Bird discount is not valid for Family Getaways or Base Camp and cannot be combined with scholarships. Tuition must be paid in full at time of registration.)

To register with the Early Bird discount, call us at (360) 854-2599.

The 2011 slate of North Cascades Institute programs for people of all ages includes Family Getaways, Base Camp, the Sourdough Speaker Series, Diablo Downtimes and over 30 different classes and extended retreats that explore the natural and cultural history of the Pacific Northwest. Class topics range from art (watercoloring, digital photography, cedar weaving), biology (corvids, dragonflies, rare carnivores, butterflies, mushrooms, birding), history (of the Skagit dams, of Ross Lake, of Washington State trails), writing (poetry, natural history essays, blogging) and field excursions (exploring Mt. Baker, Seattle, Ross and Diablo Lakes in North Cascades National Park). The roster of teaching staff includes Robert Michael Pyle, Dennis Paulson, Tim McNulty, Libby Mills, Molly Hashimoto, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Langdon Cook, Mark Turner, Ana Maria Spagna, Jennifer Hahn and Nick O’Connell. More information and registration at

Most Institute classes take place at North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, our award-winning green facility on Diablo Lake in the heart of the North Cascades run in partnership between the Institute, National Park Service and Seattle City Light. Other classes take place in the field, exploring the natural history of Seattle, the Skagit and Methow Valleys, the Arid Land Ecology Reserve and North Cascades backcountry.

The magic of wolverine tracking

April 20th, 2010 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

North Cascades Highway is nearly open. The snowmobiles are put away, the traps are closed for the season and the wolverine crew has moved on to other endeavors. A few camera stations wait to be collected—hopefully holding a few late-season wolverine pictures on the memory cards. Yet there is one last aspect of the 2010 season that we all wait on.

Somewhere on a shelf in the office are vials with dates and GPS coordinates carefully recorded. Inside is blue desiccant and wolverine hair. In a drying box outside the office door is a collection of wolverine scat. This is the culmination of yet another aspect of the wolverine study in the North Cascades—following wolverine tracks to collect hair and scat.

To this end, members of the crew took several trips into the backcountry in search of the elusive wolverine. Multi-night trips. Backcountry skis and sunblock. Other people do this sort of thing for fun, but this was for science. Someone had to do it, right? In our defense, it is a bit of work. Heavy packs and cold nights. And a lot of GPS work. Everything had to be recorded—the exact route followed, any tracks encountered, and a plethora of details of weather and snow conditions. Not your usual backcountry trip in search of slopes of deep powder. A scientific expedition in search of wolverine tracks. But hopefully a few good turns in the process.

(Title) In search of wolverine tracks on the east side of the Pasayten Wilderness (Above) Brandon and Adam begin their search on the way to Sawtooth Crest

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Capturing the Cascades wolverine

March 14th, 2010 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

You would think it wouldn’t work.

First of all, the wolverine is an elusive creature. It inhabits the untrammeled heights of mountain ranges and is rarely seen or documented. So far this season, with ten traps open every day, we’ve captured just one wolverine. We’ve seen few tracks. But still, this winter we’re trying something new—getting photographs of the chests of wolverines. It is an idea only recently pioneered by Audrey Magoun, a wolverine researcher in southeast Alaska. And it is a brilliant idea.

Wolverines, it seems, have variable markings of light fur on their throats and chests. So variable, in fact, that each wolverine, if looked at closely, has a unique chest pattern. And therefore, with the right picture, we could tell them apart. A brilliant idea, truly, but in practice… It would seem that getting any picture of a wolverine would be a lucky convergence of circumstance, but to get a specific picture—a wolverine in a specific pose, well, it seems like wishful thinking. But then again, most great accomplishments start as silly dreams. The credit for the accomplishment of this silly dream lies to the north, with Magoun and her team of field people, who took an idea—getting pictures of wolverine chests—and made it happen. We’ve just followed their lead. But it is still exciting.

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Crossing a bobcat’s path

February 24th, 2010 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

It is nearing the end of February, and yet, while spring is shouting out with buds blossoming and fair weather, I find myself craving the cold of snow, yearning for the sting of winter.

With a snow-free Environmental Learning Center on the western slopes of the Cascades, the eastern flanks seemed the most likely venture in search of more local wintry conditions. The Icicle River Valley in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest called me. This valley, located near the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, is one I am all too familiar with visiting in other seasons for rock climbing and backpacking. This trip, instead, was different, a hopeful plea to winter to let me experience a season that is all too quickly melting away.

Even to the east the snow was minimal, but just enough was present so that, for the first time this year, I could slip on my cross country skis and head up the Icicle Creek Road in search of other signs of winter.

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Encounters of a wolverine kind

February 18th, 2010 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

It is the radio call we’ve been waiting for all season.

Adam and I linger beside the truck, waiting to unload a couple of snowmobiles and get on with our assignment for the day—setting up our first camera station. But our attention is focused on the Forest Service radio. Waiting. Sherrie and John are up Twisp River checking on two wolverine traps that emit a “closed” signal from their radio transmitters. They have checked the first, and found it occupied by a marten. They should be at the second trap at any moment.

After fifteen minutes of fidgeting, kicking at snow and checking our watches, the radio comes to life. We eavesdrop on static and garbled voices, and finally make out words that change our day. There’s a wolverine in the trap. Our afternoon becomes more interesting. And longer. We pile back into the truck and drag our snowmobiles toward Twisp River.

This winter, ten or more Forest Service employees and volunteers tend ten wolverine traps on the outskirts of the North Cascades. We’ve been at it for two weeks already—replacing bait, checking the function of the traps, dealing with radio transmitter malfunctions and shoveling snow off of the traps. The status of the traps is checked each morning with radio receivers. We physically inspect and test the traps every three days or so. It is a fair amount of work, and the crew comes home each afternoon a bit weary and smelling of snowmobile exhaust. So far we have caught nothing but martens.

» Continue reading Encounters of a wolverine kind