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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Skiing wetlands of the North Cascades

In the two weeks since my last snow report, a couple of strong storms have moved through, resulting in impressive snow totals at all elevations.  Places I was driving a car two weeks ago are now buried under about 30 inches of snow.  This marks three consecutive years of good snowfall at relatively low altitudes (1,500 feet to 2,500 feet elevation).  This is great news for salmon, steelhead and all aquatic creatures; all terrestrials too (including humans).  From hydroelectric generation to watered orchards, we should all revel in the world of water that is our North Cascades.  Such a treat to ski these places--world-class scenery, and sometimes even the snow is world-class.  On this day it would be decent groomed snow along the main road, and some nice track-cutting up towards Stillaguamish Peak.  I urge extreme awareness and caution this year to all travelling the back-country.  But enough of this essay--let's have a photo-essay instead!

Big Four eclipses the sun, which doesn't get very high in mid-Winter sky--the solstice was one week ago. 

The South Fork Stillaguamish River flows away from us, passing below Long Mountain on the way to the inland sea of Puget Sound.

 Picnic table at Big Four visitors area--about 32" of snow at 1,800 feet elevation.  I mentioned strong storms and awareness--note the strata in that snowpack.  There have been at least two events with strong winds and heavy snow lately, and that on top of 2-5 meters of snow from the early December storms...

Wetlands and the on-set of Winter make for some great photography.  The pictures only tell part of the story--the sound of water gurgling and flowing was everywhere, and quite soothing..

Mount Dickerman and headwater forests are reflected in the wonderous wetlands that help form the South Fork Stillaguamish River.

Stillaguamish Peak, namesake of this entire valley.

Water water everywhere.  It is a real blessing to be surrounded by water--and I mean surrounded:  from the snow and ice covering the foliage that occasionally dusted me, to the frosty mist hanging in the air, to the snow and liquid water underfoot, life is good when one is immersed in the stuff of life.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ode to Old Ski Road

Ssshh-whump, ssshh-whump
Life is Good
On old Ski Road

Sorry I haven't blogged in a long time--life is busy, and frankly, I haven't been in the North Cascades too much lately (waiting/hoping for snow).  I've certainly been working on/for the North Cascades, and while such work is at the core of being a conservationist, not many pretty pictures or fun stories emerge from this important work.

The past week has seen cool temps and plenty of precipitation, so I figured conditions would be just right for a weekend ski.  As you can see from the pics, it was simply spectacular!  About a half-foot of fresh snow atop a firm, crusted foot of Cascade Concrete.  At 2,000' elevation, there was about 18" total, and at 2,400', there was more than two feet of snow.  Water content is relatively high, which is a good thing for glaciers and rivers.

I'm a bit surprised at the healthy low elevation snowpack, given the lack of La Nina conditions.  But things are shaping up to be another great year of snow sports and glacier maintenance in our North Cascades!  There have been as many winters over the past 30 years where there was no snow at this location as years where there has been this much.

Nothing like cutting track for a few miles, and visting the headwaters of a pristine river.  This is the Stillaguamish River--I've been exploring here for 30 years.  Each trip brings new understanding about the landscape, and affirms what is really of value and worth. 

 Check out this lovely scene of a temperate rainforest in winter.  She has icewater in her veins!

Dare I say that a road closed (in this case by snow) is not about access lost, but opportunity found.  Opportunity for quiet reflection, peace in mind, body and heart.
This place is within a 90 minute drive of more than 2.5 million people, but on this day, I saw no other humans once I left the plowed road..

Life is Good
On Old Ski Road!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Loss of ancient, big trees becoming a global issue

From the Seattle Times:

Loss of ancient, big trees becoming a global issue

A man visits an old-growth cedar during a walk 
along the border of North Cascades National Park
The Pacific Northwest was once covered 
with such huge trees.

Big trees are vanishing around the world and often are not being replaced. The loss of these trees can be devastating to other species.

Seattle Times science reporter
It's not news to Northwesterners that most of the giant firs and cedars that once dominated the region's forests are long gone, felled by decades of logging.
But a review of ecosystems around the world finds that big trees are vanishing almost everywhere — and aren't being replaced.
"What we're seeing is a global phenomenon," said ecologist David Lindenmayer of Australian National University, lead author of a paper published in the Dec. 7 edition of the journal Science. "There are different sets of drivers — it might be fire, logging, drought, disease — but they all lead to basically the same outcome."
The loss of big, old trees can be devastating to thousands of other species that nest and take shelter in their branches and cavities, said University of Washington forestry professor Jerry Franklin, a co-author of the paper.
In some forests, nearly a third of all birds, reptiles, mammals or marsupials make their homes in ancient trees, the scientists reported. Gnarled, old trees also produce a bounty of seeds to replenish the forests and are a vital source of food.
"These big, old trees are really important elements of many forests and many landscapes," said Franklin, who was a key player in the 1990s-era battle to protect the remnants of the Pacific Northwest's famed old-growth forests. "An old tree tends to be very idiosyncratic, just like we are as human beings."
Though the causes for the decline are diverse, all involve the common denominator of human intervention.
In Scandinavia, logging companies are simply targeting the biggest, oldest trees, the researchers found.
On the savannas of Northern Australia, nonnative grasses planted to improve cattle and sheep grazing burn seven times hotter than native grass, decimating trees that weathered centuries of normal fire.
If the rate of loss doesn't abate, all of the trees in the region — both old and young — will be gone in 50 years, Lindenmayer said.
In Brazil, where rain forests have been reduced to fragments, old trees are much more vulnerable to being toppled by wind and parasitized by strangler vines that proliferate after logging.
Many forest ecosystems are so altered by invasive species, human management and shifting climate that young trees no longer are able to grow into behemoths, the scientists said.
Infestations of a plant called lantana smother seedlings in some parts of India, Lindenmayer said.
In the mountain-ash forests of Southern Australia, where he's worked for nearly three decades, cycles of fire followed by salvage logging prevent forests from maturing.
Shifting mindset
Forestry experts have long been aware of the decline of big trees, said Oregon State University professor Mark Harmon, who was not involved in the analysis.
But the Science paper is one of the first attempts to pull together evidence from different parts of the world and make the argument that big trees deserve special consideration.
"Maybe it will change the mindset," Harmon said.
Lindenmayer got interested in big trees while tracking the fate of Australia's equivalent of the northern spotted owl: the Leadbeater's possum, a 4-inch, big-eyed marsupial that can only nest in ash trees at least 200 years old.
Unless the country takes steps to protect the ancient ash trees, the world's tallest flowering plants, the possum is headed for extinction, he said.
In the Pacific Northwest, legal wrangling over the old-growth-dependent owl led the federal government to restrict logging on millions of acres of federal forest in Washington and Oregon. During the debate, Franklin proposed a more eco-friendly alternative to clearcutting that leaves some trees standing.
No policy
But there's still no nationwide policy that singles out big, old trees for protection or works to ensure that young trees are able to replace their elders, he said.
"We're dramatically reducing the number of big trees," Franklin said. "As part of our active management, we need to be planning to restore historic levels of those big, old trees."
The scientists compared the decline of ancient trees to the decimation of tigers, whales and other large mammals. After decades of protection, many slow-growing species like the blue whale are still hovering on the brink of extinction, Lindenmayer pointed out.
"The stakes are very high," he said. "Big trees can be lost very quickly, but it can take centuries for them to be replaced."
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or