October 30, 2016

NW Climate Science Magazine Released

See red link to download/view the PDF. Thanks!

Northwest Climate Magazine

An annual publication from the Northwest Climate Science Center, the Climate Impacts Research Consortium and the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative aimed at sharing stories about Northwest climate research.
Click Here to download the 2016 edition of NW Climate Magazine
Dear Reader,
With its massive El Niño, 2015 was the warmest year on record globally, substantially exceeding the previous record, set only a year earlier. The Northwest felt particularly strong impacts, experiencing record temperatures across the region. Despite ample precipitation, a relief from 2014’s drought, we saw the snowpack disappear with remarkable speed in spring. El Niño has ended, but the past year gave us a look at the climate challenges we expect in the not-so-distant future.

We are pleased to bring you this latest issue of Northwest Climate Magazine, full of stories about the collaborative research, information development, and capacity-building we deliver to help our region prepare for climate change. This online publication is jointly produced by three regional, climate-focused enterprises in the Northwest. We had an overwhelming positive response to our first issue, and our second issue includes stories from additional sources, the Great Basin and Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. While our first issue revealed who we are, where we work, and what we do, this issue demonstrates the practical utility of the research we produce, information we generate, and collaborative efforts we support. It is gratifying to see our work help natural and cultural resource managers throughout the region understand and prepare for a changing environment.

Many of the stories in this issue deal with water availability, a pressing issue for the Northwest, particularly after the low snowpack and associated drought of 2015. Our feature story describes how people across our region are preparing for future drought–from researchers studying how to manage forests to better conserve
snowpack, to scientists developing better early warning systems for drought, to ski resort operators building zip lines and concert venues on their slopes to provide revenue that doesn’t depend on snow. A second story explores how applications of the Beaver Restoration Guidebook and construction of artificial beaver dams can help restore drying watersheds. We also tell stories about the science and support we offer to address threats from wildfire and from increasing stream temperatures; about adaptation efforts of the Nooksack Tribe; an effort to train our next generation of climate professionals; and new, cross-boundary, landscape-level conservation planning.

These stories bring to life some of the important collaborations that are helping our region prepare for the future, and we hope they will encourage you to participate in our joint research-for-management enterprise. Your input and participation are needed to guide our future work and to make our science actionable as we work to meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change.

Gustavo Bisbal (NW CSC), John Mankowski (NPLCC), Philip W Mote (CIRC/NW CSC), & Eric P Salathé Jr. (NW CSC)
You can also view each of our featured stories on the Northwest Climate Science Center webpage: use the links below to navigate to each:


How the Northwest's recent drought provided a glimpse into our future and what’s being done to plan for it

Leave it to Beavers

How researchers from the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin are working with the toothy, hardworking beaver to restore river watersheds under threat from climate change

Conservation Priorities in the Big Empty

An eco-regional approach to landscape conservation in the NW Great Basin

Turning Conservation on its Head

Building a climate shield: Protecting our coldest streams to preserve biodiversity

Science Without Borders

A look at how scientists with resource managers are hammering out useful
tools and approaches to build habitat connectivity across political boundaries

Lessons in the Ashes

How two geographers in Idaho are studying wildfire destruction in an effort to make our forests more resilient to climate change

Can We Keep Salmon In The Nooksack?

The Nooksack Indian Tribe acts to understand a changing watershed


Experiencing Climate Boot Camp

How a week in the woods helped Diana Gergel "problematize" and why that’s a good thing


Copyright © 2016 North Pacific LCC, All rights reserved.

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November 30, 2015

Montana's Missouri River

The 'badlands' landscape of the lower section -- Missouri River float trip.

Montana's Yucca, Yucca glauca

Wild Rockies Field Institute semester students gather for class under the shade of giant cottonwood trees.

The remains of teepee rings rest on this Missouri River bluff. Look closely, you can see the circular outline of the rocks.
We paddled for 9 September days from the river's put-in at Coal Banks Landing to the take-out at Kipp Landing.

February 13, 2015

Beyond the Jeep Road Sits Coyote -- Wilderness in 2015

Southwestern rock
By Levi Old

On the first day of a 90-day expedition, our team made camp at the end of a jeep road. The afternoon sun, low in the sky, blanketed the desert’s red and orange rocks. Daylight quickly shifted into dusk. The rocks faded into shapes, and dropped shadows on slick rock in the crescent moonlight. The wind-worn surfaces that stood so vibrant in daytime were gone.

After dinner and a meeting about the next day’s plan, we embraced the opportunity to sleep out in the open. I found a flat boulder, climbed into my sleeping bag, and looked up at the night sky. The 10 students wandered around searching for sleeping spots, chatting with nervous anticipation and preparing their new equipment for a night’s rest. 

“I bet this never gets old,” said Ben, 20, from Wyoming.

“Seriously,” agreed Lily from New York, “I’ve never seen stars like this before.”

I peeked over the lip of my sleeping bag and noticed the students gazing at the night sky.

The two college students traveled far from their comfortable existences to attend a three-month wilderness leadership course in the heart of the southwestern desert. Along with my colleague, I was their instructor. Around us, there was a more distinguished instructor— wilderness.

The students arrived set to journey through wilderness, the classic romanticized remote landscape, and a wilderness of their mind, body and souls. Students often do not realize that they will travel through a type of land designated by law as Wilderness.

The Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964 designates lands that are separated from roads and motorized use. The act is the federal government’s strictest land preservation law. In 2014 the country celebrated the Act’s 50th Anniversary. The question remains open and often debated by private property activists, business, economists, environmentalists, and others: “Does wilderness still matter?”

Yes. Wilderness is more relevant and timely than ever. Wilderness preserves pockets of ancient ecosystems — from coasts, to endangered grassland prairies, to piedmont and fragile alpine systems. They remain largely intact. Nearby human communities receive a boost in tourism, and recreational users travel to these wild places for respite. Lyndon B. Johnson said upon signing the bill into law:

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."

In 1964, there were 54 Wilderness designations in 13 states totaling 9 million acres. The first Wilderness Area designations included the Gila in New Mexico. The original bill laid the foundation for many other Wilderness bills, some of which were passed into law.

Today there are more than 750 Wilderness Areas from coast to coast. These wild landscapes exist in this country because of the forethought and persistence of conservation leaders.

The Wilderness movement is one of the few times in history in which we as a society designated places set aside for what they are and set at a distance from the human species ability to dominate, take and destroy the very things that help us survive. Wilderness lands are dedicated to preserve havens for clean-water, carbon sequestration, fish and wildlife, and recreation.

Wilderness areas provide the headwater habitat for clean water sources that reach many of our country’s largest cities: Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle and New York, to name a few. The roadless nature of these areas also makes them valuable fish and wildlife habitat. The law allows regions of our country’s landscape to remain inhabitable by large predators and serve as an example and testament of biodiversity and ecological processes. These wild places include home to grizzly bears, elk, and wolves, and watersheds where native salmon and trout maintain their genetic integrity.

Giant Mountain Wilderness, New York ©LeviOld

Wilderness draws humans in for many reasons. They arrive to   separate from their everyday existences. To vision quest. To challenge comfort zones. To rejuvenate.

The students on these wilderness courses often look to escape the symptoms that follow hours spent in front of a screen, or those times when the hand drives itself to the cell phone on its own. Many seek to separate from the trauma of war or family troubles. For others the symptoms may arise in traffic jams, or walking on concrete so often that the body forgets the intricate features of wild, naked earth.

There are others who are content with the notion that wilderness solely exists:

“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in,” said writer and Wilderness advocate, Wallace Stegner. “For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

Wilderness is a victory in this country’s heritage and an Act and idea that deserves and needs to be defended. Even within the environmental movement itself, the debate continues as to whether these places exclude humans too much. There is a belief among many that we should intermingle in the environment and not feel as though we need to separate ourselves from it and that the concept of Wilderness separates humans further from nature.

Mending old and new practices

The leap into the 21st Century passed. The country is in a continuous war for resources. Our earth’s population is over 7 billion and predicted to grow towards as many as 10 billion in 2050 (the elephant in the room). Today’s movement towards ecological peace or “the environmental movement” has deepened the longstanding discussion on the value of setting aside preserved lands. The environmental movement, once driven by large policy and conservation of public lands, now has a new, or at least more diverse presence.

The neo-environmentalists have treaded bravely into new territories. More young farmers stake claims each year to grow local food, tend soils, and use sustainable agriculture. Urban planners are improving public transportation to offset carbon use and cut down on pollution. River restoration groups remove dams so that salmon can once again swim to their native birth grounds and reestablish themselves as staples of cultural tradition and food sovereignty (a role they held for thousands of years).

Universities and Walmarts employ sustainability coordinators who wash shades of green into their operations. Even permaculture, a regenerative way of living, commonly appears in the national press. 

Each of these steps forward is part of a story’s thread — the story of a battle upstream for humanity and earth’s natural systems. They’re not separate, yet woven like an orb weaver’s web — like the web each student will navigate throughout life.

The modern environmental movement’s new approaches should make any longtime fighter in this work proud. However, it should not allow us to sit still or dismiss victories of the past and their value in the present. At the closing of the Act’s 50th year, we celebrated the role of Wilderness in our country’s past and future. In 2015 and beyond, however, our work must continue. The managed landscape cannot be mistaken for unmanaged country.

One loss in the walls of Washington, and this Act could be stripped of its foundations, making wild lands exposed to numerous threats. Direct attacks on the law take place each year in our nation’s capitol.

One bill (H.R. 4089), for example, pushed by the extractive industries and disguised as pro-hunting legislation would have allowed motorized use and other development in protected Wilderness areas. It passed the U. S. House, but died in the Senate. These bills have the ability to destroy the hard work and value of these unmanaged landscapes.

We should not be fooled that Wilderness areas are completely devoid of human impact. Not only are humans visitors to Wilderness areas, the interconnectedness of ecological systems makes non-native species, climate change and air pollution among the many threats to these lands. These landscapes are delicately chosen because they are like no other areas — for their values to humans and ecological processes.

Named after the famous conservationist, the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Area in the Everglades National Park represents the woman who fought hard to protect this ecosystem of cypress marshes and mangrove forests. She secured a future for Miami’s water source and a haven for biodiversity. She stated at the beginning of her book, The River of Grass:

“There are no other Everglades in the world.”

 Everglades National Park - home to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Area

Will we let these special places be exploited for short-term benefit, or will we fight to maintain and protect more?  The younger generation and new breed of environmentalists can step up and lead the charge, mending new conservation techniques with foundations like the Wilderness Act.

Fracking and Fire

On the expedition’s final night we sat around telling stories, and Ben reflected on the gratitude he felt for the places set aside from our own species ability to fragment and destroy. He said he appreciated the lack of roads or drill rigs in the Wilderness areas we traveled throughout the course. He told a story about his home in eastern Wyoming, where drills checkered the landscape and trucks carried water to natural gas fracking operations.

The boom really changed the sagebrush steppe landscape where he grew up. He spoke about how the land’s value to human needs will outlast the natural gas extraction, and he hoped it would not ruin his hunting and fishing grounds, or his family’s water source.

Out here we know that there are wild landscapes protected by the Wilderness Act, which we learned about on course, he explained. “What forethought went into the protection of these places,” Ben said. “Those advocates were wise and planning for future generations. I would like to be one of those people.”

That night we sat in a cliff-side cave overlooking an arroyo. After weeks of challenging herself with primitive fire techniques, Lily started the fire we sat around. She also canoed, backpacked, wrestled with group leadership, communication, cooking, and a fear of heights — all under the guidance of Wilderness.

Each night Ben, Lily and our expedition crew stargazed far from city lights. As an educator, Wilderness provides me the finest of classrooms, a wild place that doubles as a wise mentor. That evening, I sensed we all knew that Wilderness can be harsh, often unforgiving, yet rewarding beyond the best author’s and the best speaker’s words.

As we went to bed, coyotes yipped into a light covering of cirrus clouds.


Douglas, M.S. (1947). The Everglades: River of Grass. New York, NY: Rinehart & Company.

Govtrack.us. (n.d.). H.R. 4089 (112th): Sportsman’s Heritage Act of 2012. Retrieved from     https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr4089

The Wilderness Society. (n.d.). General Format. Retrieved from http://wilderness.org/article/wilderness-act

October 25, 2014

Freshwater Sharks - Snorkeling in frigid waters for a species at-risk

By Levi Old

On a dead-still summer night, I army-crawl upstream.
“We have a large adult!” says Jen.

I rise to one knee and pull the fogged snorkel mask off my head. “A big one?” I mumble in a haze.

“Yeah, really big. Much larger than I’ve ever seen this far up the creek,” she replies, pointing to where it kicks its caudal fin gently against the downstream flow. “It’s right there beside you.”
I cinch the mask on my face, place the snorkel in my mouth, and dunk back into the frigid water:  

Twenty-six inches of wildness.

Jen pops her head out of the water and says, “Isn’t that just a beautiful creature?”

She snorkels one side of the creek and I snorkel the other. An assistant in waders walks the creek, tallies our fish sightings and makes sure we do not go hypothermic.

Jen O’Reilly, a biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, leads the recovery effort for the Odell Lake population of bull trout, a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act. The recovery team consists of US Forest Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited. In order to monitor recovery of bull trout, biologists conducts an annual juvenile count in Trapper Creek, the only known spawning location for this population.

Trapper Creek is a tributary to Odell Lake. In the shadow of Oregon’s Diamond Peak, the lake lies in a glacier-carved basin physically detached from the Deschutes River by a 5500 year-old lava flow. The flow enclosed the lake, genetically isolating this population of bull trout.

At midnight this past July, 10 of us in dry suits and thick neoprene hoodies shimmied up different reaches (Fig. 1) of Trapper Creek. Shallow in most places, the snorkel is more of a crawl and scramble than a leisurely swim upstream. Even in mid-summer Trapper Creek is icy.

We closely observed the nooks of each piece of in-stream wood and dove into pools where rapids converged and bubbles enveloped our sightlines. We held dive lights, counted each fish and estimated its size class. We kept our eyes peeled for the creek’s bull trout.

Named for their broad heads, bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) serve as apex predators in aquatic systems of the West. Often called “Dolly Varden (S. malma),” they are in fact a separate species. Bull trout exist in less than half their historic range and prefer clean, cold waters. As a member of the char genus, they grow to be shark-like beasts in comparison to their trout relatives. Bull trout can measure up to 41 inches and weigh as much as 42 pounds.

Figure 1: Trapper Creek runs north into Odell Lake. The three primary snorkeling reaches are labeled on the map (Richardson and Jacobs).

The Trapper Creek bull trout population is known as the only adfluvial, non-reservoir population of bull trout in Oregon. During the 20th century, the building of railroads, construction of revetments, and removal of woody debris turned the creek into a large ditch of rushing water, unsuitable for spawning bull trout.

In 2003, this all changed. The recovery team restored the channel to increase spawning and rearing habitat by deconstructing revetments, placing woody debris and rebuilding a meandering channel. The annual snorkel count of juvenile bull trout increased from 26 in 1996 to 150 in 2005. Restoring, sustaining and monitoring native habitat is crucial to the survival of this iconic species.

If you find yourself on western waters, keep an eye out for these stream predators. Light spots of yellow, red and orange cover their dark bodies, and a white margin can be found on the leading edge of their ventral fins. And watch out, anglers: they will steal a hooked fish right off of your line.

Please enjoy the video: Bull Trout


Montana Water Center. (2009). Trapper Creek. Retrieved on October 16, 2014, from                                                       http://wildfish.montana.edu/Cases/browse_details.asp?ProjectID=36.

Richardson, Shannon and Jacobs, Steve. (2010). Progress Reports. Retrieved on October 16,   2014, from

November 2, 2013

Arriving in Vermont

Trembling through the Vermont forests, Autumn winds pass. Signs point to the settling of wintertime here in the Northeast.

I hope to find time to make further photography updates soon.

©LeviOld   Clubmoss, NE Forest

September 1, 2013

The Nisutlin River

Amanda from Saskatchewan, Willie from Coastal Georgia, Levi from Virginia   ©LeviOldPhotography

Here is the Instructor team for our 30 Yukon expedition. At this point in the trip students are traveling on their own. This is a large flatwater river that flows into the Yukon River. It's a couple creeks and rivers down the watershed from where we began in the high alpine. Notice that set of teeth the guy from South Georgia acquired over the years.