Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let it snow!

Continuing in the tradition of the last few years of AmeriCorps blogs- I’m here to talk about snow! While the aforementioned element of fire has strongly affected my life, of equal importance is the element of water, specifically in the form of snow. As long as I can remember I’ve always had a deep connection to snow. Winters growing up in the Entiat Valley were always full of sledding, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. After my family’s home burnt down in 1994, we lived in a yurt while re-building on our property. That was the winter of 1996-97, I was three years old and it snowed upwards of 5 feet. We couldn’t be happier as our yurt turned into an igloo and the landscape found relief in the added moisture. When I was six years old, my mom woke me up to show me that it had snowed overnight and I began to cry because I found it so beautiful. And at 14, I fell in love with the sport of alpine skiing at Mission Ridge and have been incredibly hooked on the sport since. I can’t quite put my finger on it; what snow brings that is so magical. Perhaps it is the peacefulness- the muffling of loud sounds, the necessity of moving slower through our day’s errands. Perhaps it is the nostalgia of feeling like a child again- the ageless feeling we get when playing in the snow. For me it is the coldness of the air that brings a sense of clarity and the endorphins I get from skiing, hiking, and playing in the snow. And obviously, it is the holidays that bring us all together- the break from work and school, the importance of reflection and gratitude we feel during this time of year.

The percentage of area in drought status is still higher right
now that it was one year ago.
Besides the joyous wonders of a white holiday season- the effects of a snowy (or dry) winter last long into the summer. Last winter we saw an incredible lack of snow and the ecological and economic effects of that hit hard over the summer. The effects of the biggest wildfire ever in our state’s history led to lack of tourism and loss of important infrastructure. The lack of water led to a weakness in our defense against those fires, it was hard hitting on orchardists and farmers, habitat for important species suffered, the list goes on and on.  Although we are still currently in a drought- the Department of Ecology recently stated that the Drought Emergency Declaration will be ending at the end of the year due to snow levels being at or above 100% of normal for this time of year. For the emergency declaration to be made water supply levels must be below 75%. The month of December has been so good to our area with snow falling up high and a mixture of rain and snow falling down low. I am eager to see where this El Nino season takes us and am hoping that the trend of snow continues. And if it does, I am eager to see the effects of that come summertime.  
Our region is currently at 126% of normal
snow water equivalent.

As a person whose happiness strongly depends on the ability to ski in the winter months I will say that I’ve learned to do it while you can. Mission Ridge is at ~70 inches of snowfall for the month, close to their ~100 inch December snowfall record. Who knows what the rest of the season will bring us- hopefully more of the same, but possibly not. Until it changes, that’s where you’ll find me (and a few others from the Cascadia office)!

As always thanks for stopping by, on behalf of the Cascadia staff, we wish you a very joyous holiday season! Let me know in the comments what your favorite part of a snowy holiday season is!



Friday, November 20, 2015

Living with Wildfire

One of the most defining elements in my life has been wildfire. It started at 18 months old, when my family’s home up the Entiat Valley was one of thirty five destroyed by the Tyee Fire. While I have no memory of that actual day, the scars from that fire are still very real. Growing up, it meant that my first phrase was “burnt trees” and playing outside always ended with charcoal covered clothes. Now, it means not having access to my parent’s record collection, my dad’s climbing gear, old family photo albums. While frustrating- I can quite easily live without those things. What I really struggle with now, are the more frequent, higher intensity fires, and the advances the fires have made into more populated areas and the Glacier Peak Wilderness- my favorite playground. The thought of backpacking into places that were once a wonderland but are now turned to a crisp, puts knots in my stomach. It is a destruction that I have a really hard timing coming to terms with, because it is so personal to me.

One really powerful thing that growing up in an area that has been so harshly affected by a natural disaster did to me, was allowing me to witness and appreciate the rebirth. Looking across the valley outside my parent’s front window (of the house they rebuilt a few years after the fire) one person might only see the hundreds of blackened trees- but I see an equal amount, if not more, 10-15 foot tall trees that have grown since. I literally got to grow up at the same time as the plants in my valley- and that is pretty special.
Living in an environment where natural disaster is so prevalent can definitely make someone want to give up- and usually around July of every summer when the air is thick with smoke and plumes dot the horizon, I do want to. However, I do believe it is a fight worth fighting- I am far too connected to these landscapes to give up and walk away. In college, I fought the fight by working for the Forest Service- my base job was working as a member of the Recreation Crew- but in my second season I earned the certifications needed to work at dispatch. That season and the next I worked 75 hours a week, with nearly zero days off, managing the equipment, crews, supplies, and overhead personnel needed to fight the 500,000 plus acres of Central Washington land that was on fire.

In my current position as an AmeriCorps doing environmental education, I am fighting the fight by teaching future generations how to understand and respect the fine balance needed to live in peace in a wildfire ecosystem. Through the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s exhibit ‘Wildfires & Us’ and their educational program they have designed to go along with it, I have the opportunity to teach 3rd-10th graders about wildfire ecology and history in our area. An especially poignant moment each time that I teach this lesson is when I hold up a section of a tree that was killed in the Tyee fire and use it to explain the history of fire in our country. On this tree cookie (a 4 inch thick section of a tree), you can clearly see the Pith of the tree- when it was born in 1810- and all the subsequent tree lines that show it survived eight fires between 1810 and 1929, and then was eventually killed in 1994 by the Tyee fire. I explain to the students that because there were semi-frequent, low-intensity fires in the first 119 years of its life, the tree was able to survive. But due to the exclusion of fire in the later 65 years of its life, because of policies developed following the 1910 Big Burn- like the 10 AM policy developed in 1935- ground and ladder fuels were allowed to build up leading to the subsequent death of the tree in 1994. This is usually an “ah-ha!” moment for many students and allows me to bring the lesson of wildfire ecology full circle. We are teaching them that wildfire management is still being developed- we thought we had the answer for the last century, but have now realized that we were doing it wrong, and it is time to look for new solutions. I strive to inspire the students to think about solutions to the epidemic of overcrowded, weak, dying, and thus flammable trees. We talk about Department of Ecology policy regarding controlled burns, Mountain Pine Beetle infestations, and tactics to reduce fuels. My hope is that the students come away with an understanding of the recipe for a firestorm, what a healthy forest should look like, and a spark to the question of “what’s next?”
I believe there is power in developing policy at a high level in an effort to incentivize actions that would reduce risk of loss from wildfire. But, I also strongly believe in the power of educating future generations so that they grow up with an understanding of the issues and are that much more motivated and prepared to work towards a solution when they enter the workforce. It is apparent that the Wenatchee Valley realizes there is a problem- and I look forward to seeing solutions arise in upcoming years!
If you hadn’t had a chance to check out the Wildfires & Us exhibit at the Wenatchee Valley Museum- today is the last day it is being shown, and I strongly urge you to check it out. It combines the talented photography of John Marshall and the extensive knowledge of Paul Hessburg and is extremely informative about wildfire ecology historically and looking into the future. Additionally, check out these amazing videos made by North 40 Productions that were shown at the Wildfires & Us Summit last week. They detail last summer’s fires and the educational program at Squilchuck:
I would love to read your thoughts on the summit or exhibit if you were able to attend, or attempt to answer any questions you might have regarding life in a wildfire ecosystem. As always, thanks for stopping by!

P.S. If you were affected by last summer's fires and are wondering what steps you should be taking now, on Tuesday, November 24th, at the Chelan Fire Station from 6:30-8:30, there will be an After the Fires Community Meeting. Representatives from local agencies as well as experts on post fire recovery will be present to answer questions. We hope to see you there!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Engaging in Environmental Education!

One of my main responsibilities as the AmeriCorps intern for Cascadia is to provide environmental education in the district’s local schools. Depending on a teacher’s schedule and planned curriculum, I get to spend anywhere from 1-5 hours with a group of students aged 5-12. In that time I have the opportunity to shape our valley’s young people’s understanding of ecosystems and help them understand the ways in which humans can influence those ecosystem functions. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly, especially in a time where funding for education is getting tighter and the need for a society with an understanding of our planet’s functions and needs is becoming direr. And fortunately, through Cascadia’s partnerships with other organizations and conservation districts, I have access to fun, free science curriculum that incorporates hands-on learning opportunities in every lesson.

Water on Wheels Lessons
The main curriculum that I teach is called Wheat Week. This is a five day program created by the Franklin Conservation District (FCD). Wheat Week uses the wheat plant as a tool to educate 4  th and 5th graders about systems, water, soil, pollution, and energy. During this week, students get to build their own terrariums and grow a wheat plant, experience the water cycle as a water droplet, investigate the different types of soil, create a watershed model, and thresh a wheat plant. Another program I teach, also created by FCD, is called Water on Wheels. This program consists of eight different lessons, which can be taught as a series or individually depending on a teacher’s needs. These lessons educate students, in varying levels of depth depending on their grade level, about soils, the water cycle, animal habitats, and watersheds. Each lesson involves a different science experiment, game, craft, or environment model. All of the FCD’s curriculums meet a number of science and social studies Washington State learning standards. They also incorporate GLAD strategies. GLAD – which stands for Guided Language Acquisition Design- is a program that originated in California and is in its first phase in the Wenatchee School District. It strives to “promote an educational setting that produces effective, literate citizens of a global society.”

I also have opportunities to work with local schools at events like Salmon Fest where we host the Rolling Rivers exhibit, at the Wildfires & Us Field experience put on through the Wenatchee Valley Museum, and at Kids in the Creek where we work with our partner agencies to get kids outside in the Entiat River doing science. Additionally, I coordinate Native Planting 101 (planned for March 5th, 2016!) a workshop open to the public, where anyone of any age can come and learn about effective landscaping and plant care in the Wenatchee area.  

My week of in-class training with the FCD is done and I am currently filling my schedule in with lessons. If you are interested in volunteering at an event, know a teacher who might interested in lessons, or have a question, comment, or nugget of advice- all are welcome in my inbox (!

Thanks for stopping by!



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Sweet Homecoming

Greetings! My name is McKenzie Selden, and I am the new AmeriCorps member serving at Cascadia Conservation District. I've spent my first half hour of work this morning looking back at previous members' blogs and have been thoroughly inspired and excited for the projects and challenges that will be coming my way this year.

I hail from the tiny town of Entiat, about 15 miles north of Wenatchee on the highway, and then another 14 miles up a rural county road. It was a childhood filled with farm animals, dirty fingernails, backpacking trips into the Glacier Peak Wilderness, and homemade applesauce. Growing up here really instilled in me an appreciation for the natural, wild world and left me wondering what I could do to keep it that way. And so, when I found myself at Western Washington University, I chose to focus my studies on learning tactics for regulation of things contributing towards climate change. I also focused my learning on how to communicate the importance and immediacy of a need for action; I majored in Environmental Policy with a minor in Communication Studies.

La Catarata de la Fortuna,
Costa Rica
My last semester of college was spent abroad, studying Sustainable Development with the School for Field Studies in Costa Rica. It was an amazing whirlwind of a semester where I learned how to think critically about tourism, was chased by capuchin monkeys, and made lifelong friends that taught me more, possibly, than any of my actual courses that semester. However, as a girl who lives for Eastern Washington winters, all I could think about at the end of the semester, was how badly I needed to ski. So, I (somewhat reluctantly) returned to the Wenatchee Valley with high hopes of being a ski bum- only to be met with the worst winter in my lifetime. Nonetheless, I worked at Mission Ridge and fell back in love with the valley. I spent my summer working my 3rd season for the Forest Service on a recreation crew and then for interagency dispatch once the fires took over.

Students from Entiat Elementary School
create their own watersheds at Salmon Fest
Heading into my first fall since I had graduated from college, I was still searching for my purpose in the valley. How would I make my time here valuable? That's when I saw the opening for this job. I had always planned on doing a year of service but I had no idea where, how, or when I would do it. Being the AmeriCorps for Cascadia has already served to be rewarding and nostalgic to me. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the community that raised me, and perhaps to inspire the minds of young people growing up in this community right now.

My first week, I participated in Salmon Fest where Cascadia hosts the Rolling Rivers exhibit. It was great to dive right into teaching and hands on activities with kids.

One of my duties as the AmeriCorps is to update this blog, so thank you for reading! Please post any conservation related questions or topics you might be interested in reading about and I'll do my best to address them in upcoming posts!


P.S. A quick reminder that there is only one week left in our Clean Water Campaign photo contest! Photos taken anywhere in Chelan County having to do with recreation, water, plants, wildlife, agriculture, or landscapes can be submitted for a chance to be included in our 2016 natural resources stewardship calendar. Submit your photos by October 1st at!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Drought in the PNW

Last week I borrowed a standup paddleboard and with a friend enjoyed a lazy float down several miles of the Wenatchee River near Leavenworth. With the temperature in the high 80s and nearly no wind the setting was perfect: no crowds, abundant wildlife and the peaceful sound of water on its journey down, perpetually heading toward the ocean. There was, however, something amiss about this dog day afternoon adventure- the water itself. Typically mountain streams like the Icicle and the Wenatchee are cold enough to keep most of us from jumping in and splashing around for minutes or even hours at a time like one might at the community pool. But on this afternoon the water was so warm we, like many others, swam unhampered by numbed body parts and goose bumps. While it may feel great to us, this warm water spells trouble for fish and wildlife and points to a serious problem: drought.

Surely it’s no surprise to anyone that the entire west coast is experiencing severe drought, but for many of us we’re not sure what exactly that means. How should that influence our daily routine? What are ways we exacerbate or alleviate the effects? How will drought affect me? Fortunately there are plenty of resources answering these questions and more. For starters check out our drought page on our website. For more detailed reports and information see the following sites:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Peshastin Mill Site: Preserve or Develop?

The Wenatchee River is a place dear to so many of us living in Chelan County.  Our local waterway affords excellent recreation opportunities-from hiking and biking, to rafting and fishing. It’s also a habitat for many hundreds of species of birds, bugs, fish and mammals. The iconic Wenatchee River and the animals that call it home may be getting more protection soon-and with it some bonus public access. If everything goes as planned, the Peshastin Mill will become property of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sometime next summer.

The Peshastin Mill is currently owned by the Port of Chelan County who in 2006 abandoned initial plans to turn the property into a business park due to the expenses of developing the site. Last summer the Port of Chelan County officially began looking for suitors to purchase the 14 acre site.

What this means is that the longest continual stretch of undeveloped waterfront remaining between Leavenworth and Peshastin will be protected and public access to the area will be allowed. Several local groups saw the opportunity to preserve the natural qualities of this site and keep it open to the public. The Complete the Loop Coalition (CTLC) and its partners have signed an earnest money agreement (which is like paying a security deposit) to demonstrate their intentions to raise the $475,000 it would take to purchase the 14 acres of riverfront. 

$475,000 is a lot of money for groups like the Icicle Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, the CTLC and their local partners. Through an anonymous donation of $50,000 and a challenge match gift of $100,000 from Dr. Elliot Scull, a potential $150,000 has already been raised. That leaves just about one year to raise the remaining $325,000. Lacking the resources for long term management, after purchasing the property CTLC plans to hand it over to the Forest Service.

If you’re interested in joining the cause to protect this stretch of river from development and keeping it open to the public, check out

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kids in the Creek!

On May 5, 6 and 7 approximately 300 high school students found themselves on the scenic grounds of the Entiat Fish Hatchery for the annual Kids in the Creek event (KITC). KITC is a hands on outdoor education program in which high school biology students study  stream ecology on the Entiat River. Thousands of North Central Washington students have experienced this unique learning opportunity since its inception in 1992.

Each day at KITC students are split into six teams which rotate between six learning stations throughout the day. Each station is led by resource professionals (Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, Chelan County Natural Resources Department, United States Forest Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Team Naturaleza, Wenatchee School District, Trout Unlimited, Ponderosa Community, AmeriCorps and the Public Utility District) and focuses on key components of stream ecology.

Invertebrate Investigators- At this station the students dawn baggy, clown-sized waders and take to the stream with nets to collect macro invertebrates. Using microscopes, students compare their samples with identification charts to determine which species they’ve found and get an indication of stream health.

Riparian RX- Students at this station take a walk through the Entiat River’s riparian zone learning about adaptation, the function of riparian zones, stream bank restoration and flora and fauna interrelationships. Students are exposed to field techniques and tools used to determine ground cover, canopy cover and overall riparian health.

Habitat Sense – At habitat sense students examine physical aspects of the river and discuss what good fish habitat looks like. These attributes include riffles, glides, pools, substrate and embeddedness.

Fish Health- As the station title suggests, the focus here is fish health and the environmental factors that affect fish. Students also learn about fish anatomy and environmental stressors.

Stream Flow- At this station students use mathematical equations they’ve learned in the classroom to calculate the stream flow of a side channel of the Entiat River. After calculating the flow, the students discuss what varying flows mean for the ecosystem, especially at extreme high and low flows.

Water Quality- Here, students learn to measure the pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen and temperature of a river. They then use these measurements to discuss and quantify stream health.

Upon completing each station, at the end of the day, each team is charged with coming up with a management plan for a swath of riverside property. These plans are then presented to peers and several resource professionals who critique each plan.

This year’s KITC was a huge success. Everything went just as planned and everyone involved learned something they could take with them. A few of the participating Wenatchee High School students were asked what they learned at KITC. This is how one replied: “it is important to us to have healthy streams…we really affect our watershed.”

Cascadia would like to thank Entiat Fish Hatchery for providing a beautiful venue, Alcoa and South Douglas Conservation District for their funding, and the Entiat Volunteer Service group for all their hard work and support. We would also like to thank all the resource professionals who came out to share their knowledge with the next generation of land managers!

Below are more Wenatchee High School students’ replies when asked what they learned at KITC.
* How important riparians are; why it is important to us to have healthy streams; how we really affect our watershed.
* Learned it's hard to catch a fish; fish are good at hiding; construction sites are way too dirty.
*That fish need healthy/non-polluted water to live; all streams have different habitat for different bugs; that biologists have very hands on jobs.
* It's very important to keep our environment clean for the Wenatchee watershed.
* That learning can be fun; you don't always learn in classrooms; hands on is good.
* How much the scientists care; how interesting macroinvertebrates are; how fun it was.
* It was fun to learn more stuff about the land; I thought it was going to be boring but it was fun; that fish and trees need to be helped and saved from being turned into stores and homes.

Today's snowpack in North Central Washington is 31% of its 29 year average (

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wenatchee River Appreciation

Heading into what is sure to be a warmer than usual spring and summer and with such a measly snowpack in the mountains, Cascadia Conservation District and a group of well-intentioned community members headed to the banks of Brender Creek for our annual Wenatchee River Appreciation event. This year’s event was all about repairing the disturbed riparian area along the Wenatchee River tributary.

The banks of Brender Creek, adjacent to the former Cashmere mill site, has been one of Cascadia’s project sites over the winter and into the spring. It’s a site that has seen extensive cleanup efforts over the last few years, with the Port of Chelan fronting the bill for removal of debris and pollution accumulated over years of mill activity, with the intention to sell the land. 

With funding from the Department of Ecology, Cascadia and partnering agencies Chelan County Port District and Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group provided about 250 plants (ponderosa, Oregon grape, mock orange and golden currant), planting equipment and refreshments for volunteers. Clad in dusty work clothes and worn leather gloves, nearly 30 community members came out to help plant throughout a couple hundred yards of the Brender Creek riparian.

With so many eager hands getting plants in the ground, the event lasted about two and a half hours, culminating in a raffle in which two Wenatchee High School students won photographs by local artist and Cascadia Project Manager Michael Cushman. Cascadia would like to thank Cascade Quality Water and Crunch Pack for providing refreshments.

Today’s snowpack is 31% of the 34 year average (

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day Essay Contest Winner: Rylee Hersh

Happy Earth Day! We are happy to announce this year’s Earth Day Essay Contest winner, Rylee Hersh from Sterling Intermediate School. Rylee’s essay answered the question “How can a middle school student be an effective steward of the environment?”

As the winner of the contest, Rylee received a hand painted field journal from local artist Heater A. Wallis Murphy and a day of white water rafting on the Wenatchee River with Orion Expeditions. We are also posting her essay on our website for the public’s edification. Here is Rylee’s essay:

     The enviornment gets worse and worse every year. Trash piles up, the air gets dirtier and dirtier, and plastic that can be recycled is thrown away. Middle school students can make positive changes to help manage the environment. They can manage their trash, do many activities to stop air pollution, and recycle. 
     Students can manage their trash to improve the environment. As Los Angeles Times states, when kids in a Los Angeles school district eat lunch, they take way more than they can eat. This is because of the rule where they enforce kids to take at least on vegetable. Kids don't like vegetables as much, so they throw it away. 18 million dollars worth of food is thrown away in Los Angeles schools. Kids have also made trash art, as Legacy International says. Trash piles up, students can do something about it!
     Students help by doing activities to prevent air pollution. The website EPA Victoria states that the largest cause of air pollution is cars. Cars burn fossil fuels. Car exhaust makes up most of the air pollution in the world. Legacy International describes how many kids have already taken action and decided to ride their bikes to school. Riding a bike to school won't give off the exhaust that cars do, so people can ride bikes to stop pollution in the sky. Middle school students can do many activities to stop air pollution. 
     Students improve the environment by recycling. The website Stage Of Life says that a plastic bottle can sit in a landfill for 500 years before even starting to compost. In other words, Stage Of Life recommends that kids and adults should not drink from plastic water bottles. Instead, use a refillable water bottle to help the environment. The same thing is happening with plastic grocery bags, plastic doesn't start to compost for hundreds of years while in a garbage dump, so use a reusable grocery bag too. Students can make a big difference by recycling. 
     It takes one small act to recycle a bottle rather than throwing it away. It takes a little bit of work to ride a bike instead of hopping in a car. It takes little effort to take food a kid will eat. Small acts lead to a big difference. Middle school students can change the environment positively. They can recycle, do activities to slow air pollution, and manage their trash. 
-Rylee Hersh

Well said and congratulations, Rylee!

Today’s snowpack is 42% of the 34 year average (

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Earth Day Essay Contest

What better way to usher in springtime than with an Earth Day essay contest? That’s exactly what we’re doing here at Cascadia. If you’re in grades 6-8 within Chelan or Douglas County, we think you should tell us about being a young environmental steward.

Sadly, we haven’t been able to put on the Earth Day essay contest since 2012. But this year we have sweet prizes from generous local businesses, an early spring for inspiration and a thought provoking prompt: How can a middle school student be an effective steward of the environment?

For added inspiration, here’s the winning essay from 2012. It was written by 7th grader Mariela Morales from Orchard Middle School. She was answering the question “What have you learned from Nature and why is what you've learned important?”

What’s damaging nature? Humans. If we say Earth is our mother, then nature is our sister. Nature teaches us how to survive in her. And we dig holes and drill out stuff from her insides, then burn them causing poisons to fill the atmosphere. That pollutes the air preventing the sun from shining on the fields properly. In nature I learned that you can be free whenever you like. But more importantly I have learned that our lifestyle causes a lot of damage.

We have killed off vast amounts of Earth’s ecology, turning what used to be delicate ecosystems into deserts. So, a question we all should be asking is: how can we help? Walk or bike instead of driving a car- a good walk is a conversation between the walker and the environment. A simple walk through nature can provide hope and inspiration. Plant trees- they absorb carbon dioxide. It sounds cliché but we must act now before it’s too late.
Nature is not only enchanting but healing too. Her pleasures may be plain, but are kindly and she’s native to us. She’s our friend and will provide. Nature is consistent, she’ll grow even when cut. Those who’ve harmed nature have had their day with her beauty; now let our children have theirs with her beauty that remains. If we consider how much we really belong to nature, we shouldn’t care so much for building cities. Nature helps us when we are sick and instead, we are making nature sick. Knowing that nature is part of our only home means knowing we have to take care of her.
Inspired? Often insight is gained through our more simple and innocent citizens- our children. In that vein, American Rivers created a most apt video illustrating a child’s love of rivers.
Entry Form

If you or someone you know would like to submit an essay, here are the particulars:
• The essays should be 500 words or less, size 12 Times New Roman font, and double-spaced.
• Typed essays are preferred, but hand written essays will be accepted provided they are legible.
• Word count should be included in the bottom, right corner of the essay.
• Essays must be turned in with completed entry form (pictured to the right)
• Sorry, electronic submissions will not be accepted.          
Essays are due Monday April 13, 2015. Essays postmarked April 14th or later will be disqualified.
• Winners will be announced on our website on April 22.
• Send or deliver essays to 14 N Mission St., Wenatchee, WA 98801

If you or someone you know still lacks the inspiration to put ink to paper and drop some stewardship knowledge, consider our awards for the top three entries: A day rafting the Wenatchee River with Orion River Expeditions and a hand painted field journal created by local artist Heather A. Wallis.

Today’s snowpack as a percent of average is a derisory 53% (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center,

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Cascadia Does, Part II

Two weeks ago we took a look at how Cascadia Conservation District is an asset to the community through its Landowner Owner Assistance Program. Continuing with that theme, we’re going to take a quick look at the Family Forest Fish Passage Program, which is run by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources- one of Cascadia’s partnering organizations. Cascadia’s roll in this program is to help Chelan County landowners determine eligibility, file the application and finally oversee implementation once funding is made available by the DNR.
Culverts like these block fish passage,
especially for juvenile fish.

A good portion of Washington’s forested land, 3.2 million acres (, is privately owned by small forest landowners. These 3.2 million acres are an important habitat component in a state with federally protected anadromous fish populations. This is where the Family Forest Fish Passage Program comes in.

Working with qualified landowners, the purpose of the Family Forest Fish Passage Program is to replace culverts and other barriers with new structures that allow fish easy passage and reduce habitat degradation while improving access for land owners. Common culprits, culverts can degrade and dissect fish habitat in several ways. A culvert can deter fish passage if there is a drop, similar to a water fall, from the output of the culvert. Similarly, a culvert can become a barrier if it is undersized, creating high water velocity and pressure so great it prevents fish, especially juveniles, from advancing upstream.

Unlike our Landowner Assistance Program, there are several conditions for eligibility. You must be a private small forest landowner and harvest less than 2 million board feet of timber annually from your property. The barrier must be associated with a road and on forested land capable of supporting a merchantable stand of timber. Finally, the barrier must be in a fish-bearing stream, typically wider than 2 feet with a gradient less than 20%.

If you’d like to learn more about this program, visit the Washington State Department of Natural Resources website, call our office at (509) 436-1601 or come to our office at 15 N Mission St. Wenatchee, WA.

Today’s snowpack in North Central Washington is down to 55% of the 34 year average (

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Cascadia Does

“Oh yeah, the conservation district… That must be, uh, some interesting work?” Verbatim, my loquacious uncle’s reply when I told him what I’ve been up to and where I’m working. Like most, my uncle had no idea what a conservation district is. Surprisingly, I’ve had a hard time getting people to understand just what a conservation district does. There is no easy elevator speech for conservation districts. So I’d like to use the next few blog posts to highlight some of our programs.

 Officially, from the National Association of Conservation Districts’ website,"Conservation districts are local units of government established under state law to carry out natural resource management programs at the local level. Districts work with millions of cooperating landowners and operators to help them manage and protect land and water resources on all private lands and many public lands in the United States" ( In short, it is an organization that seeks to help people take care of the land and environment around us. Cascadia’s landowner assistance program is one of several ways we do this.

A hedgerow, planted to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.
 The landowner assistance program is for landowners in Chelan County, excluding those within Wenatchee and Chelan city limits, who are looking for technical and/or financial assistance in installing best management practices (land use practices which mitigate environmental degradation). This could mean replacing outdated irrigation, restoring buffers or riparian zones or even soil testing. Because of this area’s predominant agriculture industry, its proximity to anadromous fish habitat and its proclivity for wildfires, much of our landowner assistance is for landowners with streamside, farmland, orchard or forested property. That said, if your land does not fall in one of these categories, it does not disqualify you for such assistance.

An excellent example of landowners who not only took advantage of our landowner assistance program, but also became role models for environmental stewardship, was highlighted in a blogpost of ours from November 21, 2011.

If you’d like more information on landowner assistance you can call us at (509) 436-1601, email us at or just come by our office at 14 N Mission St. Landowner assistance is only a fraction of what we do here at Cascadia, so please come back next week for a look at the Family Forest Fish Passage Program.

With all of the warm weather and rain we’ve had in the last week, today’s snow pack in our area is a measly 63% of the 34 year average.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wild and Scrumptious

Continuing with our native plant theme, and considering several of our native plants for sale are edible, it seems appropriate to devote a blog to edible native plants. Before delving into this topic, I’d like to be clear that eating plants found in the wild holds some risk and should not be done in a casual manner. If you’re a novice identifying plants or are unsure, it’s best to get a second or third opinion from someone in the know before munching down.

There are many benefits to eating wild plants. First of all it’s free, and as someone on a tight AmeriCorps budget, I’m all for free. Also, generally speaking, plants lose nutritional value the longer they sit after being harvested. So you get more bang for your buck when you eat freshly harvested plants. Depending on values and disposition, it’s also common that people gain a deeper appreciation for the things they eat when they’re able to see their food in its natural environment and gather it themselves.

Being a novice in the subject myself, it seems the best place to start is with plants that are relatively easy to identify and have no poisonous lookalikes. It’s also recommended that one learn the few poisonous plants around in order to better avoid them. The following are just a few examples of the many tasty edible plants you can find in our area:

-Evergreen Huckleberry produces edible berries, which are commonly used to make delicious jelly and jam.
Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
-Hooker’s, or tapertip onion has edible flowers and bulbs and can be consumed raw or cooked. While raw this onion is said to be overpowering, it’s purportedly sweet and delectable when cooked.

Hooker's Onion (Allium acuminatum)
-Camas also has edible bulbs which can be eaten raw or cooked. When cooked, they’re known to be sweeter than a sweet potato. The bulbs can also be ground into flour. It should be noted that Camas has a deadly lookalike aptly named "death camas". To avoid any fatal mix-ups, double, triple or even quadruple check to be sure you've got the right camas. It's easiest to distinguish one from the other while they're flowering.

Camas (Camassia)
-Wild licorice was commonly used by Native Americans. They have sweet, fleshy roots which get sweeter when cooked.
Wild Locrice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
If you’re like me, your mouth is watering just thinking about those scrumptious local flora and you can’t wait to get out and try your hand at finding, preparing and devouring such delicacies. And, if you’re a novice like me, you probably need to pump your breaks, hard. Not only is it the wrong time of year to be gathering many of these edible plants, but there are also some guidelines everyone should abide by when harvesting wild plants. This list of dos and don’ts is from the Washington State University Snohomish County Extension website (

  • Know what you are picking
  • Collect only what you can positively identify as edible
  • Harvest only plants that look healthy in uncontaminated areas
  • Clean and prepare wild foods like you do cultivated crops
  • Eat only small quantities when first trying an edible plant
  • Get property owners' permission before gathering wild foods
  • Never over-harvest. Take only what you can use and use what you take.

If this blog has convinced you to take up gathering wild edible plants, there are plenty of resources online to help you get started. There are also some great field guides worth their weight in edible flora such as A Field Guide to Edible Fruits and Berries of the Pacific Northwest by Richard J. Hebda and Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford.

While it’s been raining down here in Wenatchee, the higher elevations have been getting snow which has increased our snowpack in this area to 64% of the 34 year average (

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Icons of North Central Washington

With this post we’ll conclude our look at the native plants offered by the Cascadia Conservation District. If you’d like to see the full plant list, make an order or get more information please visit our website.

These final two plants are symbols of our region. The grand ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and the vine maple often come to mind when thinking of healthy ecosystems in our area.

My favorite tree of all time, icon of the west and reigning top seller in our plant sale is the ponderosa pine tree. Ponderosa pine, colloquially ‘pondo’, is characterized by its orange, scaly, plate-like bark and long green needles which are typically borne in bundles of three. Growing to around 100 feet in mostly open stands, ponderosas often have the appearance of dominating their surroundings. They are also known for smelling like vanilla.

Very well adapted for our climate east of the Cascades, ponderosa pine isn’t just fire tolerant, it depends on fire. With its thick bark a large ponderosa can handle the low intensity fires that were ubiquitous to this area prior to modern forest management. These fires eliminated the pondo’s resource competitors, allowing it proper exposure and sufficient resources. Since management plans have included enthusiastic fire suppression, shade tolerant trees and shrubs have moved into ponderosa stands throughout the west, lending such stands the characteristics necessary for the increasingly large scale fires we’ve been seeing as of late.

As for conservation uses, ponderosa is commonly used in shelterbelts, living snow fences and in riparian restoration. Ponderosa stands make great habitat for squirrels, birds and bats and provide shelter for big game. Because ponderosa needs exposure, it is a seral species which, when mature, can provide the necessary shade for shade tolerant species to return after a significant disturbance. This makes it an excellent native plant choice for post fire restoration.

Vine maple (Acer circinatum) is another iconic native plant in our region. It is a deciduous tree with red and white flowers in the spring, and brilliant red to subdued yellow broadleaves in the fall. Typically vine maple will grow between 10 and 30 feet tall, with shaded specimens reaching the upper end of that range readily and exposed specimens on the shorter side.

Vine maple grows best along streams and moist sites. It prefers shady sites, but can tolerate some exposure.  In more exposed sites it often takes a single-stemmed tree form, while in shade it usually grows as a shrub in clumps and thickets.

With its white and red flowers in the spring and showy colors in the fall, vine maple is a common choice for those looking to use native species to beautify their landscaping. It is also used as a streamside stabilizer, as a pioneering species at disturbed sites and is an important food source for birds and large and small mammals alike.

Again, if you’re interested in ordering any of our plants, need more information or would like to sign up for our native planting workshop, please see our website.

Today’s Central Columbia River area snowpack is currently at 63% of its 29 year average (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center,

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Broadleaf Bonanza

For this week’s blog we’ll examine three broadleaf shrubs: the Oregon state flower, a red-barked soil retainer and stinky white flowers. Remember, these are but three of Cascadia’s 14 native plants for sale. To make an order, see a complete plant sale list or sign up for our free native planting workshop, please see our website.

Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Oregon’s state flower, is my favorite shrub in this year’s sale. With a waxy texture and sharp leaflets, its evergreen leaves strongly resemble those of ivy. Oregon grape produces dense clusters of small yellow flowers followed by tart, dark blue berries. It typically grows three to six feet tall and five feet wide.

Oregon grape will grow in a variety of settings, from the coastal range to the eastern slopes of the Cascades. It can grow in soils from moist to dry and at exposed to shady sites, but is especially well adapted for drier, exposed sites which makes it a great restoration species. It propagates via suckers and has an extensive root system, making it an excellent soil stabilizer. Birds and rodents are attracted to the berries and the new growth and leaves can be a food source for elk and deer.

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) can grow to about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It has thin, waxy, red bark with green deciduous leaves that turn red in the fall. In the spring it grows the beautiful white clusters of flowers characteristic of dogwood.

Red Osier Dogwood
Red osier dogwood often grows in dense thickets along riverbanks and is found much more sparsely at higher elevations and drier sites. While it prefers plenty of exposure, it will tolerate shade. It’s proclivity for moist soils and open sites and its extensive root system make it a great streamside restoration plant. It can stabilize soil as well as provide shade and habitat for fish. Its foliage is also an attractive food source for elk and deer.

Blue Elderberry
Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) is one of the largest shrubs we offer growing up to about 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It dawns white flowers in the spring which are aesthetically pleasing but emit a slightly rancid smell. These smelly flowers give way to purple or black, waxy berries. It has long, narrow green leaflets up to six inches long. 

While it can grow in a variety of habitats, blue elderberry does best on exposed sites. It’s an early seral species, but can persist beyond initial succession. In conservation, blue elderberry has a number of uses including riparian restoration, erosion control and habitat improvement.

Thanks to a brief, though much needed storm last weekend, the Central Columbia River area snowpack is currently at 71% of the 29 year average.  More specifically, as of January 1, the Wenatchee River drainage was at 68% of its 29 year median.  (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center, 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Three More Native Beauties...

I’d like to use this post to continue the tour of native plants offered by the Cascadia Conservation District. If you’d like to place an order, get more information or register for our native planting workshop, please see our website. Two of these next three native plants, woods’ rose and golden currant, are old plant sale standbys, while evergreen huckleberry is back for the first time since 2012.

Woods' Rose
Woods' rose (Rosa Woodsii), or Interior rose, grows in a variety of soils and climates, even in places with very little topsoil and at high elevations. It does well in varying degrees of sun exposure. It should also be mentioned that wild roses are far less susceptible to disease and recover much quicker than domesticated roses.

The woods’ rose is an excellent choice for someone looking to beautify their property in a harsh climate. As well as being a hardy survivor, it also dawns magnificent pink flowers and bright red hips. Because of its ability to grow with little soil on steep slopes and in generally tough conditions, the woods’ rose is a top choice for restoration.

Evergreen Huckleberry
Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) is another hardy plant we offer. Though it is commonly found in coniferous forests and prefers shade, it can grow in full sunlight and sandy soil and it is drought tolerant.

In the spring the evergreen huckleberry, in ideal conditions, will grow light pink, urn-shaped flowers which will transform into delicious red, then purple berries. Its leaves are egg shaped, dark green and have a reddish hue when immature. The evergreen huckleberry grows up to 13 feet tall.

Golden Currant
Golden currant (Ribes aureum) is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 6 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. Its waxy green leaves turn a showy yellow in the fall and the shrub produces yellow flowers which morph into berries of various colors.

Golden currant can grow in a variety of sites, from moist bottomlands to exposed hillsides making it a good soil stabilizer for nearly any location. Also, while its berries may taste tart to us, but they’re a favorite for birds and small mammals.

Today’s snowpack as a percent of average is 64% (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center,
USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center

Monday, January 5, 2015

Native Plant Sale

With this post I’d like to highlight several of my favorite plants available in our annual native plant sale here at the Cascadia Conservation District. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) are but three of our 14 plants for sale this year. For a complete list, to make an order or to get more information please visit our website.

Quaking aspen is a deciduous tree characterized by its trembling, nearly heart shaped leaves. The effects of the slightest breeze on an Aspen grove in the fall is spectacular. Quaking aspen have smooth white bark, grow up to 80 feet and have green, chartreuse or yellow leaves depending on the time of year.  

Quaking aspen are unique in that an entire colony shares a single root structure, and each tree is genetically identical to the next within the colony. Quaking aspen can grow in most soil types, but does best in soil that is moist most of the year. It’s useful along rivers and streams as a bank stabilizer, provides nesting places for many local bird species and its foliage is browsed upon by mammals.

 Mock Orange
Mock orange is a lovely little shrub in the late spring when it dawns fragrant, showy white flowers. It grows 6 to 12 feet tall, but typically doesn’t exceed 6 feet east of the Cascades. It grows in abundance in a variety of habitats including riparian zones along gullies and streams, forested bottomlands as well as upland sites. Mock orange acts as soil stabilizer and food for many insects like moths and butterflies.

If you’re looking for a shrub with attractive fall foliage, look no further than serviceberry. Serviceberry is ubiquitous throughout the western United States and Canada. It even has a town in Saskatchewan named after it (Saskatoon). Like mock orange, it dawns showy white flowers in the spring. It grows in a variety of climates and habitats either as a small deciduous tree or upright shrub. Spreading via underground runners, serviceberry often grows in large thickets. It can grow in full sun or shade and on steep or level terrain. In terms of conservation, serviceberry is used for soil stabilization and enhancing wildlife habitat (food for birds, rodents and bears).

Today’s snowpack as a percent of average is 73%.