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Occasional posts - from the quirky to the momentous - on the life and times of the Methow Conservancy.
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Saturday, January 31, 2015

The 2nd Quarter Begins - Grad School Update #4

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director

As many of you know, I started a Masters of Education in Environmental Education degree program at Huxley College at Western Washington University last fall.  The second 10-week quarter (and the last one I have to spend on campus) started Jan 6, so I'm well into the thick of things now.  (Scroll down the blog for three posts from the first quarter.).  

I'm in Bellingham 3-4 days a week, and am, oddly, getting significantly more sun over there than folks in the Methow.  Spring seems nearly ready to sprout in B'ham with cottonwood buds already sticky and sweet-smelling, and 2" long alder catkins hanging from trees.  I wouldn't be surprised if crocuses started blooming any day.  Coming back to my snow and ice covered yard every week is both very weird and welcomed because despite enjoying walking to campus without a coat, I miss winter when I'm over there.  

This program is set-up relatively well for working professionals in that I only have to do two 10-week quarters on campus, then the rest of the program is independent, including the Masters project, and I'll complete that work in the Methow and in-conjunction, as much as possible at least, with the Methow Conservancy.

Though the fall quarter felt fairly demanding time-wise, this winter quarter felt more intense right off the bat.  The professors must have been easing us into things in the fall!  I have the same number of classes as last quarter - three - but I'm also a "teaching assistant" (TA) for the unique environmental education "spring block" that about 20 undergrads do.  So, technically I'm taking 15 graduate credits this quarter, versus last quarter's 11, so maybe that's why I feel like I have much more to do.  Spending about 11 hours in a car commuting every week certainly cuts into my time as well, but at least I'm getting some great books listened to!  (Recommendations are always appreciated!)

My classes this quarter are:
Assessment, Evaluation and Research in Environmental Education
This course combines a major evaluation planning project with lecture, discussion, activities, and smaller assignments to teach concepts and skills emphasizing program evaluation in environmental education.  The evaluation planning project I've chosen to do is an assessment of the Conservancy's education programs with an eye towards what changes or enhances, if any, may be warranted based on community feedback.  This class is very reading and project heavy, and I'm glad to be apply to directly apply the learning and the project work to the Methow Conservancy. 

Curriculum in Environmental Education
This course examines all aspects of curriculum for environmental education, especially
in the non-formal setting of environmental learning centers, nature centers and outdoor schools.  This class interacts with the undergrad EE curriculum class by teaching the class, observing and evaluating undergrad students, and mentoring them.  We also do our own work of learning curriculum theories and designs, which we'll use to design our own individual curriculum outlines.  We'll have to teach one lesson from our curriculum to our classmates.  I'm thrilled that this class, like the one above, allows me to easily apply the learning and the curriculum project to my work. 

The American Literature of Nature and Place
This class is an upper level undergraduate course that I'm taking as an elective.  I'm one of two grad students in the class with about 25 20-year-olds.  That alone is fascinating!  The reading and writing in this class is right up my alley, but it is a lot of work.  I probably spend more time on this class, the undergrad class, than the either of the other two classes.  In this class, we primarily (1) read, discuss and write about the work of American non-fiction writers of nature and sense of place, and (2) practice descriptive and expository nature writing, critical reading and research.  I alone will also be teaching one class (about which I'm terrified).  I'm going to teach on “Future Directions in Nature Writing and Emerging Voices.”  If you have any ideas for my class (format, readings, activities...), I'm all ears!  We are required to read:
* Winter Creek by John Daniel
* The Meadow by James Galvin
* Refuge by Terry Tempest  Williams
* Riverwalking by Kathleen Moore
* and then one other book from a list, from which I choose The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley  

I'm still managing to keep up with Methow Conservancy work, though you aren't seeing me at First Tuesdays or in the office much.  You can find me there some Thursdays and most Fridays, and I'll be back to a fairly normal office routine by mid-March.  Time flies!    

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"It's Complex" Fire Ecology & Recovery 2015 Conservation Course - Class #1 Notes

Summary of Jan 26, 2015 class by volunteer Nick Thorp

Exactly six months after the Carlton Complex fires raged throughout the Methow Valley, the 11th Annual Methow Conservancy Conservation Course kicked off to delve into the complexities of forest fire in our region.  Although cold temperatures, a blanket of snow on the ground, and the winter calm have replaced smoke filled skies and evacuation notices, the fires remain front and center on the minds of Methow residents.   The 6-week course aims to provide attendees with answers to questions on how and why the fires of 2014 happened and what the future holds both in terms of recovery and future fire potential.

Understanding the history of fire and its relationship with the land provides the building blocks to answer these important questions.  Dr. Paul Hessburg, a Research Landscape Ecologist with 30 years experience at the US Forest Service, was the feature presenter for the first evening of the course. Paul’s presentation gave the audience a view into the historical role of fires in Eastern Washington and the changes that have taken place. 

Many of the changes in the forests and surrounding landscape have occurred just in the past 100 years.  Before this time, the nature of fire in the Methow Valley was one of frequent small, but generally low intensity fires, where fire itself managed healthy forests.  The fires were started from both natural ignition and intentional burning by Native Americans.  Paul painted a picture of watersheds and forests as a mosaic made up of patches of forest of varying age, size, and species.  This patchwork allowed fire to be both present and a healthy occurrence in the forest, burning some patches, while others were left untouched.  The diversity of the forest contained fires and prevented them from creating large and widespread damage. 

Fast-forward to the present day and the diverse mosaic and patchwork of these watersheds and forests has been largely replaced by dense, continuous (as opposed to patchy) forest cover ripe for high severity, high intensity fire.  What caused these changes? How did these changes happen so quickly?  According to Paul, the main catalyst for these changes can be found in fire suppression activities (which have been conducted extensively on the landscape since the 1930s) and other human interventions (e.g., elimination of Native American burning, development of extensive road and railroad system, urban development, agriculture, timber harvest).

What can be done?   Paul mentioned that the key is to restore the natural fire regimes.  How do we do this?  We restore the characteristic patterns and patch sizes of fuels and vegetation successional conditions.  And, how do we do this likely through a combination of using wildfire ignitions under the right conditions (e.g., allowing the “good” wildfires to burn), creating other surface and crown fires in strategic locations through intentional ignitions, and also through the combination of thinning and prescribed burning treatments.

Watch the entire class in a video on the Conservancy webpage.

Paul's presentation was followed by a full hour of engaging questions from the attendees.