Northwest Passages Winter 2020

A Letter from the Outgoing Director

Endings, like beginnings, are often difficult. I can’t possibly express the gratitude I feel for being able to serve as your director for the past three years. During those years we:

  • Added a DEI Chair to the Leadership Team and adopted a DEI Statement. This work continues always.
  • Held 3 successful workshops and 3 virtual chats
  • Instituted a new scholarship/intern stipend for beginning interpreters
  • Awarded many member scholarships and awards
  • Made a passport for Uncle Rhynchus the Onchorynchus!
  • And many other things that I’m sure I have forgotten to mention (meet-ups, national workshops, etc.)

My favorite part, of course, was getting to know the regional members and working with the regional leadership team. The members of the Northwest Region are lucky to have such a dedicated and enthusiastic group of volunteers serving you. Although I am sad to leave the region, I know it will be in excellent hands with John Morris, who has been serving as the Deputy Director for the past two years and has some great ideas for the region.

If you’re looking for me – you can find me in the leadership team for the Four Corners Region. I am hopeful that I’ll still see all of you at National Events and through regional collaborations!

Thanks for a great three years. It’s been a pleasure and my honor to serve as the Northwest Region Director. Keep being awesome and making a difference in the world where you can.

Happy Trails,

~ AJ Chlebnik


2020 – In the Rearview Mirror – Finally!

John Morris

What can we say about 2020? Who among us could have predicted that we’d spend the year working from home, or that we would spend the season with so very few visitors? A year ago, wearing a mask mostly made sense during fire season, and only then – as a convenience to make breathing easier, not to protect ourselves from something lethal. Perhaps a year ago, we might have aspired to learning more about distance technologies and virtual programming in general – but who thought it would become the regular fixture in our lives that it has become today? Life certainly has changed over the past 10 months. Much of it has been challenging, some has even been inspiring… and unfortunately, there has been sickness and heartbreak for many of our colleagues. How this year will be remembered will be flavored by all these varied emotions – by disparity, by uneven experiences, and by the personal instances governing each of our daily lives.

Perhaps one of the best lessons I will take from 2020, is the realization about how interconnected we all are. Even in isolation, it’s pretty clear that what one of us does effects all of us in the end. Our destinies are the same – we are truly part of a global community. And knowing THAT, it makes me keenly aware that we, as educators and interpreters, play a very strategic role. We are the communicators for culture and science. It’s up to us, to share our knowledge and abilities to have a conversation about these events, and to provide leadership of a sort, to our communities. We can survive a pandemic, if we understand and remember the wisdom that science and social distancing prescribe. And when we do, maybe when the next global event unfolds, society can remember the lessons learned and respond well from the beginning, sparing all of us that heartbreak.

As your new Director at this time, I am honored to serve you in any way I can. I’d love to hear from you and talk with you, anytime, truly – and find out what we can do to advance and support the collective interests of NAI’s NW Region. What help do you need from the national office? What events would you like us to develop and support? Are there additional tools or services we might provide that could make your work easier or more effective? My ears are open – call or email me whenever you want – I’d love to get to know you all better  (, 907-947-0359).

I’m particularly happy to be welcoming in a new year! For now, I hope you all stay safe and healthy – and in a few months, I hope we’ll all look back upon this last year from a more normal daily routine – one not isolated from each other, or from the audiences we serve. Here’s hoping 2021 will hold renewed promise for us all.

~ John Morris

Virtual Meetings – Fall 2020 events, and more coming soon!

The NW Region has held several virtual events this Fall, and there will be more coming in 2021.

The 2020 Regional Workshop finally came together in late September, with 39 participants logging on-line Tuesday, Sept. 29th. 

We’re getting pretty familiar with Zoom meetings and protocols, so thankfully, few technical issues have dominated the experience for most attendees. Although meeting in-person will always remain the preference, networking and making personal connections is still possible and even, effective on the computer. It helps to be able to see and hear everyone (when they turn on their cameras/mics), and the conversations can be pretty natural when break-out groups bring the conversations down to a manageable few. All in all, we were successful in “Engaging our Audiences in Meaningful ways”.

Margo Carlock was our first guest speaker, joining us on one of her final days in the national office, shortly before her recent retirement. Her massage was upbeat and very encouraging – despite the challenges of the pandemic, NAI remains an organization that is strong and resilient, during very difficult times. Although membership has dropped down to about 6700 nationally, most regions were doing fairly well, the board is just wrapping up aa new strategic planning process, and finances are strong and secure. NAI should be in good shape and able to support and provide member services throughout the coming year.

Our Keynote presenter, Dr. Mark Pitzer, provided an excellent program illustrating many fascinating reasons why we make the emotional and intellectual connections we do as human beings. As a neuroscientist from the University of Portland, Mark provided an engaging, and often humorous, explanation for how the visual and motor pathways of our brains influence what we learn and remember.




He had some graphics, and animations which were truly memorable.

As for coming attractions, watch your email for a couple new virtual events over the next 6 months.

The 2021 Spring Regional Workshop is tentatively being planned as a one-day virtual meeting during the week of March 15-19, 2021, most likely on Wednesday, March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day!  The most popular themes being considered for this workshop are “Bringing Hope to the World” or “Creating Virtual Programming that is Compelling and Makes Audiences Want to Visit in Person.” Let us know if you have any suggestions, or if you’d like to be a part of the planning team for this workshop.

We’re also planning to hold quarterly “Virtual Chats” (informal on-line conversations with everyone available and interested), in conjunction with our neighboring Regions across the West Coast – Northwest, Sierra Pacific, and Wild West – what we’re calling the West Coast Roundup. Look for one around, or just after the first of the year, and thereafter every 3 months.

We’re always looking for creative ideas and recommendations (and volunteers), so come and join us at your region’s events.


As fall approaches and the weather gets colder, reptiles and amphibians become less active and prepare to sleep till warmer weather. I was starting to worry I wouldn’t be able to write another story on the scaly and the slimy for the MK Nature Center newsletter. But worry not! Fate had other plans…

On the 22nd of September a visitor came in with a small terrarium in hand. She was looking for someone to identify a frog she had found on the Snake Plant she recently bought from Fred Meyer. Taking a close look at the frog, I could immediately tell this was not a native Idaho frog. It was tiny! It measured about 13mm from snout to vent, but I was fairly certain it was a mature adult. The plant came from Utah so I assumed that maybe I was simply unfamiliar with the amphibians there. I measured all of its physical traits I could, sent an email to my old herpetology advisor, and prepared my mental scuba gear to dive into the literature and find the identity of this frog. Luckily before my hubris could get the best of me, my co-worker, Ana simply looked into the nearest amphibian guide and found a similar looking frog. She hypothesized that the Greenhouse frog, Eleutherodactylus planirostris, could be the identity of this frog.   

In order to check if this was true I hatched a plan. In my studies I’ve learned that frogs have species-specific advertisement calls. In other words, each species of frog produces its own unique call, and therefore each species will only react to its own call. So by playing the Greenhouse frog’s call, we could watch and see if our new friend would have a positive reaction to hearing the call. Think of it like playing “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believing” in a crowd to see who is from the United States.

I put on the latest Greenhouse frog hits of 2020 and watched intently to see my friend’s reaction (the frog, not Ana). After one playback of the call, a still, small voice replied back or specifically a repeated call-back. This, as well as a response from my advisor, corroborated the idea that we indeed had a Greenhouse frog in our care; a direct-developing frog native to Cuba. Although this frog likely could not survive to reproduce in Idaho due to the cold and dry climate, it is a great example of just how easily invasive species can sneak into a place.

The frog was transported to the Northwest Nazarene Uuniversity herpetology lab to be put under the care of Dr. John Cossel and his students, and fed a diet of fruit flies and springtails.

~Austin Reich
AmeriCorps Member
Morrison Knudsen Nature Center, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game
Boise, Idaho

Slip Sliding Away

Addressing receding glaciers is a slippery slope

Photos and Text By Aleta Walther, CIG, ATG, CTA
Recession Graphic by Mike Hekkers


Needless to say, seeing my first glacier in Juneau, Alaska in 2013 left me in awe and slack-jawed. It is a vivid memory; an imposing valley glacier glistening white with a topaz blue terminus, cradled between craggy, yet majestic, snow-capped peaks.

An interpretive guide for Gastineau Guiding Company, I lead Mendenhall Glacier viewing excursions through the Mendenhall Recreation Area (MRA) within the utterly spectacular Tongass National Forest.

After 400+ excursions, I am still in awe of the mighty Mendenhall, but my awe is tarnished by the glacier’s rapid retreat. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) anticipates the Mendenhall Glacier may be out of sight from the MRAs’ visitor center by 2050.

In 2018, about 800,000 tourists visited the visitor center to view the last three miles of the
12-mile glacier. After about three miles the glacier curves out of sight behind coastal mountains. Appreciating the economic impact of the glacier, the USFS has a plan to ensure guest will be “able to touch the ice” in years to come. I will delve into that plan in the spring edition of Northwest Passages.

Although many of my guests are disheartened, if only temporarily, to learn the glacier is receding, I frame this phenomenon in a positive light by sharing a secondary theme of Glacial Recession Sprouts Forest Succession. “As glaciers retreat, new ecosystems emerge,” I explain. “The process, however, can take 300 years from lichens on bare rock to a mature forest of Western Hemlocks.”

Addressing global warming’s impacts on Alaska, however, is a slippery slope. I lead with softball questions to gauge guests’ attitudes on the climate phenomena. Inevitably, there are individuals who believe global warming is normal and has nothing to do with fossil fuel emissions. Some naysayers are open to hearing my facts, my opinion. Some shutdown. Some want to engage in a vigorous debate. Depending on my guests’ mindsets, I may delve further into the causes and consequences of a warmer planet or delicately change the subject. Because my excursions are six hours there is ample opportunity to respectfully engage one-on-one should a guest choose to.

My theme for addressing the negative impacts of the Mendenhall’s recession is: Many aquatic species in Alaska require glacial runoff to survive. I gleaned this theme from the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) website. I lean on the authority of the USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to back up my global warming statements.

Between 2008 and 2020, the Mendenhall has retreated 2,856 feet or just over a half mile
and more than 3 miles since it began its retreat in the 1760s

“Continual melt from glaciers contributes…perennial stream habitat and a water source for plants and animals,” states the USGS’ website. “The cold runoff from glaciers also affects downstream water temperatures. Some aquatic insects–fundamental components of the food web–are especially sensitive to stream temperature and cannot survive without the cooling effects of glacial meltwater.”

A keystone species, salmon also require deep, glacier cooled waterways to survive to spawn. For salmon eggs and juveniles, warm, shallow streams, creeks and rivers make them vulnerable to predation and oxygen deprivation. Like aquatic insects, fewer salmon stresses the forest’s food web. According to Alaska’s Wild Salmon, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game publication, many species depend on salmon to survive, including orcas, bears, birds and humans. Hey, there is another of my secondary themes: 130 Alaskan species depend on salmon to survive and thrive.

It is good to know future MRA visitors and wildlife will benefit from the USFS forward thinking plan, but honestly, I am not optimistic about the long-term prospects for glaciers worldwide.

~Aleta Walther © 2020
Naturalist & Outdoor Adventure Tour Guide
Gastineau Guiding Company, Juneau, Alaska
Alaska-focused blog:

P.S. If you have any suggestions for themes related to glacial recession I would love to see them.

Our Winter Iconic Salmon Photos

Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, Vancouver, Washington
~Photo by Pat Barry

Arlington, Washington
~Photo by Ronica Hathaway

Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge, SW Washington
~Photo by Pat Barry