Wildlife Conservation at the North Cascades Basecamp
Steve Bondi '94 Biology Major
Life at the North Cascades Basecamp
CES: Tell us a little bit about life as owner and caretaker of the North Cascades Basecamp.
SB: The North Cascades Basecamp has been operating as a bed and breakfast lodge since 1981. I and my wife, Kim Romain-Bondi, assumed ownership of both the facility and the business in 2010. We both are trained biologists/ecologists, so running a small business is a totally new endeavor.
That being said, we have work experiences stretching back to 1994 that have helped us with organization and management of the Basecamp. We are also parents of two small children, so we are also organizers/managers of a young family!
Our goal with the North Cascades Basecamp is to continue operations of a bed and breakfast (spring/summer/fall) and a Nordic ski lodge with 3 meals a day (winter) while weaving in programs for groups, organizations, academics, etc. that focus on ecology and natural history.
If we really reach our goals, we will be including programs that offer citizen science opportunities right here in our own backyard—the Methow Valley and the North Cascades.
CES: What is a typical day like?
SB: Daily we try to strike the right balance of maintenance of the existing facility and programs (bed and breakfast operations) with building future opportunities for lodge guests, local residents, and valley visitors. We are currently building programs that involve natural history interpretive trips, citizen science data gathering, and an academic program for students of local universities and colleges.
For now, we are doing it all ourselves with the help of a few seasonal employees and summer interns. We are always looking for ways to host interns interested in natural history program development, sustainability (we have a monster garden and lots of landscaping), marketing/advertising, and of course kitchen help and housekeeping!
CES: What do you most enjoy about your work? Least enjoy?
SB: Working together with my wife Kim is always a thrill. We have had many adventures together in life and this one is truly epic! We also enjoy the daily exploration and discovery as we walk out the door and down the path to our 20-acre conservation-easement-protected landscape of cedar woodlands, spring-fed beaver ponds, and Methow River riparian habitat. You never know what you'll find! Last week a river otter swam next to my pond-side perch and gobbled a fish!
The least enjoyable part of this work is the daily minutia of clean up and set up…as well as the disappointments of saying goodbye to fun-loving visitors to the Basecamp.
CES: How did you break into your career and what has been your career path?
SB: After graduation in spring of 1994 with a general biology degree (personal emphasis in "Terrestrial Ecology"), I took a summer job with a botany crew at the USFS Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument measuring vegetation recovery since the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. What a thrill—working at a remote field station; 4 ten-hour days (3 day weekends!); young, ambitious co-workers; professional team leaders; and endless days of discovery, hiking, and learning.
That job sent me down a 3-year path of seasonal field biology jobs, including work in Yellowstone National Park on the canid project of Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies, in Forks, WA; and Seaside, OR as a surveyor for Marbled Murrelets; and with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest surveying for Larch Mountain Salamanders. After a 3-month wanderlust hiatus to SE Asia, I landed my first full-time job with EDAW, Inc. consulting in Seattle, where I worked as a wildlife biologist on terrestrial resource studies in support of hydroelectric project relicensing. This 6-year span provided a comprehensive perspective of the sometimes competitive and oftentimes underfunded arena of Field Biology.
EDAW had some funding issues in the late 1990's, so I enrolled in a graduate program at WSU in Environmental Sciences/Regional Planning. It just so happened that my girlfriend (and now wife) Kim was a grad student at WSU in Natural Resources-Wildlife. I quickly landed an opportunity to help the Teton Regional Land Trust in Driggs, ID with conservation planning, and embarked on a 2-year grad project that gave me my MS and a wealth of experience in land trust private land conservation. In 2002, Kim and I moved to the Methow Valley to find opportunities in the wildlife/conservation field. By late 2002, we were married, owned a small house, and had gainful employment—I for the Methow Conservancy, she for the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife.
CES: How did you make the decision to pursue your current path? Were there pivotal moments?
SB: We often call the wildlife/conservation field the "Species of the Month Club" because so much of wildlife biology is determined by regulation—Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets, Lynx, etc. are great examples where a lot of money is spent and jobs created to survey and study these animals, only to have the money and jobs move on when the regulations shift to the next species.
We have felt for some time that natural history/biology/conservation education of current and future generations is key to salvation of all species—ours included.
In 2010, after our 2 kids were born and after we had gained more than 10 years of local experience in the Methow Valley, we saw the opportunity to integrate an ecological learning center into the existing operations of the North Cascades Basecamp in Mazama, which had been on the market for 2 years. After a massive leap of financial and personal faith, we bought the Basecamp.
CES: How did early jobs and experiences influence your career development? (part-time jobs on and off campus, internships, volunteer activities, campus clubs and involvements, study abroad, etc.)
SB: Senior year symbolized a time of transitioning away from course work and into field work. I spent time with Dennis Paulson in the Slater Museum crafting a senior thesis project looking at songbird diversity on a gradient from Point Defiance Park to Mount Rainier Park, and eventually took a part-time internship with the WSU-Puyallup research station looking at oyster mushroom cultivation on hybrid poplar plantations.
I was also a member of SAE fraternity, and watching older chapter members start (or try to start) their careers after Puget Sound inspired me to charge forward after graduation.
CES: How can recent graduates overcome a lack of professional experience in field biology?
Recent graduates should not feel alone. There are millions of recent graduates at any given time. Usually, you are placed together in low paying/volunteer opportunities right out of college. Revel in that fact and have fun together. Who knows—you might even get to be cheap graduate student labor together some day!
CES: What advice do you have for students considering careers in biology and/or conservation fields?
SB: Take as many internships and/or volunteer opportunities as you can, as early as you can. They typically pay little if anything, but the experience gained is invaluable. Take these opportunities early in your college career, even before you settle on a major. Sometimes you learn more about what you don't like than what you do like, and that is just as valuable.