Posted by: aarontheisen | July 27, 2012

Help restore wildlife habitat on the Colville National Forest

This summer and fall, thanks to a generous grant from American Forests, Conservation Northwest and the U.S. Forest Service are revegetating decommissioned roads in caribou and grizzly habitat in the Colville National Forest. This project continues Conservation Northwest’s collaborative work with the Forest Service and timber-products companies to healthy forests throughout northeast Washington.

Join Conservation Northwest and the Forest Service for the first work project Saturday, August 4, to pull noxious weeds on a two-mile stretch of decommissioned & obliterated road in the East Fork Le Clerc Creek drainage near Cusick.

Abandoned and overgrown forest roads are one of the key ways noxious weeds spread on public lands, which crowds out nutritious vegetation for native wildlife. Revegetation of decommissioned roads is one of the most effective methods of wildlife habitat restoration and can substantially improve browse for game such as mule deer and elk.

With a little sweat equity, we can make a big investment in wildlife habitat in northeast Washington!

Bring sturdy shoes, work gloves and a lunch. We will try to finish early enough to cool off in a nearby lake.

Event details

When: Aug 04, 2012, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Where: East Fork LeClerc Creek Road, Sullivan Ranger District, Colville National Forest
Contact name: Aaron Theisen
Contact e-mail:

Posted by: aarontheisen | July 15, 2012

The Salmo-Priest Wilderness needs YOU!

The Washington Trails Association (WTA), the state’s premier volunteer trail advocacy group, is looking for volunteers for a work party on the Salmo-Priest Loop trail July 21-23.

The Salmo-Priest Wilderness is northeast Washington’s only such designated area. The wettest spot in Washington east of the Cascades, the Salmo-Priest trail boasts miles of trails through beargrass meadows, near pristine rivers, and under ancient old-growth cedars.

The trails in the Salmo-Priest rely on volunteer groups, including the WTA, to maintain them. If you’ve spent any time hiking in the far northeast corner of Washington, chances are, WTA has worked on a trail you love. Consider giving back to those trails on this fun, relaxing and rewarding work party. Volunteers will be car camping and hiking in to the work site each day. You may volunteer for as few or as many days of the trip as you like.

Interested? Contact Derrick Knowles at or 509-435-1270 ASAP. You will also need to register on the WTA website.

Thanks for giving a little bit of your outdoor time back to our wilderness trails!

Posted by: aarontheisen | June 5, 2012

Give back to area trails this summer

Crosscut saw. Photo: Holly Weiler.

The Washington Trails Association (WTA) is the state’s premier volunteer trail advocacy group, hosting over 700 volunteer work parties and logging almost one hundred thousand hours of volunteer time every year. Chances are, WTA has worked on a trail you love. Consider giving back to those trails this year with a WTA multi-day work party in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, July 7-9; July 19-22; August 4-6; August 9-12. Multi-day work parties are a great way to make new friends, experience the outdoors in a new way, and develop a new appreciation for the dedication to maintaining trails by volunteers like you. Spots are limited; to register, visit the WTA website.

Posted by: aarontheisen | May 18, 2012

Grizzly bears caught on tape!

A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife motion-activated camera recently captured this video of a grizzly bear in the “Wedge” portion of the Colville National Forest, in northern Stevens County. This comes on the heels of a video captured in the same area of a wolverine this spring.

The Selkirk Mountains, including the portion in Pend Oreille county, host one of the last remaining populations of grizzly bears in in the lower 48 states. However, grizzly bears occasionally wander into Stevens County from across the international border; recently, a radio-collared grizzly was detected on Abercrombie Mountain, after a meandering trip that took it across the border several times and close to the Sullivan Ranger Station.

Posted by: aarontheisen | April 27, 2012

Celebrate Native Plant Appreciation Week!

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April 29 – May 5 is Washington Native Plant Appreciation Week, a celebration of the more than three thousand native plant species found in our state. Although the snow still lingers in the higher elevations of the Columbia Highlands, over the next few weeks many of the region’s most beautiful wildflowers will begin blooming. Check out this slideshow of some of our area’s early bloomers, and then take a hike! Hoodoo Canyon, and Thirteenmile are good bets for great wildflower shows.

Slideshow photos copyright Aaron Theisen 2012. All rights reserved.

Posted by: aarontheisen | February 26, 2012

Wildlife viewing: bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep are so named because of the large, curved horns on males (rams). Photo: Alan Bauer.

Sullivan Lake, in the Selkirk Mountains, provides one of the most exciting winter wildlife-viewing opportunities in eastern Washington. Right now, wildlife-watchers with decent binoculars can watch bighorn sheep precariosly perched on the slopes of Hall Mountain, on the east side of the lake.

Bighorns, so named because of the large, curved horns on males (rams)–females have much smaller, spiked horns–employ a dramatic survival strategy: go where predators won’t dare. The steep, rocky slopes of Hall Mountain provide nutritious browse and treacherous footing for would-be predators such as cougars.

Almost wiped out from most of their Western range in the early 20th century, bighorn sheep have made a remarkable comeback.

Several herds can be found in northeast Washington, but of them the Hall Mountain herd is the most well known. Although the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife no longer maintains a feeding station for the mountain goats, a healthy population still clambers about the steep slopes on the east side of the lake.

Driving directions:  One mile south of Ione, turn east onto Sullivan Lake Road 9345. Travel 8 miles to Noisy Creek Campground, on the right. A wide, plowed pull-out area just north of the campground entrance provides a prime viewing spot.

Posted by: aarontheisen | February 3, 2012

Winter wildlife viewing

Deer browsing amidst the ponderosa pines at Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

Winter snows present a great opportunity to view wildlife movements. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

Winter brings with its cold temperatures and deep snowpack some unique wildlife-viewing opportunities in the region. Migratory birds make stopovers at low-elevation wetlands on their way to warmer climates, and mammals such as white-tailed deer, mule deer and bighorn sheep make their way to lower elevations now that their high-elevation forage is deeply buried. And even if wildlife prove elusive, their tracks are easily spotted in the snow, providing added interest to any skiing or snowshoeing adventure.

Across the Columbia Highlands, winter wildlife-watching opportunities abound. Below are two fun family-friendly options:

Sherman Creek Wildlife Area

Habitat: Over nine-thousand acres of low- and mid-elevation forest, predominately ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. Aspen groves and meadows filled with nutrient-rich ceanothus shrubs fill openings in the canopy.

Wildlife: Mule and white-tailed deer make use of the open low-elevation forest forage, as do black bears, wild turkeys and other upland bird species.

Driving directionsFrom Colville, drive north on US 395 to intersection with Hwy 20. Turn left onto Hwy 20. The wildlife area headquarters is located a few miles west of the bridge over the Columbia River, on the south side of the highway.

Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge

Habitat: Over forty thousand acres ranging from lowland marshes to subalpine forest–the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge is the only mountainous mixed-conifer refuge in the lower 48 states.

Wildlife: The wildlife refuge provides habitat for 206 species of birds, 58 mammal, 8 reptile, and 6 amphibian species. Wetland areas are a crucial stopover point for migratory songbirds. Low-elevation forests provide critical winter range for white-tailed deer. Subalpine forests host the endangered Canada lynx.

Driving directions: From Main Street (Highway 395) in Colville, follow Third Avenue (Highway 20) east for 6 miles. Just after passing White Mud Lake, make a right turn onto Artman-Gibson Road. Travel 1.7 miles until reaching a 4-way intersection. Turn left onto Kitt-Narcisse Road and follow it for 2.2 miles where the road forks. Take the right fork onto Bear Creek Road, and follow it for 3.3 miles. The Refuge headquarters is a brown log building.

Posted by: columbiahighlands | January 25, 2012

Watchable wildlife: Townsend’s solitaire

Townsend's solitaires subsist on berries, such as blue elderberry, in the winter. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

Although Townsend’s solitaires are common summer residents of Washington, the open mid-elevation forests of the Columbia Highlands the bird can be found during the cold winter months.

True to its name, the Townsend’s Solitaire is frequently a loner. These solo songbirds can often be seen perched high up in trees watching over their territory or snacking from shrubs, where they will often hover in place while eating.

According to the Seattle Audubon Society, “the Townsend’s Solitaire requires a combination of steep banks for nest sites, open forests where it catches aerial prey, and tall trees to perch on.” The steep-walled canyons of the San Poil River valley provide prime habitat for the bird. Try catching a glimpse of one of these solo songbirds at the Thirteenmile Campground south of Republic.

Posted by: columbiahighlands | January 17, 2012

Snowshoe: Columbia Mountain

Fog envelops the sagebrush and firs on Columbia Mountain's west flank. Photo: Aaron Theisen.

The 8-mile Columbia Mountain loop is one of the top snowshoe treks in the Columbia Highlands–indeed, in the entire state. Hike north on the Kettle Crest National Scenic Trail across the southwestern flank of 6,780-foot Columbia Mountain, through a unique ecosystem where sagebrush intermingles with subalpine fir. Amidst scattered aspen groves and granite slabs bound snowshoe hare and ground squirrels. Owls, woodpeckers and grouse can frequently be seen in the tree canopy. The high point of this eight-mile loop is the broad, open summit, site of a recently restored historic fire lookout. From this vantage, views of wilderness-quality lands in the Kettle Range and Selkirks abound.

Driving directions: About 4 miles west of Kettle Falls on Hwy 395, cross the bridge over the Columbia River. Almost immediately (1/10 mile), turn left (west) on Hwy 20, toward the town of Republic. Drive approximately 22 miles to the Sherman Pass parking area, on the right (north) side of the highway. Washington State Sno-Park pass required.

Posted by: columbiahighlands | January 5, 2012

Ponderosa pine

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Ponderosa pine–with its distinctive orange-brown puzzle-piece bark; open, bushy canopy; and vanilla-like aroma–is a symbol of the dry intermountain West.

A ponderosa pine belt rings the Columbia Basin; this tree is often the first travelers see as they leave the arid steppe country of central Washington. With long taproots and thick bark, ponderosas are able to thrive in this hot, dry, wildfire-prone zone. Majestic parklands of ponderosa pines can be found throughout the Columbia Highlands, with particularly impressive stands in Clackamas Mountain roadless area, west of Republic, and Cougar Mountain/Thirteenmile roadless areas, south of Republic.

By virtue of their thick bark and resin-filled trunks, old-growth ponderosas will remain standing long after they die. These snags provide homes to a variety of cavity-dwelling critters. Clackamas Mountain roadless area has one of the region’s highest densities of old-growth snags; birders have a good chance here of spotting woodpeckers and owls, including the state-listed great grey owl.

Despite the tree’s ubiquity, old-growth ponderosa pines are among the most endangered forest types Washington; clear-cutting, development and overcrowding by smaller trees have reduced old-growth ponderosa forests to just 1% of their historic range. Protection of the last stands of old-growth ponderosas in places such as Clackamas Mountain and Thirteenmile roadless areas would protect this emblem of the West for future generations.

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