Wildlife

Not too high, not too low—just right.

A moose forages in Betts Meadow, near Quartzite roadless area.

Nestled between the wet North Cascades and drier Northern Rockies, the Columbia Highlands act as a life-line for wildlife between these two distant ecosystems.

The variety and size of unspoiled habitats in the Columbia Highlands support a host of wild creatures—almost all the species that inhabited the area prior to European settlement still thrive here.

Some of the most critically endangered and charismatic species in North America are regular breeders in the Columbia Highlands, including grizzly bear, wolverine, Canada lynx and gray wolf. The Columbia Highlands hosts rare mammals found almost nowhere else in the lower 48 United States, including the highly endangered woodland caribou and the northern bog lemming. Animals such as elk, cougar, snowshoe hare, and pika take refuge in the boreal and subalpine forests. Other creatures such as black bear, moose, and pygmy shrew thrive in the dense understory of mixed-conifer forests. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, bobcat, coyote, wolf, fox, ermine, badger, mink, marten, Columbian ground squirrel, fisher—all can be found in the Columbia Highlands.

Great gray owl. Photo: Paul Bannick.

A variety of birds take wing in the Columbia Highlands, including the greatest diversity of owls and woodpeckers in North America. In the subalpine zones of the region, one will encounter spruce and dusky grouse, northern goshwawk, the elusive boreal owl, American three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers, boreal chickadee, and pine grosbeak, which rarely breeds in Washington. Other parts of the Columbia Highlands host some of the largest breeding populations of bald eagle and osprey in the state. In the wet western redcedar and hemlock lowland and mixed-elevation forests, visitors will encounter some of the healthiest breeding populations of barred, northern saw-whet, and northern pygmy owls, pileated woodpecker, chestnut-backed chickadee, winter wren, and Swainson’s and varied thrushes in the interior Northwest.

Several endangered and threatened fish species such as westslope cutthroat trout, Columbia Basin redband trout and bull trout rely on the clean waters of creeks and streams.

With its diversity of habitat types, the Columbia Highlands boasts a wide variety of plants—some found nowhere in the world but here.

Because these lands are a biological crossroads, they represent the edge of many plant species’ distributions. Numerous rare and sensitive plants have found niches here. For example, the Kettle Range is a biological “hot spot” for moonworts; ten species are found here, all of which are rated as “sensitive” or “species of concern”. In Salmo-Priest Adjacent roadless area, Halliday Fen harbors seven state-listed sensitive species. Bunchgrass Meadows, a high-elevation sphagnum bog in Harvey Creek roadless area, hosts almost one-hundred and fifty plant species!

Although few travelers to the backcountry are likely to see a cougar or black bear or caribou, all can enjoy the beautiful wildflowers that thrive in our untouched wild places.

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