On January 3, 2020, Dana Visalli kicked off the new year with “Big History: the evolutionary story of the Earth and the life on it, in one hour.” It was once thought that the Earth was static and unchanging, but we now know the opposite is true. Both the Earth and the life on it are dynamic and ever-changing. This is the scientific story of evolution; it borders on the spiritual, and is meaningful to our own lives.
In his hour (plus a few extra minutes), Dana wove together concepts from various scientific fields to make sense of humans’ relationship to other species, to each other, and to our world. Threaded throughout was the hopeful, thought-provoking message that we can do better, and that our intellect is capable of bringing us through the challenges facing the world today.
On Friday, November 1, John Crandall shared “Why Floodplains Matter and what we are doing locally to restore them,” with a crowd of 70 at the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket. For decades, floodplains and wetlands were viewed as “wasted” space and they have been diked, filled, drained, mined, and otherwise altered to make room for increased human activity. These activities disconnect floodplains from adjacent streams, degrading habitat and leaving wildlife, fish, and water to deteriorate. Why do these floodplains matter — what services do they provide, not only for fish and wildlife, but for humans too? What can we do to bring them back into a healthy condition? John Crandall returned to the Highland Wonders series to help answer these questions and to share about a variety of projects happening in Okanogan County that are aimed at restoring floodplain processes and making our aquatic ecosystems healthier — from the quality and quantity of our water to the abundance of our fish and wildlife.
John shared videos and photos depicting the ways that floodplains interact with their waterways, and how spring flooding depends on the shape and structure of the surrounding landscape. Floodplains are crucial to the lifecycle of many fish, who time the hatching of their young to coincide with spring floods because of the protection, food, and downstream push that floodplains and high water provide to young fish. In many areas, human activity (such as road building) has disrupted or changed the structure of the floodplains, reducing their size and cutting fish off from their traditional rearing grounds and/or travel corridors. Projects throughout Okanogan County are working to restore floodplain functionality, to reconnect streams and rivers with their floodplains and provide ways for fish to access flooded areas.
OHA’s bumble bee field trip on June 22, 2019 provided community members with an opportunity to learn about the bumble bee species in our area, their importance to our ecosystem, as well as ways we can help conserve them. In an effort to learn more about bumble bees to improve evidence-based bumble bee conservation guidance, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Oregon Bee Project, has launched the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas. On a trip around the Okanogan Highlands, Rich Hatfield, Xerces Society conservation biologist, shared information about the Atlas Project, how to participate, and the value that the project will have to our area, both locally, and more regionally. The group conducted a point survey at Lost Lake to help determine the number of bumble bee species living there, along with a rapid habitat survey. More about the survey: www.pnwbumblebeeatlas.org/point-surveys.html
Okanogan County is host to 124 of the 155 butterfly species recorded in Washington. Caitlin spoke about some of the eco-geographical aspects that contribute to this incredible diversity, what species you can expect to commonly find, and some of the more reclusive species to watch for. We also learned how to contribute to ongoing research by photographing and recording data through various methods. Two of Caitlin’s books were available for purchase: Butterflies of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area and Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Washington, both of which were used as part of OHA’s 2018 butterfly field trip.
“The Sinlahekin is one of my favorite places, always changing and yielding new discoveries, yet always familiar. In studying what makes it so unique, I’ve explored many parts of the Okanogan…”
Soil Scientist Luke Cerise returned to the Highland Wonders educational series to build community understanding of the stories hidden beneath the ground in our local soils — and how this understanding can help shape the way we manage our landscapes. Luke discussed soil memory, and how inherent soil characteristics are retained even when dramatic changes happen above ground, which can help us interpret the history of the landscape.
Mosses are a fascinating part of our world. They operate much like their larger relatives, like trees and shrubs, just on a much smaller scale. On Friday, January 4, 2019, Erica Heinlen shared her expertise to bring the moss world into focus for our community. In this talk, we touched on the taxonomy of mosses as well as their structure and life cycle. We discovered the importance of mosses in our ecosystems and discussed where they grow. We explored concepts of conservation and then saw some special species found here in the Okanogan. Finally, we addressed some of the “Frequently Asked Questions” the audience had about mosses. It was an interesting journey as we unlocked the secrets and strengths of the moss world.
On Friday, November 2nd, 2018, Dan and Ginger Poleschook returned to the Highland Wonders education series to update our community on how our local loons have fared in the seven years since the Poleschook’s last presentation in Tonasket. They shared stories of our local loons — where they hatched, adventures they have experienced, obstacles they have overcome, and which loons at which lakes are related to each other. Some stories reflected loons as being highly intelligent, beyond their basic survival skills and genetic influences, and provided examples of loons having long-term memories of places and people. We learned ways in which people have helped loons survive, and what we can do to increase and protect future populations of the common loon.
Butterflies are the quintessential symbol of renewal through change. In a world that is rapidly changing, the Highland Wonders educational series provides opportunities for our community to learn more about the natural world, with the hope that these experiences may renew our enthusiasm to take care of the rich biodiversity around us.