2021 Annual Membership Meeting: June 24 4:30pm on Zoom

Join us via Zoom for OHA’s 2021 Annual Membership Meeting! Check in on recent and upcoming events and our work in mine monitoring, habitat restoration and education. Ask questions, share ideas, and visit with OHA’s board and staff.

We will also be conducting elections for three board positions – OHA’s seven board members are elected by the membership and serve for 2-year terms.

We hope to see you there!

For the meeting link, send an email request to: info@okanoganhighlands.org

Looking for Trail Stewardship Opportunities?

Over this past year OHA has connected with a group of organizations and agencies who are all invested in caring for trails in northeast Washington. Kristin Ackerman (Pacific Northwest Trails Association) has been instrumental in making sure that Okanogan County is included in the trails coalition (thank you Kristin and the PNTA!) One outcome of this effort is a website, created by The Tri-County Economic Development District where you can look and find LOTS of opportunities to volunteer for trail work (including OHA’s trail work parties), both near and further afield in NE Washington.

Click here for the online calendar created and maintained by of trail work parties (including OHA’s trail days).

Tuesday Trail Days! May-July, 2021

The snow has melted in the highlands, flowers abound, and we are excited to get out and help care for the lovely highlands trails again! In the next couple of months OHA will be out hiking, scouting trail needs, helping to clear the trails, getting some exercise, and enjoying nature and each others’ company. We will keep our groups small and respect physical distancing. We can’t wait! Below are some details about our upcoming trail stewardship events. We hope you will join us!


Trail Day Goals

  • Clear the trails of grass and branches
  • Improve the trail surface (tread) as needed
  • Make notes of other trail maintenance needs
  • Have fun, get some exercise and enjoy the day


Trail Day Calendar:

Note: We may add some days depending on trail needs, but we wanted to give you something to put on your calendars. And now…let us present… OHA’s Tuesdays on the Trails! 


Trail Day Details:

  • Transportation: travel in family groups or social bubbles (see links above, in the calendar section for Google Map directions)
  • Things to bring: lunch, water, snacks, work gloves, sturdy hiking shoes or boots.
  • Optional things to bring: bug spray, sunscreen, hat, hand tools (loppers, pruners, garden hoe, etc.) that you like to use or think will be helpful

Complete the OHA Volunteer Survey for email reminders and more event details


Intelligent Trees: the Documentary, Drive In Film!

Join OHA in learning about how trees (yes, trees) communicate, and leave with a whole new perspective on forests!

This event is free (thanks to our sponsors, George Thornton and Lee Miller), but space is limited, so reserve your space by clicking here.

Come Early (6:45-7:15) to park and get set up. Sound will be broadcast through your FM radio.

Film starts at 7:30

If you would like to help OHA provide free educational events to our community by sponsoring one of our drive-ins or educational events, contact Jen and Sarah at: info@okanoganhighlands.org

Can’t wait to see you there!

Washington’s Not So Common Loons S1:E5

Who would have thought that our very own Okanogan Highlands is a great place to view one of the world’s most charismatic and endearing bird species? Although not many common loons nest in Washington any more, breeding pairs and chicks can be found on several highland lakes throughout the summer months and into the fall. This month’s Highland Wonders Podcast features Daniel and Ginger Poleschook – dedicated researchers, educators and advocates for common loons. They share what they have learned over 26 years of studying the species and getting to know the individual loons that inhabit our local lakes. Enjoy!

Jack, Nature Detective, Season 1, Episode 5: Washington’s Not-So-Common Loon

Illustrated by Diana Weddle

One warm spring day out on Bonaparte Lake, Jack the Nature Detective is fishing with his dad. Suddenly he hears a strange noise, “it sounds like a cross between a wolf’s howl and a chicken’s squawk.” Jack squints across the lake and he can’t believe what he is seeing! It’s a…a…penguin? It’s a very large bird, anyway, and black and white. What else could it be? Jack keeps watching. The bird is swimming around like a duck and keeps diving under water in a very penguin-like way. Jack is puzzled, though. He wonders aloud, “I thought that penguins live on the bottom of the globe, and we live closer to the top. If this is a penguin, it is very far from home. How could this be?”

From that day on, Jack watches his mystery bird friends often. There are two of them. He notices that they are good fisher-birds, and that they built a nest on a grassy tuft on the edge of the lake. One early summer day Jack sees something especially amazing. “Look!” he shouts. “One of the birds is carrying a fuzzy little baby on its back!” All of a sudden, the bird starts (what can only be described as) yodeling. She sounds scared and upset. Jack looks up and sees a bald eagle soaring above the lake. As the bald eagle is about to dive, Jack’s mom wades out into the lake waving her arms and yelling, “HEY! GET AWAY!” The eagle moves on, and the mama and baby glide away.

By this time, Jack is pretty sure this amazing bird is not a penguin, but he is still not sure what it could be. He decides, “It’s time to get to the bottom of this mystery.” Back at home, Jack gets to work with his favorite bird book, The Sibley Field Guide (it has, in the Nature Detective’s opinion, the best pictures). Soon Jack realizes that that his hunch was right – the mystery bird isn’t a penguin at all. It is a bird called the common loon! Now that he knows who they are, the Nature Detective can’t wait to learn more! Fortunately, the newest Highland Wonders Podcast is out, featuring Daniel and Ginger Poleschook, so Jack and everyone he knows can learn about common loons and what we all can do to protect them.

The Secret Life of Bats, Highland Wonders Podcast S1:E4

Jack, Nature Detective with a Townsend’s Big Eared Bat. Illustrated by Diana Weddle.

How do you feel when someone starts talking about bats? Warm and fuzzy? Uneasy? Disgusted? Cautiously curious? In the fourth episode of the Highland Wonders Podcast, The Secret Life of Bats, Roger Christophersen of the North Cascades National Park addresses our ideas about bats, and sparks a sense of wonder at these flying, fuzzy, leathery insectivores. To learn more about bats, how and where they live, and how we all can support bat populations (and why we should), check out the Highland Wonders Podcast wherever you normally get your podcasts! And now, a story from our intrepid Nature Detective. Enjoy!

Jack, Nature Detective: season 1, episode 4: The Secret Life of Bats

Jack’s family is enjoying a weekend camping in the highlands, escaping the heat of summer for a few days, and exploring the forests and lakes of the Okanogan. As they sit around the campfire, they notice something winging through the air in the little clearing, fluttering here and there. It’s flight pattern seems different from a bird, and the creature itself is bigger than the insects that Jack normally sees. “Eek! It’s a bat!” Jack’s mom exclaims. Jack gazes into the fire, thinking.

“What are bats, anyway?” Jack thinks about what he knows about bats, trying to sort them into a group with other animals he knows. Recently, he had a chance to get a close-up look at a bat during the day, as it clung to his house, sleeping. It was definitely fuzzy, with a pointy little snout. 

“I don’t think they are birds because they don’t lay eggs. If they DID lay eggs, how would that even work? They hang upside down, and don’t have nests. The eggs would just crack on the ground! That would be bad.” 

“Are they insects? Some insects are furry, like bumble bees. Maybe bats are insects?” Jack is not sure. He thinks, “Bees and other bugs don’t take very good care of their babies. But I heard that bat moms carry their babies around and feed them.” Jack glances over at his mom, who is giving his little sister a piggy back over to their tent. “Maybe bats are more like people. Mammals. Mammals?!? FLYING MAMMALS?!?! Is that possible?” 

When they get home, Jack asks his mom to look up pictures of bats on the internet. One image of a bat skeleton pops up and Jack notices that the wing looks a lot like a hand – it even has a little thumb! He also notices their ears, “My what big ears you have, little bat!” Jack cackles at his own Little Red Riding Hood reference. So far, the evidence points to bats being mammals. But Jack still has a lot of questions. “Do bats have predators? Why do bats have big ears? Do they hibernate in the winter or go south like birds do? How high can they fly? I can’t wait to learn more!” Luckily, Roger Chistophersen, of the North Cascades National Park has the answers to some of Jack’s questions in the most recent, very fascinating, Highland Wonders Podcast! 

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast. Episodes and stories can be found at: okanoganhighlands.org/education/highland-wonders/ or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.

The Backstory on Jack:

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan, Highland Wonders Podcast S1:E3

OHA is delighted to ring in the new year with Episode 3 of the Highland Wonders Podcast: Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan. In this hour-long episode, Jeff Heinlen of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shares his fascinating expertise and entertaining stories of bighorn sheep, the history of the herds in our valley, and gives an update on how our local herds are currently doing. And now without further ado, a story from Jack, Nature Detective!

Jack Nature Detective with a sneaky bighorn sheep illustrated by Diana Weddle

Jack, Nature Detective: season 1, episode 3: Bighorn Sheep of the Okanogan

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

“Hey dad, want to hear a riddle?” Without waiting for an answer, Jack recites, “What has a hard head, loves to climb and likes to lick salt?” His dad knows immediately: “Your sister.” “No!” Jack yells. “A wild great horn…” “…Owl?” his dad finishes for him. “No!” Jack yells again. “They have four legs, no wings, and huge, curly horns. We saw one on our hike today!”

Today Jack and his cousins adventured up the Whistler Canyon Trail near Oroville. After climbing the long, steep path, they stopped on a bench to catch their breath and look around. The kids brought their binoculars, so they scanned the hillsides and cliffs for signs of life – and there it was.

Silhouetted against the sky, high up on the edge of a cliff, an animal was standing very still. As Jack reported, it had four legs, a sturdy body, no wings, and a huge, curled head ornament. As they watched, the animal picked its way along the cliff, and the kids gasped to see it balancing so precariously on the rocks. “How does it not tip over? Its head looks so heavy!” Jack wondered out loud. “And how does it climb those rocks like that? I would fall!” As they watched, more animals “appeared” (they had been there the whole time but were so well camouflaged and so still that the kids hadn’t seen them). Some were laying down, others munching on something. Jack was curious why different animals had different size horns.

What was this amazing creature? Jack, the Nature Detective used his trusty process of elimination, “It can’t be a cat or a dog – they don’t have horns. It can’t be a goat – they are white, and live high in the mountains. Could it be a deer? Definitely not!” If there is one thing Jack knows, it is that: deer have antlers, sheep have horns.” Jack’s cousin, Fred adds, “Those have to be horns because antlers fall off, and those horns look like they have been growing for a loooong time.” The cousins decided that it must be a sheep! Elliot, who is a little older than the others, has seen signs along the road, warning drivers to watch out for “great horned…no, wait…bighorn sheep!” Jack, the Nature Detective is satisfied for now, but he is excited to listen to what Jeff Heinlen, from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, has to say about the bighorn sheep of Okanogan County. That should help him know for sure. Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast. Episodes and stories can be found at: okanoganhighlands.org/education/highland-wonders/ or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Year End Letter 2020

Dear Friends,

As snow falls in the Okanogan Highlands, blanketing each twig and branch in a fluffy coat, we are looking back at a year that has been anything but usual. From filing a Clean Water Act citizens suit to reimagining the ways that we do most of our work, it’s been quite a year. Perhaps more than ever we are thankful for the inspiration, resourcefulness, and steadfast support of our board, our members, and our community far and wide to be able to work to protect and restore the highlands and provide a window into the natural world as we navigate life in a pandemic.

Your support at this time is critical to hold the companies responsible.

OHA’s Clean Water Act suit is intended to enforce limits imposed by the mine’s discharge permit that require the waters near the mine to be almost as clean as they were before mining. The lawsuit is still in early stages, but it has already been met with legal resistance from the mining companies, through motions to dismiss and a baseless counterclaim against OHA. Despite the companies’ delay tactics, distractions, and attempts to intimidate OHA, the data and the law are clear. The companies are in flagrant violation of their permit, and we are working to hold them accountable for their pollution. 

As always, OHA will use scientific analysis of the data to support our efforts. We are building our team of technical experts, and your support will enable us to hire them to dive deep into the data, create careful analyses, and present their findings to the court while facing the company’s team of attorneys.  

Please consider expanded support to hire the experts needed to bolster this legal effort.

COVID has demanded, and continues to demand, creativity and flexibility in all of our lives. OHA’s efforts to engage the community in the natural world are no exception. After taking stock of the situation and assessing priorities this spring and summer, we are excited to be stretching into new forums to engage the public in the wonders of the Okanogan Highlands. We are creating videos and podcasts, writing stories, learning together about highland wildlife through our social media platforms, and conducting maintenance on local trails. We are also developing new projects such as: our Community Art Project that will install artworks reflective of the Okanogan Highlands’ biological diversity, and our Lost Lake Preserve Wetland Boardwalk that will enable visitors to appreciate the wetland in a low-impact way.

With your support OHA will build creative ways to help people connect with nature.

Our efforts to improve highland habitats is ongoing. We continue to be inspired by the positive changes  happening at the Triple Creek restoration site, as our plantings flourish, the streambed gets closer to the floodplain, and the habitat becomes a healthier wetland. This spring the stream overflowed its banks in part of the project area, showing connectivity for the first time since we started our work there!

Your donations enable OHA to continue our restoration work in the long term.

Life in the COVID era is a grand experiment, but OHA’s commitment to our mission is unwavering. We are taking action to prevent environmental degradation on Buckhorn. We are fostering the conservation of natural resources throughout the highlands. We are engaging our community with nature in the hopes that people will work to protect the precious earth on which we all depend. 

As we look forward to 2021, we are filled with optimism that has come with the prospect of a new administration in the White House. We are filled with hope of the time when we will be able to gather again, safely, with friends and family. We are filled with determination as OHA mounts a legal effort to ensure that our area is not left with the toxic remnants of here-today-gone-tomorrow mining companies. OHA is steadfast in our efforts to protect our environment and build our community.

In the spirit of optimism, hope, and determination, please give generously. We can’t do this work without you.

Onward!

Jen Weddle and Sarah Kliegman, co-Executive Directors

P.S. OHA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Your contribution may be tax deductible. A provision in the 2020 CARES Act enables taxpayers who take the standard deduction to claim a charitable deduction of up to $300 ($600 if married) for cash donations made in 2020. Other benefits apply for those who itemize charitable donations.

Click Here to Donate Online

Grouse of the Okanogan, Highland Wonders Podcast S1:E2

In this podcast episode, learn a little bit about OHA and a lot about the grouse of the world, with special focus on the grouse species that inhabit Okanogan County, WA, with Dr. Michael Schroeder. Also, join Jack, the Nature Detective, as he explores the Okanogan Highlands in this story for kids of all ages.

Podcast Credits: Presentation by Dr. Michael Schroeder, Grouse song by Julie Vanderwal with words by poet Will Nixon (find “My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse” and more at willnixon.com). Theme song by Tyler Graves and Andy Kingham.

Jack, Nature Detective with ruffed grouse friends, by Diana Weddle

Jack, Nature Detective: Grouse of the Okanogan 

“Look! A chicken!” Jack squawks. His little sister laughs and claps her hands, and hollers, “Let’s collect the eggs!” But Jack frowns, and says “Wait, hold on. It can’t be a chicken, that doesn’t make sense…” Jack and his family have just crossed a grassy field to get to the edge of a creek. They are looking for animal footprints in the new snow on an early winter day, and have just been startled by a heavy-bodied bird clattering away across the field. The bird didn’t go far, and it really didn’t fly very high. By Jack’s estimation, it only flew “about three cars high.” 

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

“Where would a chicken come from? I don’t see any houses. Chickens need houses, and roosts, and nest boxes.” Jack gasps and his eyes get big, “Mom! Are there wild chickens? Or is this someone’s lost chicken? Or… is that not a chicken?” Jack thinks hard, “Time to collect clues. Nature Detective is on the case.”

This bird is smaller than the chickens that he knows from his grandma’s house. But the chickens he has seen fly three cars high, just like this bird. Jack thinks, “maybe it’s a baby, and that’s why it’s small. But… why would a baby chicken wander off on its own?” Jack has recently conducted a study of his grandma’s chickens and this is what Jack knows about chickens: 

  1. They can be lots of different colors. 
  2. They eat seeds and bugs. 
  3. They lay eggs, unlike bats, that have live birds. 
  4. Some chickens grow feathers right over their eyes so they can’t see.

The chicken facts that Jack knows sort of fit with the mystery bird, but it’s just too weird to see a chicken out in the wild. The family follows in the direction that the bird went, trying not to scare it again.

Jack stops and puts his binoculars to his eyes. He scans the branches of some trees along the creek. He scans the snow. He stops. “There it is!” Jack whispers. His mom, dad, and sister all put their binoculars to their eyes and aim the lenses where Jack is looking. There is a bird there, walking awkwardly right on top of the snow. “How does he do that?” Jack wonders. They can see that this is not a chicken. It is speckled, with bright yellow eyebrows, and it’s tail is too pointy to be a chicken. It could be a relative of a chicken. Suddenly the bird disappears. “Where’d he go? That’s not a chicken!” They decide to leave the bird alone, since winter is a hard time to be a wild bird.

When Jack gets home his dad pulls up their favorite website – Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Jack likes this website because he can search for birds by shape and color! It doesn’t take long for him to find a whole bunch of chicken-shaped birds with yellow eyebrows. He thinks his mystery bird was a grouse – but which one? Jack reviews his clues: a grassy habitat, smaller than a chicken, speckled, yellow eye brows, pointy tail, walking on top of the snow. “A sharptail grouse!” Jack hypothesizes. How can he know for sure? For more clues about whether Jack’s guess might be correct, and to learn all about the different types of grouse that live in the Okanogan, Washington and the world, check out OHA’s newest podcast, Grouse of the Okanogan, with Dr. Michael Schroeder. 

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast.

Phantom of the north: great gray owls, Highland Wonders Podcast S1:E1

Meet Jack, Nature Detective: Jack is inquisitive, skeptical, creative, quirky, determined, and a friend to ALL critters. His observations of subtle clues and brilliant reasoning make him, quite possibly, one of the world’s most talented nature detectives. Like most of us, Jack’s understanding of the world comes from his own life experiences. He is five years old, and his investigative skills are top notch. If you were to stop by his house you might find our Nature Detective in the midst of an experiential study of squirrel movement, or determining the optimal shelter and food stores for his new pet grasshopper, named Grasshopper. Today, we will share a mystery that Jack uncovered in the Okanogan Highlands. What clues can you uncover in the story?

Jack, Nature Detective. Illustration by Diana Weddle.

One day in October, Jack, the Nature Detective, is out on a hike in the Okanogan Highlands with his family. The needles of the Western Larch are lighting up the flank of Bonaparte Mountain with yellow, bright against the dark green of the other conifers. The afternoon is warm and Jack’s whole family is enjoying the way the sunbeams filter down through the forest canopy. 

Suddenly, Jack detects something. His eyes open wide and he whispers, “Who’s out there? Mom? Is someone watching us?” Everyone stops and looks around, no one is there, just the quiet forest. But the whole family kind of feels like there is something there, so they come to a full stop and really look around. There is a fallen tree, leaning steeply against its neighbor. The trees are tall in this place – and big around. Some have broken off way up in the air. But no one sees any sign of eyes watching them.

Jack’s mom says, “Don’t worry, Jack. Sometimes when you are outside, it really feels like something is watching you. Maybe animals are watching. The creatures that live in these woods are specially adapted to be camouflaged in this habitat. The shapes of their bodies and their colors blend right into the shapes and colors of the forest. They stay very still, so our eyes just slide right past them without even seeing them. Their camouflage keeps them safe.” Just a little way farther on, Jack stops again, staring at a splotch of white on the ground, and, looking closer, he notices small gray lumps that look a bit furry, and a little bit…bony. What is this? Does it have something to do with that creepy feeling of being watched? 

This is a nature mystery and, fortunately, the Nature Detective is on the job. He pulls out his sample jars, some forceps, and a hand lens, and collects the gray lumps for analysis at home.

Back at home, Jack dons his lab coat, goggles, and protective gloves and examines the gray lumps. He uses the forceps to pull out a pile of tiny bones. He painstakingly counts the bones and declares that this is undoubtedly the droppings of a hungry rodent eater. 

Look for our podcast logo!

He considers his clues: forest habitat with big trees, snags, and leaning trees, a creature that eats rodents and lives in the Okanogan Highlands. He remembers that feeling of being watched. Jack’s hypothesis is that this nature mystery is likely an owl, but it could be a coyote, weasel, or snake, and he is not quite willing to dismiss the possibility that it could be a baby velociraptor or a saber tooth tiger. Do you think Jack’s owl hypothesis is correct? What other evidence would you need to verify Jack’s forest find? To learn more, check out the new podcast, Highland Wonders, produced by Okanogan Highlands Alliance. The first episode, Great Gray Owls: The Phantom of the North, features Matt Marsh, wildlife biologist with the US Forest Service in Tonasket. You can find the podcast at any of the following apps: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, RadioPublic, Pocket Cast, Google Podcasts.

Stay tuned! Jack will continue to solve nature mysteries on topics related to upcoming episodes of the Highland Wonders Podcast. Episodes will be released throughout the winter, and accompanying mysteries will be posted on OHA’s website.

© Okanogan Highlands Alliance 2019. All Rights Reserved.