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The northeast Washington landscape

Where the Columbia River enters the US it cuts a gateway through the rugged and heavily glaciated western Rocky Mountains, creating a mountainous landscape between the Rockies and the North Cascades.

Gateway between Cascades and Rockies

Sunset from Copper Butte by James JohnstonAfter all these hundreds of years since Europeans first settled in this continent, large, roadless strongholds of forests and streams still remain in northeastern Washington. Where the Columbia River enters the US, the great river cuts a gateway between the Okanogan Highlands to the west and the Selkirks of the western Rocky Mountains along the Idaho/Washington border to the east.

The heart of the Columbia Highlands of northeastern Washington is the Kettle River Range. The Kettle River Range alone boasts 250,000 acres of natural, wild forests. Its gently rolling, mountainous terrain rises from the arid lowlands of the Columbia River Basin and the Kettle and San Poil River valleys, extending north to the Monashee Range of British Columbia.

The Columbia Highlands connect Washington's North Cascades to the Rockies, keeping the larger web of life intact. Scientists have identified this region as a lifeline for the movement of large mammals between the Cascades and the Rockies.

The land that time forgot

Except for the Salmo-Priest, the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act "forgot" the Colville National Forest. Less than 3% of the Colville National Forest is protected wilderness. That's just 33,000 acres (the Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area near the Idaho border) to meet the needs of grizzly bear, mountain caribou, and people. All this despite a burgeoning population in the region and the widely recognized importance of protecting our last wild forests for people and for wildlife.

Despite rich inventoried roadless lands, protected wilderness in northeastern Washington represents less than 1% of the wilderness areas in Washington state.

Big orn sheep on Hall Mountain. Photo by James Johnson

Part of a larger whole

Over the border in British Columbia, wilderness parks including Mt. Gladstone, Granby, Vahalla, Kokanee Glacier, and West Arm link to the Colville National Forest wildlands and together make habitat for wide-roaming animals like wolverine and bears. The Colville provides critical habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, moose, grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine, fisher, marten, great gray owl, northern goshawk, spruce grouse, and bull, red-band, and westslope cutthroat trout. The Selkirks host the last population in the lower 48 states of mountain caribou, a majestic mammal once numerous throughout the central and northern Rocky Mountains. Here are found dozens of sensitive species of ferns and flowers, including the Okanogan flameflower, scalloped grape fern, scalloped moonwort, and yellow lady slipper orchid.

San Poil River in Thirteenmile Canyon. Photo by James JohnstonSince at least the 1970s, people have worked to keep these forests wild to benefit all Americans and the wildlife and water we depend on. Thousands of hours of documentary work have been done by people who love these lands. To gain the protection they deserve, roadless forests in the Columbia Highlands call out for formal recognition and protection as designated wilderness.

Photo tour of the Columbia Highlands!
Join the effort. Write a letter for wilderness.
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