Columbia Highlands Initiative

Connecting the Cascades to the Rockies

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Between the North Cascades and the Rocky Mountains in northeast Washington state is an area called the Columbia Highlands. Subalpine peaks and roadless forests of pine and larch dot the crest of the Kettle River Mountain Range in Ferry County and the Selkirk Mountains in Pend Oreille County. Below these high points, rolling conifer forests, ranch lands, and gentle river valleys transition into the steppe of the Columbia Basin and Okanogan Highlands. Much of this land is managed as the Colville National Forest, while areas of private, state and tribal land also abound.

The Columbia Highlands includes diverse habitat for wildlife—from wolves, lynx, and grizzly bears to mountain caribou, elk, moose, white tail and mule deer, bighorn sheep, and dozens of species of migratory birds and other native species, much the same mix of wildlife as 200 years ago.

The Columbia Highlands as a region connects the Cascades to the Rockies. As climate changes and additional habitat is lost to development, maintaining connected paths between habitats in the Columbia Highlands becomes even more essential.

Excellent hikes abound in the Columbia Highlands! The Kettle Crest Trail and Abercrombie Mountain are a few of our favorites.

Northeast Washington

Here the mystique of the American West lives on. Historic valley-bottom ranches maintain habitat and open space. Wildlands teem with abundant and diverse wildlife and locally owned timber mills provide family-wage jobs and wood products.

A scenic trail in the Abercrombie Mountain Roadless Area, near Ione in northeast Washington. Photo: Eric Zamora

The region’s mix of wildlands, ranches, and working forests represents a network of wildlife habitat that keeps the Cascades and the Rockies connected for wide-ranging wildlife like wolves, lynx, grizzly bears, and other wildlife.

A unique collaboration

Since 2002 we’ve worked in a unique partnership with timber industry leaders, private landowners, small business owners, public agencies, conservation and recreation groups, and community leaders to conserve thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in the Columbia Highlands on both public and private lands. Conservation Northwest’s Columbia Highlands Initiative is putting that balanced plan to action, to protect wilderness and working forests in the region.

In 2010, Conservation Northwest put forward our Columbia Highlands Initiative legislative proposal intended to engage local stakeholders and elected officials to work together and come up with a balanced plan that included restoring forests and creating jobs; protecting working ranches and wildlife habitat; and designating new wilderness, recreation and conservation areas.

Now, in the morass that is today’s United States’ Congress, political traction is needed to bring all sides together to come up with a plan that works for wildlife and local communities, protecting wilderness, restoring forests, and connecting habitats for the future

Collaborating with local forestry businesses and othe stakeholders is an important of our work in the Columbia Highlands. Learn more on our webpage, or visit the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition website

The right time for wilderness

With a Congress that seems unable to act on many of the nation’s top priorities, including common ground conservation and natural resource policy, moving forward with a community-based plan for protecting wilderness and special places and improving forestry on public lands that would benefit local communities and wildlife seems unlikely in the near future. Our Columbia Highlands Initiative has already made great strides towards improving forestry practices on the Colville National Forest and safeguarding working ranchlands that provide important habitat for wildlife.

And we will continue to look for opportunities to work with the U.S. Forest Service, local community leaders and members of Congress to advance a balanced plan for the Columbia Highlands that includes protecting wilderness and supporting sound forestry that benefits local communities and wildlife. While we wait for the right opportunity to protect wilderness in the Kettle Range, we have shifted our focus in the Columbia Highlands towards other wildlife conservation and forest restoration challenges.

Conservation Northwest will continue to rally public support for forest plan wilderness recommendations for the Kettle Crest and other wild areas and look for opportunities to engage local elected officials and stakeholders to find common ground around wilderness and other forest management issues.