OHA presents: ‘Ecosystems of the Okanogan,’ a Highland Wonders event

Julie Ashmore/submitted photo  A rainbow hangs above a wildflower and bunchgrass meadow near Molson and shows one of the ecosystems that Andy Stepniewski (right) will discuss in the upcoming education event “Ecosystems of the Okanogan.” The program, hosted by the Okanogan Highlands Alliance, is Friday, March 3. Stepniewski brings an all-new topic to the Highland Wonders series, with “Ecosystems of the Okanogan.” The beautiful Okanogan lies to the east of the Cascades, in the rain shadow of this range. The region showcases an impressive mosaic of ecosystems because of its varied terrain with great differences in elevation, from alpine summits to valley bottoms. Join Andy on this armchair tour celebrating the natural highlights of the Okanogan.

Julie Ashmore/submitted photo
A rainbow hangs above a wildflower and bunchgrass meadow near Molson and shows one of the ecosystems that Andy Stepniewski (right) will discuss in the upcoming education event “Ecosystems of the Okanogan.” The program, hosted by the Okanogan Highlands Alliance, is Friday, March 3. Stepniewski brings an all-new topic to the Highland Wonders series, with “Ecosystems of the Okanogan.” The beautiful Okanogan lies to the east of the Cascades, in the rain shadow of this range. The region showcases an impressive mosaic of ecosystems because of its varied terrain with great differences in elevation, from alpine summits to valley bottoms. Join Andy on this armchair tour celebrating the natural highlights of the Okanogan.

TONASKET – On Friday, March 3, Andy Stepniewski brings an all-new topic to the Highland Wonders series, with “Ecosystems of the Okanogan.”

He will make his presentation at the Tonasket Community Cultural Center, 411 S. Western Ave. starting at at 6:30 pm. (Dinner benefiting the Community Cultural Center (CCC) at 5:15 pm, followed by the presentation with tea, coffee and desserts). The presentation is free; dinner is $8 for CCC members and $9 for non-members; desserts by donation (benefit for the CCC).

Andy Stepniewski

Andy Stepniewski, submitted by Ellen Q. Stepniewski

The beautiful Okanogan lies to the east of the Cascades, in the rain shadow of this range. The region showcases an impressive mosaic of ecosystems because of its varied terrain with great differences in elevation, from alpine summits to valley bottoms. Huge variation in temperatures and precipitation occur along this elevational gradient. Ecological diversity is the region’s hallmark, from the windswept, snowy, alpine mountaintops of the western edge of the Okanogan, eastward into extensions of boreal Canada’s “Spruce Kingdom,” downward into progressively warmer and drier forest zones, and into the semi-arid shrub-steppe zone. Combined, this array of ecosystems adds up to stupendous natural biodiversity in a relatively small area. This diversity is rarely exceeded by other areas at this latitude in North America. Join Andy on this armchair tour celebrating the natural highlights of the Okanogan.

Scott Sandsberry writes in the Yakima Herald:

If you ask Andy Stepniewski about himself, you’ll get either a short answer or a change of subject. As one of Yakima County’s foremost naturalists, he is fascinated by the world, its flora and fauna… He can regale you for hours about vegetation zones’ role in the biosphere. He can detail minute distinctions between nearly identical bird species, from their calls and colors to their diet and migratory patterns.

In the world of Washington birding and the state’s Audubon community, Stepniewski is an icon. He wrote the book, quite literally, on the birds of Yakima County. His efforts were essential to the state’s go-to birding book, “A Birder’s Guide to Washington.”

And he’d prefer you didn’t know or care about that, to keep the focus on the natural wonders he finds so fascinating.

That state birding guide? You’d never know he had any part in it by looking at the cover. Stepniewski refused to be named as an author, wanting the credit to go solely to the Washington Ornithological Society.

Stepniewski authored sections about the Okanogan Highlands in the Washington State Birding guide mentioned above, and also wrote the guide, Birds of Yakima County, Washington.

Inspired by the Cannings brothers, Canadian naturalists and scientists living in the BC Okanagan, Andy has been visiting the Okanogan since 1972 and has hiked trails throughout the region, from the Cascade crest east to the Kettle Range. In addition to a passion for plants, he has documented the breeding of three boreal forest owls: the great gray, boreal and northern hawk. He has also been interested in diversity of breeding birds and has conducted various surveys including censuses both east and west of the Okanogan River.

Born in Canada and raised in California, he returned to British Columbia as a young adult. As a boy, he discovered Boy Scouts as a portal to the outdoors. As quoted in the Yakima Herald, “I channeled my energy into nature, With the Boy Scouts, I started to learn the world of nature was pretty big.”

As an adult, his first career path was as a park naturalist. He has lived in Wapato, Wash., since 1978. Stepniewski has been an avid outdoorsman throughout his whole life. By speaking in the Highland Wonders series, he generously offers to share his perspective on the ecological mosaic that is the Okanogan — a favorite destination and home to birders, hikers, and so many who share Stepniewski’s enthusiasm for the natural world.

This educational event is provided by OHA, and hosted at the CCC. The meal will be an enchilada casserole (chicken or cheese), with salad and beans.

Also coming up: On Friday, March 24th, OHA celebrates 25 years by hosting a fundraising CD release concert, variety show, and dinner at the Community Cultural Center of Tonasket. Highland Voices, the album being released, expresses our sense of place, conservation concerns, the value of clean water, and the beauty of our natural world. Join us for an evening of delicious food, original music, and appreciation for the people who have been a part of OHA over the years. Stay tuned for details, or visit www.okanoganhighlands.org.

OHA is a non-profit organization that works to educate the public on watershed issues. The Highland Wonders educational series features the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. OHA’s Education Program is designed to build the community’s capacity for environmental stewardship by increasing understanding of local natural history through a variety of free public learning opportunities.

More info about this and other upcoming educational events: www.okanoganhighlands.org/education/hw Questions? julie@okanoganhighlands.org or 509-476-2432.

Stepniewski