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Highland Wonders ~ Upcoming

Highland Wonders is a monthly education series featuring the natural history of the Okanogan Highlands and surrounding areas. Come and meet some new people and enjoy refreshments; leave with a better understanding of your watershed.

The indoor series runs on the First Friday of the month, from November through May (skipping December). The outdoor series is offered during summer, and the schedule varies.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Inland Mollusks of the Okanogan Highlands

with Tom Burke  

Certified Wildlife Biologist(R)/Malacology

On Friday, November 4th, Tom Burke brings to the Highland Wonders series his forty-five years of experience as a wildlife biologist in Washington State, with a unique presentation on mollusks. Although they are often associated with the west side of the state, the Okanogan is home to both terrestrial and aquatic mollusks, such as snails, slugs, freshwater mussels, pea clams, and fingernail clams. Burke’s PowerPoint presentation on Inland Mollusks of the Okanogan Highlands will include photographs of many of the species found in our area, and discussion of the biology, known distribution, and abundance of selected species. Burke’s bigger picture draws upon experience in planning, environmental assessment, and program management for wildlife habitat, fisheries, and threatened, endangered and sensitive species; fire recovery; wetland surveys; parasite studies; and developing survey guidelines and management recommendations for mollusks. Much of his special expertise and knowledge of land mollusks can be found in his guide, “Land Snails and Slugs of the Pacific Northwest.” Community members will learn about aquatic snails and freshwater clams based on Burke’s experience in collecting and identifying those species from the region. This event will begin to unlock the mysteries of these enigmatic species, which play an important ecological role in the Okanogan Highlands.

snail in Myers Creek, near Chesaw
Snail in Myers Creek, near Chesaw
(Family Physidae; genus is either Physa or Physella)

Tom Burke attended Tacoma Community College, then WSU, where he graduated in 1971 with a BS in Wildlife Biology. He was granted the designation as Certified Wildlife Biologist® by the Wildlife Society in 1979. Following college, Burke worked for the US Forest Service as a Forestry Technician, then became the first Wildlife Biologist on the Colville National Forest (1972 through 1992). He then moved to Olympia, where he worked for the Wenatchee National Forest in the office of the WA Dept. of Wildlife in an interagency exchange program, with the title of Priority Habitat Specialist. After the severe wildfires in 1994, he was transferred to the Entiat Ranger District to work on fire recovery, where he completed his career as wildlife, botany, ecology, and reforestation staff, retiring in 2002. 

Burke became interested in mollusks while doing wetland surveys and working on parasite studies on the Colville National Forest. Finding no current guides to the identification of the western land snails, he began collecting data to develop those keys and has been focused on this effort ever since. In 1994, work on the Interagency Mollusk Taxa Team was added to his other duties, developing survey guidelines and management recommendations for 43 species of mollusks (24 land snails and slugs, and 19 aquatic snails and mussels). 

Following his retirement in 2002, Burke has continued to work on mollusk surveys and identification under contract for various agencies and organizations. While doing surveys for the BLM in the San Juan Islands, he was asked to propose an identification guide for the inland mollusks. The result was a guide to Land Snails and Slugs of the Pacific Northwest, with photographs by Bill Leonard, published by Oregon State University Press in 2013. Approximately 250 species and subspecies are described in the book, “Land Snails and Slugs of the Pacific Northwest,” by Thomas E. Burke, with photographs by William P. Leonard (2013, OSU Press). The geographic area covered by this book includes all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana to the Continental Divide. 

Event at a Glance:  
When: Friday, November 4, at 6:30 pm. (Dinner benefiting the Community Cultural Center at 5:15 pm, followed by the presentation with tea, coffee and desserts.)
Cost: Presentation is free; donations are always welcome. Dinner is $8 for CCC members and $9 for non-members; desserts by donation (benefit for the CCC). 
Where: Community Cultural Center (CCC), 411 S Western Ave, Tonasket, WA

Meal menu:
  • Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
  • Green Salad with apples and walnuts
  • Rolls

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To begin or renew your OHA membership and be first in line to register for the summertime events, please visit, or contact OHA for more information. To sign up for this event, email or call 509-476-2432. The starting time and location will be provided upon registration.

Please visit OHA's past events page to learn about other events that have been held in summers past. Each of these events was jam-packed with information tailored to the sights, sounds, and natural history of the highlands. The events are often full to capacity. Be sure to begin or renew your OHA membership for priority in signing up for this summer's events. 

Questions? Contact OHA's Conservation Coordinator, Julie Ashmore: