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North Pacific Maritime Coastal Sand Dune and Strand

Coastal sand dunes are found throughout the northern Pacific Coast, from south-central Alaska to the central Oregon coast (roughly Coos Bay). This system covers large areas of the southern Washington and central Oregon coasts, but coastal dunes in Alaska have been placed into a different system. Coastal dunes include beach strand (not the beach itself but sparsely or densely vegetated areas behind the beach), foredunes, sand spits, and active to stabile backdunes and sandsheets derived from quartz or gypsum sands. The mosaic of sparse to dense vegetation in dune systems is driven by sand deposition, erosion, and lateral movement. Disturbance processes include dune blowouts caused by wind and occasional wave overwash during storm tidal surges. Coastal dunes often front portions of inlets and tidal marshes. Dune vegetation typically includes herbaceous, succulent, shrub, and tree species with varying degrees of tolerance for salt spray, wind and sand abrasion, and substrate stability. Dune succession is highly variable, so species composition can vary significantly among occurrences. These dunes can be dominated by Leymus arenarius (= Elymus arenarius), Festuca rubra, Leymus mollis, or various forbs adapted to salty dry conditions. Gaultheria shallon and Vaccinium ovatum are major shrub species. Forested portions of dunes are included within this system and are characterized (at least in the south) by Pinus contorta var. contorta early in succession, Picea sitchensis somewhat later in the sere, and in some cases Tsuga heterophylla later still. Pseudotsuga menziesii sometimes codominates in Oregon. Disturbance processes include dune blowouts caused by wind and occasional wave overwash during storm tidal surges. Late-sere forests, dominating stabilized dune systems where active dune processes are nearly absent and that compositionally represent the adjacent matrix system, are excluded from this dune system. Interdunal wetlands occur commonly within the matrix of this system and sometimes are extensive in deflation plains or old dune troughs, but are considered part of various separate wetland ecological systems depending on their hydrology, and are not part of this upland system.

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