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North Pacific Maritime Dry-Mesic Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest

This ecological system comprises much of the major lowland forests of western Washington, northwestern Oregon, eastern Vancouver Island, and the southern Coast Ranges in British Columbia. In southwestern Oregon, it becomes local and more small-patch in nature. It occurs throughout low-elevation western Washington, except on extremely dry or moist to very wet sites. In Oregon, it occurs on the western slopes of the Cascades, around the margins of the Willamette Valley, and in the Coast Ranges. These forests occur on the drier to intermediate moisture habitats and microhabitats within the Western Hemlock Zone of the Pacific Northwest. Climate is relatively mild and moist to wet. Mean annual precipitation is mostly 90-254 cm (35-100 inches) (but as low as 20 inches in the extreme rainshadow) falling predominantly as winter rain. Snowfall ranges from rare to regular, and summers are relatively dry. Elevation ranges from sea level to 610 m (2000 feet) in northern Washington to 1067 m (3500 feet) in Oregon. Topography ranges from relatively flat glacial tillplains to steep mountainous terrain. This is generally the most extensive forest in the lowlands on the west side of the Cascades and forms the matrix within which other systems occur as patches. Throughout its range it occurs in a mosaic with North Pacific Maritime Mesic-Wet Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.002); in dry areas it occurs adjacent to or in a mosaic with North Pacific Dry Douglas-fir-(Madrone) Forest and Woodland (CES204.845), and at higher elevations it intermingles with either North Pacific Dry-Mesic Silver Fir-Western Hemlock-Douglas-fir Forest (CES204.098) or North Pacific Mesic Western Hemlock-Silver Fir Forest (CES204.097).

Overstory canopy is dominated by Pseudotsuga menziesii, with Tsuga heterophylla generally present in the subcanopy or as a canopy dominant in old-growth stands. Abies grandis, Thuja plicata, and Acer macrophyllum codominants are also represented. In the driest climatic areas, Tsuga heterophylla may be absent, and Thuja plicata takes its place as a late-seral or subcanopy tree species. Gaultheria shallon, Mahonia nervosa, Rhododendron macrophyllum, Linnaea borealis, Achlys triphylla, and Vaccinium ovatum typify the poorly to well-developed shrub layer. Acer circinatum is a common codominant with one or more of these other species. The fern Polystichum munitum can be codominant with one or more of the evergreen shrubs on sites with intermediate moisture availability (mesic). If Polystichum munitum is thoroughly dominant or greater than about 40-50% cover, then the stand is probably in the more moist North Pacific Maritime Mesic-Wet Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.002). Young stands may lack Tsuga heterophylla or Thuja plicata, especially in the Puget Lowland. Tsuga heterophylla is generally the dominant regenerating tree species. Other common associates include Acer macrophyllum, Abies grandis, and Pinus monticola. In southwestern Oregon, Pinus lambertiana, Calocedrus decurrens, and occasionally Pinus ponderosa may occur in these forests. Soils are generally well-drained and are mesic to dry for much of the year. This is in contrast to North Pacific Maritime Mesic-Wet Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.002), which occurs on sites where soils remain moist to subirrigated for much of the year and fires were less frequent. Fire is (or was) the major natural disturbance. In the past (pre-1880), fires were less commonly high-severity, typically mixed-severity or moderate-severity, with natural return intervals of 100 years or less in the driest areas, to a few hundred years in areas with more moderate to wet climates. In the drier climatic areas (central Oregon Cascades, Puget Lowlands, Georgia Basin), this system was typified by a (mixed) moderate-severity fire regime involving occasional stand-replacing fires and more frequent moderate-severity fires. This fire regime would create a complex mosaic of stand structures across the landscape.

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