WDFW LogoWashington Department of Fish & Wildlife
WDFW LogoConservation

For more information on species & ecosystem science:

Wildlife Science

Fish Science

Habitat Science

Ecosystem Facts

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

This ecological system is a significant component of the lowland and low montane forests of western Washington, northwestern Oregon, and southwestern British Columbia. It occurs throughout low-elevation western Washington, except on extremely dry sites and in the hypermaritime zone near the outer coast where it is rare. In Oregon, it occurs on the western slopes of the Cascades, around the margins of the Willamette Valley, and on the west side of the Coast Ranges, and is reduced to locally small patches in southwestern Oregon. In British Columbia, it occurs on the eastern (leeward) side of Vancouver Island, commonly and rarely on the windward side, and in the southern Coast Ranges. These forests occur on moist habitats and microhabitats, mainly lower slopes or valley landforms, within the Western Hemlock Zone of the Pacific Northwest. They differ from North Pacific Maritime Dry-Mesic Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.001) primarily in having more hydrophilic undergrowth species, moist to subirrigated soils, high abundance of shade- and moisture-tolerant canopy trees, as well as higher stand productivity, due to higher soil moisture and lower fire frequency. 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) predominantly as winter rain. Snowfall ranges from rare to regular (but consistent winter snowpacks are absent or minimal), 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 an extensive forest in the lowlands on the west side of the Cascades. In some wetter climatic areas, it forms the matrix within which other systems occur as patches, especially riparian wetlands. In many rather drier climatic areas, it occurs as small to large patches within a matrix of North Pacific Maritime Dry-Mesic Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.001); in dry areas, it can occur 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, Tsuga heterophylla, and/or Thuja plicata, as well as Chamaecyparis lawsoniana in western Oregon, away from the coast. Pseudotsuga menziesii is usually at least present to more typically codominant or dominant. Acer macrophyllum and Alnus rubra (the latter primarily where there has been historic logging disturbance) are commonly found as canopy or subcanopy codominants, especially at lower elevations. In a natural landscape, small patches can be dominated in the canopy by these broadleaf trees for several decades after a severe fire. Polystichum munitum, Oxalis oregana, Rubus spectabilis, and Oplopanax horridus typify the poorly to well-developed herb and shrub layers. Gaultheria shallon, Mahonia nervosa, Rhododendron macrophyllum, and Vaccinium ovatum are often present but are generally not as abundant as the aforementioned indicators; except where Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is a canopy codominant, they may be the dominant understory. Acer circinatum is a very common codominant as a tall shrub. Forested stands with abundant Lysichiton americanus, an indicator of seasonally flooded or saturated soils, belong in North Pacific Coniferous Swamp (CES204.867). Stands included are best represented on lower mountain slopes of the coastal ranges with high precipitation, long frost-free periods, and low fire frequencies. 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 Abies grandis, which can be a codominant especially in the Willamette Valley - Puget Trough - Georgia Basin ecoregion. Soils are moist to somewhat wet but not saturated for much of the year and are well-drained to somewhat poorly drained. Typical soils for Polystichum sites would be deep, fine- to moderately coarse-textured, and for Oplopanax sites, soils typically have an impermeable layer at a moderate depth. Both types of soils are well-watered from upslope sources, seeps, or hyperheic sources. This is in contrast to North Pacific Maritime Dry-Mesic Douglas-fir-Western Hemlock Forest (CES204.001), which occurs on well-drained soils, south-facing slopes, and dry ridges and slopes where soils remain mesic to dry for much of the year. Fire is (or was) the major natural disturbance in all but the wettest climatic areas. In the past (pre-1880), fires were less commonly high-severity, typically mixed-severity or moderate-severity, with natural return intervals of a few hundred to several hundred years. This system was formerly supported by occasional, stand-replacing fires. More frequent moderate-severity fires would generally not burn these moister microsites.

Information Source: http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/