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Forest Habitat

Late-successional coastal lowland forest
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Coastal temperate rain forests are unique in their abundance of coniferous trees, such as Sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar. The low amount of light and cool temperatures found in coastal forests make it difficult for deciduous trees to thrive, most of which can only grow during spring and summer when leaves are present. Conifers can grow year round as they do not drop all of their leaves, or needles, at one time. These forests rarely experience disturbance from catastrophic natural events such as fire.

Locally, the forest is dominated by Sitka spruce and a thick understory of salal. Prior to wide-spread commercial logging, area forests had a complex structure including many canopy layers and different age trees in a single stand. An example of such a late-successional, or “old growth”, forest can be experienced in a visit to the Don Bonker Cedar Grove on Long Island. This 274-acre grove has 1,000 years old western red cedar trees and a variety of other plant species, such as evergreen huckleberry, red huckleberry, redwood sorrel, sword fern, deer fern, and false azalea. Look for the abundance of epiphytes (plants living on the surface of other plants, such as lichens, mosses and ferns).  In an older forest, half of the biomass is comprised of dead trees, including standing dead trees, “snags”, and dead trees on the ground, “nurse” logs. These dead trees eventually break down and join decaying needles, leaves, and plants on the forest floor to create rich, organic soils. The diversity of structure and species in coastal forests creates lots of habitats in this habitat!

Most of the late-successional forests in the Willapa Bay watershed have been logged over the last century leaving a small fraction of important habitat for wildlife. Discover how the refuge is working to speed forest recovery…

Facts About Forest Habitat

Individual trees may be older than 1000 years

The lack of catastrophic fire is why “ancient” forests exist in these wet places

A single, large tree may be habitat for hundreds of other species

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2013
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