The refuge is rich in habitat diversity. From forests, to beaches and streams, the habitat found here is a great home for wildlife, and an exciting place to visit.
Willapa Bay is an estuary—a protected area where fresh water from streams mixes with ocean water. An estuary generally has three distinct habitats within it—salt marsh, tidal mudflats and open water.
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At low tide, deeper channels throughout the bay still maintain water. The open water becomes highways for fish and invertebrates.
Learn more about the importance of open water habitat . . .
Intertidal flats are those areas of mud or sandy mud that are affected by the rising and falling of the tides. These flats are often submerged, but are gradually exposed as the tide lowers. At low tide much of Willapa Bay is drained, exposing extensive mudflats. These tidal mudflats are rich in life and support dozens of species.
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Salt marsh habitat grows along the outer edges of the estuary where brackish tide water occasionally floods. Plants here must be tolerant of sun as no shrubs or trees grow in this habitat to shade them.
Discover why this habitat is so productive . . .
Coastal Dunes and Beach
Coastal beaches and dunes were once characterized by large areas of open sand. The constantly blowing sand was sparsely vegetated and had only a few trees and shrubs. The native dune plants are low growing and have thick, leathery or waxy leaves. Long or wide-spreading roots work to collect water. Invasive beach grasses have dramatically changes this habitat.
Find out more about this threatened dune habitat . . .
Coastal temperate rain forests are unique in their abundance of coniferous trees. The low amount of light and cool temperatures found in coastal forests makes it difficult for deciduous trees to thrive. Conifers can grow year round as they do not drop all of their leaves, or needles, at one time.
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Rivers and Streams
Flowing freshwater occurs throughout the refuge as rivers and intermittent streams. Habitat features of healthy riverine systems include: large woody debris, an even ratio of pools and riffles, stable stream banks, intact riparian vegetation, and the addition of organic matter from leaf litter and fallen branches. This habitat supports a diversity of aquatic and semi-aquatic species.
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Riparian and wetland forests are highly diverse and variable. Plants here are often young, as flood waters can cause frequent disturbances. Red alder and western hemlock trees dominate. Dense shrubs of salmonberry, vine maple, skunk cabbage and ferns help shade streams and create habitat for a diverse group of wildlife.
Freshwater wetlands on the refuge are diverse habitats and include swamps, marshes, seeps, springs, bogs and seasonal wetlands. Ponds, such as those created by beavers, are also included in this habitat type. They are home to a variety of wildlife and serve as nurseries for amphibians, dragonflies and fish.
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Native grasslands occurred historically on the Long Beach Peninsula. Proximity to the salt spray from the ocean, mild temperatures, high rainfall, and fog have maintained the low-growing, open natural grasslands by suppressing encroaching trees and shrubs.
Explore this vanishing habitat . . .
Page Photo Credits Willapa Bay - © Duncan Wurm, Willapa Bay - © Joanne Jambor, Willapa Bay - © Curt Stephens, Willapa Bay tidal mud flats - ©Suzy Whittey, Pickleweed - ©Shawn Schmelzer, Beach vegetation - © Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Lady fern - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Refuge stream - USFWS, Salmonberry - ©Rollin Bannow, Skunk cabbage - ©Dr. Madeline Kalbach, Aster - USFWS
Last Updated: Jul 29, 2014