USGS Logo Geological Survey Professional Paper No. 7
Forest Conditions in the Olympic Forest Reserve, Washington



This reserve is situated in the northwestern part of Washington and occupies most of what is known its the Olympic Peninsula. Its original limits, as set forth in the executive order of President Cleveland of February 22, 1897, were as follows:

Beginning at the southeast corner of township twenty-one (21) north, range five (5) west, Willamette base and meridian, Washington; thence northerly along the surveyed and unsurveyed range line between ranges four (4) and five (5) west, to the point for the northeast corner of township twenty-three (23) north, range five (5) west; thence easterly along the unsurveyed and surveyed township line to the point four the southeast corner of township twenty-four (24) north, range four (4) west; thence northerly along the unsurveyed range line to the point for the northeast corner of said township; thence easterly along the unsurveyed and surveyed sixth (6th) standard parallel north, to the southeast corner of township twenty-five (25) north, range three (3) west; thence northerly along the surveyed and unsurveyed range line between ranges two (2) and three (3) west, to the northeast corner of township twenty-nine (29) north, range three (3) west; thence westerly along the surveyed and unsurveyed seventh (7th) standard parallel north, to the point for the southeast corner of township thirty (30) north, range nine (9) west; thence northerly along the unsurveyed and surveyed range line to the northeast corner of said township; thence westerly along the township line between townships thirty (30) and thirty-one (31) north, to the northeast corner of township thirty (30) north, range fourteen (14) west; thence northerly along the range line to its intersection with the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca; thence northwesterly along said shore line to the east boundary of the Makah Indian Reservation; thence southerly along the east boundary to the southeast corner of said reservation and westerly along the south boundary thereof to the high-water mark on the Pacific coast; thence southerly along said coast line to the north boundary of the Quinaielt Indian Reservation; thence southeasterly along the north boundary to the eastern point of said reservation and southwesterly along the south boundary thereof to the point of intersection with the fifth (5th) standard parallel north; thence easterly along said parallel to the southeast corner of township twenty one (21) north, range five (5) west, the place of beginning.

On April 7, 1900, this reserve was reduced by the elimination of the following tracts, all situated in Clallam County. Most of these areas were withdrawn from the reserve because a large proportion of the land had been alienated by the Government:

Townships twenty-eight (28) north, ranges thirteen (13) and fourteen (14) west, Willamatte base and meridian, Washington; fractional township twenty-eight (28) north, range fifteen (15) west; sections one (1) to eighteen (18), both inclusive, townships twenty-nine (29) north, ranges three (3), four (4), and five (5) west; sections four (4), five (5), six (6), seven (7), and the north half of section eight (8), township twenty-nine (29) north, range twelve (12) west; all of township twenty-nine (29) north range thirteen (13) west, except sections thirteen (13), twenty-three (23), twenty-four (24), twenty-five (25), and twenty-six (26); township twenty-nine (29) north, range fourteen (14) west; fractional township twenty-nine (29) north, range fifteen (15) west; sections one (1) to twelve (12), both inclusive, township thirty (30) north, range nine (9) west; sections twenty-seven (27) to thirty-four (34), both inclusive, township thirty (30) north, range ten (10) west; sections twenty-five (25) to thirty-six (36), both inclusive. township thirty (30) north, range eleven (11) west; sections seventeen (17) to thirty-six (36), both inclusive, township thirty (30) north, range twelve (12) west; townships thirty (30) north, ranges thirteen (13) and fourteen (14) west; and township thirty (30) north, range fifteen (15) west.

The reserve now comprises an area of 3,030 square miles, or 1,939,200 acres, and includes parts of Clallam, Jefferson, Chehalis, and Mason counties.

The work of examining this reserve has been carried on during the seasons of 1898, 1899, and 1900 by Messrs. Arthur Dodwell and Theodore F. Rixon. During the first season they examined 10 townships situated in the eastern part of the reserve. During the second season they examined 61 townships, comprising the northern and most of the western parts of the reserve, the total area examined in these two seasons comprising 71 townships, several of them being partial or fractional townships. During the season of 1900 they completed the survey of the reserve by the examination of the remaining 36 townships. The total area examined during these three seasons was 3,483 square miles. As most of these examinations were made prior to the reduction in the reserve which was above noted, they include the areas which have since been withdrawn, but, as matters of information, their description of the townships and portions of townships since withdrawn from the reserve are here given.

This area, with its topographical and general forest characteristics, is shown on Pl. 1. Considering the areas gone over, the examinations were exceedingly minute. They included estimates for each section of the following items of information: The timbered, burned, cut??, and nontimbered areas; the depth of humis and forest litter; the total stand of timber, and the stand of the principal species recognized by the lumber trade; the average height, diameter, and clear length; and the percentage of dead and diseased trees. Of course it is understood that these are estimates only, but they are estimates based on observation and made by the best of trained observers—men who for many years have followed the profession of estimating the stand of timber.

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The reserve includes the Olympic Mountain group, with its slopes upon the east, north, and south, together with the long slope to the west, and a considerable extent of lowland bordering the Pacific coast. The Olympics are a group of mountains of nearly circular shape, radiating from a central mass. This central mass culminates in Mount Olympus, with an altitude of 8,150 feet. Many other summits rise to altitudes ranging between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, and large areas lie above timber line, which here has an altitude of 5,500 to 6,000 feet. In the neighborhood of the timber line are great tracts of open country, some of which is covered with ice, other is barren and rocky, while much of the greater part of it consists of open grass lands, which will in the future be of value for summer pasturage.

Glaciers and snow fields are numerous in the central parts of the mountains, and though individually of small area, collectively cover a large territory.

This mountain mass is drained by many rivers which head in or near the central mass and radiate outward in all directions. The streams flowing to the east empty into Hood Canal, and are short, with steep descents. The principal of these are the Quilcene, Dusewallips, Duckabush, Hamahama, and Skokomish. To the south flow the Humptulips, Wynooche, and Satsop. To the north, into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, flow the Dungeness and Elwha, while to the west flow directly into the Pacific the Quillayute, with its branches, the Dickey, Soleduck, Bogachiel, and Kalawa, and Hoh River, Queets River, and the Queniult. These westward-flowing streams are much longer than the others and have much less rapid courses.

The climate of this region is controlled by the prevailing westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean, and is characterized by great uniformity of temperature and by a very heavy rainfall, that at Neah Bay, on the northwest coast, being probably the heaviest in the United States, with the possible exception of the Alaskan coast. The purpose in making this reserve was not, therefore, the preservation of the water supply, since that is ample—indeed, almost excessive in its amount—but the preservation of its forest resources from wasteful destruction.


Along the northern edge of the reserve, in Clallam County, there is a narrow strip of comparatively level land, and upon the west side is a large area of equally level or undulating land, extending north and south across the reserve, with a breadth of about three townships eastward from the coast. Nearly all of this, however, is heavily forested. It contains a few prairie openings of trifling amount, having a total area of about 4,000 acres. These prairies may, of course, be classed as agricultural land, and, it may be added, have been entirely taken up by settlers. The rest of this large area of land, which is approximately level, is heavily forested.

In the southern edge of the reserve, in Chehalis and Mason counties, there are also large areas of land which are level, or nearly so, and are covered with dense forests.

If this land were cleared of its timber it should unquestionably be classed its agricultural land, but the expense of clearing it, which ranges from $100 to $200 per acre, seems to take it out of that category, for no farm hand in any part of the United States, except in the immediate neighborhood of great cities where the land could profitably be used for market gardening, is worth any such price. It is true that the cost of clearing the land would be met, in part, by the value of the timber removed; but this would, in any case, be only a small part of the expense involved. The claim, therefore, that in these heavily forested, well-watered regions the land should be classed as agricultural appears to be ill founded. It is true that much of this heavily-timbered land has been taken up, and some of it undoubtedly by bona fide settlers, but that the experiment has proved unprofitable is shown by the fact that, although 341 homestead entries have been made within the limits of the reserve in Clallam County, there were in 1899 only 83 residents found there. This appears to furnish incontestable evidence that the experiment of farming under the prevalent conditions in this region has not proved profitable.


Taken as a whole this is the most heavily forested region of Washington, and, with few exceptions, the most heavily forested region of the country. The densest forests are found in the townships near the Pacific coast, in the northwestern part of the reserve, and in the southern tier of townships; while in the mountains, as the altitude increases, the forests become less dense and the species become of less value for lumber. The distribution of forests, as regards the stand of timber, is shown upon Pl. I, and by townships, as a unit, upon the diagram which constitutes Pl. II. In this the stand of timber is represented by the height of the column of colors, and the breadth of the several color bands indicates the proportional amount of the different timber species.

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The total area examined was 3,483 square miles. Of this 2,883 square miles, or 83 per cent, are covered with merchantable timber; 177 square miles, or 5 per cent, have been burned; 16 square miles have been logged; 255 square miles, or 8 per cent, are naturally timberless, consisting almost entirely of alpine meadows; and 150 square miles, or 4 per cent, consist of rocks and ice, lying high up near the summits of the mountains.

The timber of the reserve amounts to the enormous total of 60,998,250 M feet B. M., sufficient to supply the entire United States demand for two years. The average stand upon the timbered lands is 33,000 feet B. M. per acre. Taking the township as a unit the average stand per acre upon its timbered land ranges from 3,000 feet B. M., and the high mountains, up to 59,000 feet B. M. on T. 32 N., R. 14 W., in the northwest corner.

The timber consists, as classified by lumbermen, of the following species and amounts:

Amount of timber in Olympic Forest Reserve, by species.

Species.M feet B. M.per cent m.
Red fir14,521,75024
Lovely fir10,756,50018

The greater part of the red fir is found along the southern border of the reserve. The stand is heavy also in the eastern tier of townships, and there is also considerable in the northern part of the reserve, but in the high mountains and in the neighborhood of the Pacific coast this species is practically entirely wanting. The tree grows to the largest dimensions in those areas where the stand is heaviest, reaching a maximum average per township of 243 feet in height, with 56 inches in diameter and 77 feet clear height. The tree is everywhere very free from disease, even in the high mountains, where the conditions are not favorable for its growth.

Cedars are found in all parts of the reserve, excepting in the high mountain region. They are especially abundant in the neighborhood of the Pacific coast, where the Alaska cedar finds a congenial habitat, especially in the low, swampy lands bordering the rivers, near their mouths. The tree is not tall, scarcely reaching half the height of the red fir, but exceeds it in girth. It commonly reaches its greatest development where the stand is heaviest, but this is not always the case. The highest average height per township in the reserve is 144 feet, and the greatest diameter 54 inches. The clear height is nowhere great, the greatest average per township being 35 feet. The tree is extremely subject to disease, a large proportion being rotten at the heart. Indeed, in many townships nearly half the stand is injured by disease.

Hemlock is by far the most abundant tree on the reserve, being found in considerable quantity in every township, and in many townships it forms more than half the stand. It is not a large tree, either in height or diameter, and the amount of clear trunk is not great. It is little affected by disease, excepting in the high mountains, where the percentage of diseased trees is great.

The spruce upon the reserve consists almost entirely of Sitka spruce, the Engelmann spruce being in such small quantities as to cut and figure from a merchantable point of view. Sitka spruce is found only in the neighborhood of the coast, extending inland nowhere more than 30 miles, and generally ceasing within less than that distance from the coast. Its stand is heaviest a little back from the coast, since immediate coast conditions seem to be rather too damp for its best development. While not as tall as the red fir, it is in girth and probably in timber yield the greatest tree of the reserve. The maximum average height, taking the township as a whole, is 226 feet, 81 feet of which is clear. Its maximum average diameter is 62 inches, or more than 5 feet. The tree is little affected by disease, less so probably than any other species upon the reserve.

The lovely fir is very abundant in the Olympic Reserve, being second in amount only to the hemlock. It is found everywhere excepting on the immediate coasts of the Pacific, and except in the highest mountains the stand is heavy. It is a mountain tree, not being found in any commercial amount below an altitude of about 1,500 feet. It is not a large tree, the maximum average height per township being 164 feet, and the diameter 35 inches. It appears to be but slightly subject to disease.


The principal timber trees of the reserve are as follows:

Red fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia): This tree grows in abundance. Indeed, it is the principal forest tree throughout the western part of the State of Washington, with the exception of the country immediately bordering on the Pacific Ocean, while it extends up the mountain slopes to an altitude of about 3,500 feet.

Lovely fir (Abies amabilis): A tall silvery-barked tree found at considerable elevations, being rarely found below 1,500 feet.

Subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa): Found only on the higher parts of the mountains and rarely below an elevation of 5,000 feet.

White pine (Pinus monticola): This is found on the western slope of the reserve above an elevation of 500 feet, being frequently found in swamps and wet places.

Red cedar (Thuja plicata): This tree forms an important component of the forest upon the coast, where it is often seen measuring 50 feet in circumference. Indeed, one tree in the valley of the Elwha measured 84 feet in circumference. It is commonly found growing in low and swampy lands.

Alaska cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis): This is found on mountain ridges below 3,500 feet.

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis): This is found only in the neighborhood of the Pacific coast.

Mertens hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana): This tree is an almost universal component of the forest up to an altitude of 4,500 feet.

Vine maple (Acer circinatum): A small tree, sometimes trailing like a vine, which is common at altitudes below 2,000 feet.

Maple (Acer macrophyllum): A pretty shade tree which often grows very large. It is found only upon bottom lands, and is used for making fine furniture, taking a beautiful finish. It is rarely found at altitudes above 1,5000 feet.

Madroña (Arbutus menziesii): This species is found along Puget Sound and in the valley of Elwha River. The wood is of a brown color and very tough. It is seldom found more than 12 inches in diameter.

Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa): This is common along streams or on low, wet ground, often growing to a diameter of 5 feet. It is of value for paper pulp.



Alder (Alnus oregana) is commonly found along streams of lower altitudes. Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), salal, crab apple, bearberry, and rhododendron are also found.


As will be seen from the map (Pl. I), considerable tracts of timber land have been burned over, the total area being 177 square miles, or 5 per cent of the area of the reserve. These burns, as shown on the map, are mainly along the northern border and in the northeastern part of the reserve, on waters flowing into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The fires east of the Elwha were started about seven years ago from a ranch, and have continued to extend nearly every year. In no case is the fire great enough to burn up the timber completely, but only sufficient to kill the trees and leave them standing. Most of the litter and humus is consumed, and the loss of the humus has seriously retarded reproduction. What reproduction there is in this district is mostly balsam and fir of very inferior quality and of no value whatever for timber, as it branches too close to the ground. Reproduction of red fir is practically impossible, since in no instances observed has it been reproduced after fire. The only two burned areas that have been restocked are those in secs. 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13, T. 30 N., R. 11 W., and in T. 29 N., R. 3 W., where the young growth is balsam and fir. In other burns the old dead timber is standing, with no reproduction whatever except a few small hemlocks here and there. Even the underbrush has not yet commenced to grow.


The depth of humus is very great along the coast line and adjacent rolling country, but gradually diminishes as the altitude increases, until finally vegetation ceases altogether and the land on the higher ridges is completely bereft of all soil, being washed by the melting snows year after year until nothing is left but the barren rock or rotten shale and slate.

The forest litter is extremely heavy, being made up of the windfalls of centuries—in fact, the most expensive item in clearing land in western Washington is getting rid of the rotten and decayed wood, which never dries, but in clearing has to be continually turned over and burned until it is finally all consumed, after immense trouble and labor.

The forest litter, of course, is much heavier in the burns, where considerable timber is down, and is increased by falling trees and timber. When finally the light penetrates the gloom the underbrush, comprising huckleberry, salmon berry, devil's walking cane, salal, wild currants, and blackberries, commences to thrive, getting so matted together that it is next to impossible to force one's self through the network of vines.

As the altitude increases the underbrush diminishes, until finally it ceases altogether.

On the lower lands the density of the timber growth has practically nothing to do with the growth of the underbrush, as in numerous places it has been noticed that where a heavy growth of fir and hemlock is standing the brush is extremely dense. The principal requirements for the growth of underbrush are dampness and gloom, as too much sun absorbs the moisture.


But little logging has been done within the limits of the reserve, an area of only 10,289 acres having been logged. In T. 30 N., R. 9 W., along the north boundary, about 5,000,000 feet B. M. of fir and cedar have been removed, and on Squim Bay, in T. 29 N,, R. 3 W., a few logs have been cut near the shore, perhaps 250,000 feet B. M. of fir and spruce. In T. 25 N., R. 3 W., a little more than a quarter section has been cut. It is only in the southern tier of townships that logging operations on any considerable scale have been carried on. From Kamilche and Shelton, on Puget Sound, logging railroads have been extended up into T. 21 N., R. 5 W., and T. 21 N., R. 6 W. In these two townships 1,640 and 7,440 acres have been cut, respectively, the timber being shipped by rail to Puget Sound. The output here is not far from 500,000 feet B. M. per day. In T. 21 N., R. 9 W., 1,031 acres have been cut in the valley of Humptulips River, whence the timber has been floated to Grays Harbor.

The reason why logging operations have not been carried on more extensively is that the rivers are too swift and subject to too many freshets, the logs being hung on the numerous bars or washed up into the brush out of the river bed. Moreover, there are no places to catch and hold the logs if they were driven down the river successfully. Especially is this true of the rivers emptying into the ocean.



Mining operations are being pushed considerably along the ridge dividing Lillian Creek from Morse Creek—in other words, along the north watershed of the Elwha, but so far nothing that will pay to work has been found. All the mines are prospects; no large amount of work has yet been done on any of them.

Assays shows $4 or $5 in gold and copper per ton, but no free-milling ore has yet been discovered. The formation does not warrant the belief that any paying mine will ever be located upon this portion of the reserve. No granite (except a few bowlders), slate, or porphyry has thus far been discovered on the reserve.


Large areas of grazing lands are found in the mountainous portions of the reserve, mostly upon the tops of the ridges, between an elevation of 4,000 and 6,000 feet. They are scattered among bunches of timber, but for the most part lie above timber line, as shown by the map (Pl. I). The total area of these high mountain pastures is estimated at about 255 square miles, or about 8 per cent of the area examined. At present there is no grazing carried on, mainly on account of the difficulty of cutting trails, but it is believed that in the near future grazing will become a profitable industry.


There are numerous roads and trails within the reserve—in fact all of the surveyed townships have one or more wagon roads and numerous trails. The latter, however, are mostly grown up and hard to find. The principal roads are the following:

From Port Angeles to Piedmont, on Lake Crescent; from Port Angeles, by way of Elwha and Lake Sutherland, to Lake Crescent; from Clallam to La Push, at the mouth of the Hoh River; from Quillayute Prairie to Dickey Lake; and several in T. 29 N., Rs. 5, 4, and 3 W.

The traveled trails are as follows: From Dungeness River 6 miles; from the intersection of Indian River and the Elwha up Elwha River to within 4 miles of its head; from Sappho, near Lake Pleasant, to the head of Soleduck River; from Lake Crescent to intersection with trail on Soleduck; up the North Fork of Kalawa River to intersection with Soleduck trail, crossing through low divide in sec. 11, T. 29 N., R. 12 W.; up Bogachiel River to sec. 31, T. 28 N., R. 10 W.; up Hoh River to sec. 36, T. 27 N., R. 11 W.; numerous trails all along and through the coast country and Lake Ozette to West Clallam, and finally a main trail starting from Hoquiam, or Grays Harbor, running north to Queniult Lake and thence to the Queets and Clearwater. From the latter stream it runs north to Hoh River, connecting through to Port Angeles. There are numerous branches leading off from this, but they are short and bad.


The Indians pole their canoes up nearly all the rivers for a considerable number of miles, trapping and fishing. This is the only way of navigating, as the currents are so swift that it is impossible to row or paddle. Even this form of navigation is practicable, only at low water, for when the rivers are in flood it is dangerous to be upon them, not only on account of the swiftness of the current, but because of the presence of driftwood. Queniult River is navigable for canoes from the lake at the eastern point of the Indian reservation to its mouth, and most of the supplies for the few settlers in the valley above the lake are brought in by this route. Queets River is utilized in a similar manner.


There are no railroads in the reserve at present, except the logging railways from Shelton and Kamilche into T. 21 N., R. 5 W., and T. 21 N., R. 6 W., noted elsewhere in this report. The survey for the Port Angeles Eastern, from Port Angeles, Wash., to Olympia, Wash., passes around the head of Squim Bay, in T. 29 N., R. 3 W., and a logging road which starts at Clallam ends at the northeast corner of T. 30 N., R. 9 W., but eventually will be extended to Lake Crescent.

A railroad can be easily constructed from the head of the logging road in T. 30 N., R. 9 W. up Lyre River, around Lake Crescent, and through the low divide at the head of the lake, to the Soleduck, and thence up the Soleduck or down the coast.

Roads can also be easily built up any of the rivers very cheaply, as the country is generally flat for a quarter of a mile or more on either side of them and has very light grades, and, with the exception of two canyons on the Elwha, all of the rivers are free from these obstructions.

Eventually a railroad will be built either from some point on the Strait of Juan de Fuca or from Grays Harbor, thence around the coast, with spurs up the numerous rivers, in order to tap the timber belts.

Taken as a whole, there is very little timber on the west slope of the reserve that can not be easily reached, and when the time comes when that quality of timber is marketable there are very few reserves, if any, that can be logged so easily and thoroughly as the western slope of the Olympic Forest Reserve.

Within the area of the Olympic Forest Reserve the streams which are suitable for driving purposes are few in number, and are, in most cases, drivable for only short distances above their mouths. Of all the streams flowing out of the mountains to the east into Puget Sound, none are drivable. All are short, with steep gradients, and flow in narrow, rocky canyons. Of those flowing southward the only streams which can be used for driving logs for any part of their length are the East and West forks of Humptulips River and Wishkah River, and these can be used for this purpose only 4 to 6 miles within the reserve—that is, in the southern tier of townships. Of the streams flowing to the west the Queniult, Queets, and Clearwater are unfitted for driving purposes. Hoh River can be used as far as the east line of R. 12 W. The Bogachiel and its branch, the Kalawa, can be used for driving logs as far up as the east line of range 13. The Dickey is drivable for half a dozen miles, and the Ozette from Ozette Lake to its mouth.

The only stream within the entire reserve which is drivable for any great distance is the Soleduck, by which logs can be transported from the east line of R. 10 W. to its mouth.

Except in cases where these drivable streams can be utilized it will be found necessary to build railroads in order to get the timber out, and fortunately for this purpose, the valleys of all the streams, excepting those flowing eastward into Puget Sound, are of easy grade and sufficiently wide for the construction of such roads. Of course in the higher parts of the mountains, where the timber is scanty and poor, the construction of such roads will be difficult and expensive, but it will probably be many generations before the timber in these regions will be needed.


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Last Updated: 06-Aug-2010