• Olympic: Three Parks in One

    Olympic

    National Park Washington

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  • Roadway Ditch Maintenance Along Park Roads: Motorists May Encounter Delays

    Motorists may encounter delays along Sol Duc Road (9/30 - 10/1), Whiskey Bend Road (10/2), Deer Park Road (10/7-10/8), and Hurricane Ridge Road (10/9 - 10/10) between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 due to routine maintenance to clean roadway drainage ditches.

  • Spruce Railroad Trail Closed from Lyre River Trailhead to Devil’s Punchbowl

    The trail will be closed for improvements from the Lyre River TH to approximately 0.25 miles east of Devil’s Punchbowl. Work is expected to be completed by the end of October. The remainder of the trail will be accessible from the Camp David Jr. Road TH. More »

  • Safety Advisory: Mountain Goats

    NPS has received reports of aggressive mountain goats near trails at Hurricane Ridge, Royal Basin, Seven Lakes Basin, Lake of the Angeles, & Grand Pass. Visitors are required to maintain a distance of at least 50 yards from all wildlife. More »

Fire Ecology

The 2003 Griff Fire

The 2003 Griff Fire

NPS Photo

Given the Olympic Peninsula's reputation for rain, one might expect the forests to be impervious to fire. The evidence of tree rings, charcoal analysis, forest composition and structure, however, tells a different story.

Long periods of time with scattered small fires of low to moderate intensity have been punctuated by infrequent, but very intense, fires that kill most of the trees in their path. Historic experience with a few large fires indicates that it takes a combination of circumstances - a source of ignition (like lightning), severe drought and prolonged east winds - for burns in the Olympics to become large. This cycle of fire and regeneration is a historically important factor to the Park's ecosystem.

Some of the effects of past fires are evident in the patchwork appearance of the forest landscape. Looking over the Morse Creek and Elwha River drainages, one can see fine textured patches of young even-aged trees, which contrast with the surrounding old growth forest whose tall, widely-spaced canopy presents a coarser texture. The outline of the patches reflects the outline of large fires that occurred in the past century.

For many centuries fire was the primary large-scale disturbance factor on the east side of the peninsula. The reoccurring influence of fire favored the establishment and perpetuation of forests dominated by large, thick-barked and fire-resistant Douglas-fir trees. On the west side of the peninsula, however, large fires occurred less frequently, which allowed fire-sensitive species such as western hemlock and sitka spruce to gain dominance. At high elevation, patches of subalpine fir forest burned when lighting events were coupled with dry conditions.

When fire burns into the tops of the trees, it creates patches of sunny open land in the otherwise dense forest. Wildflowers and shrubs take over in turn, perpetuating a cycle that has created a diverse mosaic of forest canopy and fire-induced meadows. As such, natural wildfire has contributed immensely to the uniqueness of the Park's plants and animals.

While previous policies called for almost universal fire suppression, park managers now understand the important role naturally occurring forest fires play in the ecosystem. When a fire is determined to be of little threat to safety or property, it is allowed to burn naturally so as to maximize such benefits to the Park environment.

Did You Know?

snow covered forest and meadow

That endemic Olympic snow moles are scurrying beneath this blanket of snow? Olympic National Park's Hurricane Ridge is blanketed with over ten feet of snow for most of the winter, providing water for summer and protection for snow moles in winter.