Ocean-Born ForestsThe lush forests in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Bogachiel valleys are some of the most spectacular examples of primeval temperate rain forest in the lower 48 states. These rain forests once stretched from southern Oregon to southeast Alaska, but little remains outside of protected areas. Other temperate rain forests grow in a few isolated spots around the world including Chile, New Zealand and southern Australia.
Recipe for Olympic's Temperate Rain Forest
- Rain—lots of it. Storms off the Pacific Ocean drop much of their moisture on these west-facing valleys. Precipitation in Olympic's rain forest ranges from 140 to 167 inches (12 to 14 feet) every year.
- Moderate temperatures. In these low elevation valleys the temperature seldom drops below freezing and summertime highs rarely exceed 80°F.
- Epiphytes, or plants growing on other plants. Mosses, spike mosses, ferns and lichens festoon tree trunks and branches, giving the forest a "jungle-like" feel.
- Large, old trees. The dominant species are Sitka spruce and western hemlock, but other conifers and several deciduous species grow as well. Many are 100s of years old and can reach 250 feet in height and 30 to 60 feet in circumference.
- Nurse logs. Because of the densely covered ground, many seedlings instead germinate on fallen, decaying trees. As they grow, their roots reach to the ground. When the log eventually rots away, a colonnade, or row of trees on stilt-like roots, remains.
- Dead wood. When the massive trees die, they eventually fall, but can take centuries to slowly decay back to the soil. Throughout their long death, they provide important habitat for whole communities, including mosses, tree seedlings, fungi, small mammals, amphibians, and insects.
- Roosevelt elk. The thick, layered canopy above moderates the temperature year-round for wildlife, including the largest wild populations of Roosevelt elk in the U.S. On the forest floor, elk browsing shapes the appearance of their forest home.