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Olympic Coast Rainforest

The Olympic Coast includes one the few remaining temperate rainforests in North America. The upland portion is a wild and impenetrable landscape, dominated by snow-capped mountains and deep glacial carved valleys. More than 110 inches of rain inundate this area each year, falling mostly during the winter and spring. Water is the dominant factor in this diverse landscape. Crystal clear rivers are fed by innumerable streams that flow most, if not all of the year.

The most outstanding feature of these rainforests is old growth trees, with some of the largest trees of several species found along the Olympic Coast. Elk, deer, bear, and many other species of wildlife roam these rainforests. Multiple endangered species (e.g., spotted owls, marbled mureletts, fishers, salmon, bulltrout, and others) maintain a tenuous stronghold in pristine sections of these forests.

Much of the Olympic Coast rainforest remains intact and wild, protected by its inclusion in the Olympic National Park (ONP). Other areas of old growth rainforest can be found on the Olympic National Forest (ONF), the Olympic Experimental State Forest (OESF), and the Quinault Indian Reservation. Unfortunately, portions of these forests were logged heavily during the past century, leaving dense, single age forest stands with very limited wildlife. Logging practices on these lands have improved substantially in recent decades, but much remains to be accomplished.

In the lowlands, private forestlands have received even more abuse, with large sections still denuded of trees and numerous logging related landslides choking streams and rivers with sediment. Logging with short rotations (every 40 to 50 years) have left many of these forests as biological deserts, no more than tree farms that are managed with little of no respect for the land. State regulations (Forest and Fish Regulations) have improved forest practices on private forestlands along the coast, but enforcement and compliance have been weak.

There are three rainforests designated along the Olympic Coast (click here to view a map). The Hoh Rainforest is sparsely populated, with the Hoh Indian Reservation at the mouth of the Hoh River and isolated homesteads along middle reaches of the Hoh River. The Queets Rainforest is almost exclusively public and tribal land, with very limited access even in the lower reaches of the Queets River. The small tribal community of Queets sits near mouth of the Queets River. The Quinault Rainforest includes the Quinault Indian Reservation, with several tribal communities, and Quinault Lake, with several resorts and multiple cabins.

There is tremendous potential for restoring damaged sections of the Olympic Coast rainforest. Scientifically based thinning of young even age stands on federal, tribal, and state lands can create old forest like conditions that evolve more rapidly to old growth. Decommissioning roads on ONF lands can protect wildlife habitat and staunch the flow of sediment to streams and rivers. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of state forest practices can also help restore rainforest along rivers and streams (click here to learn more about FSC certification projects).

Current threats to the rainforest include clear-cut logging of OESF uplands, thinning of older trees along OESF rivers and streams, construction of logging roads in the OESF and ONF, and weak compliance with the Forest and Fish Regulations on private forestland.

Unique opportunities exist to restore and protect the Olympic Coast rainforests. Substantial restoration work has already been completed on the large ONF Matheny tract in the Queets Rainforest. This area could become a model for rainforest restoration. Old growth can also be restored and protected on OESF lands in the upper Clearwater River watershed, where steep and unstable slopes preclude logging.