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Iconic Ecosystems

As one travels from west to east across Washington, conditions change dramatically. First is the coastal areas where the Pacific Ocean meets the land. Just inland, where moisture is fairly constant and fog blankest the area, is the Olympic Rainforest. A variety of types of conifer forest occupy most of the land up to the crest of the Cascade Mountains and several volcanic peaks jut up above this crest. Precipitation is much lower on the leeward side of the mountains and vegetation changes from woodlands to shrub-steppe, to grasslands.

Representative Ecosystems in Washington

  • Pacific Coast and Puget Sound

    The outer coast of Washington includes rocky outcrops and sandy beaches. Marine waters extend inland to Puget Sound where the bulk of Washington's population lives.

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  • Olympic Rainforest

    The rainforests on the northwest coast of Washington are characterized by lots of rain, moderate temperatures, and big trees covered by mosses, ferns, and lichens. "Nurse logs" formed from downed, dead trees provide an ideal substrate for new seedlings.

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  • Conifer Forests

    Conifer forests -- and especially douglas-fir and western hemlock -- dominate western Washington, where old-growth forests often have trees over 250 ft. tall.

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  • Cascade Peaks

    The volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range are capped in snow all year round. Their unique conditions support distinctive ecosystems, especially above treeline.

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