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© Pete Saloutos/Panoramic Images (Washington Title Image Large)

Columbia Plateau Outstanding Biodiversity Features

  • Dramatic geological history led to diverse habitats. Millions of years ago, vast lava flows covered the region in basalt. In more recent millennia, epic glacial floods carved away the deep rock, leaving the  coulees and Channeled Scablands of today.
  • Shrub-steppe and grasslands: home to unique plants and iconic birds. The biologically rich Columbia Plateau supports 18 endemic plant species and numerous at-risk birds, among them the sharp-tailed grouse, the sage thrasher, and the sandhill crane.
  • The Palouse Hills: Washington’s breadbasket. The region’s dryland grain and legume farming is vital to our food security. However, the native grasslands that once carpeted the Palouse have shrunk to just 1% of their original expanse.
  • Powerful rivers: shaping—and shaped by—regional economic development. Dams and hydropower development helped build the Northwest’s economy. A cost has been the inundation of fertile floodplains and alteration of riparian habitats. Salmon, sturgeon, and lampreys—once abundant—struggle with the changed waterways.

For details of this ecoregion within Washington, click a subheading in the left column.

View the more general description of this ecoregion in North America

  Coulee: A deep gulch or ravine. >back

 Endemic: Native to or limited to a certain region. Species endemic to Washington occur nowhere else. >back

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