, Volume 7, Issue 5, pp 427-439
Date: 12 May 2004

Ecological Setting of the Wind River Old-growth Forest

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Abstract

The Wind River old-growth forest, in the southern Cascade Range of Washington State, is a cool (average annual temperature, 8.7°C), moist (average annual precipitation, 2223 mm), 500-year-old Douglas-fir–western hemlock forest of moderate to low productivity at 371-m elevation on a less than 10% slope. There is a seasonal snowpack (November–March), and rain-on-snow and freezing-rain events are common in winter. Local geology is characterized by volcanic rocks and deposits of Micocene/Oligocene Micocene-Oligocene (mixed) Micocene and Quaternary age, as well as intrusive rocks of Miocene age. Soils are medial, mesic, Entic Vitrands that are deep (2–3 m), well drained, loams and silt loams, generally stone free, and derived from volcanic tephra. The vegetation is transitional, between the Western Hemlock Zone and the Pacific Silver Fir Zone, and the understory is dominated by vine maple, salal, and Oregon grape. Stand structural parameters have been measured on a 4-ha plot. There are eight species of conifers, with a stand density of 427 trees ha−1 and basal area of 82.9 m2 ha−1. Dominant conifers include Douglas-fir (35 trees ha−1), western hemlock (224 trees ha−1), Pacific yew (86 trees ha−1), western red cedar (30 trees ha−1), and Pacific silver fir (47 trees ha−1). The average height of Douglas-fir is 52.0 m (tallest tree, 64.6 m), whereas western hemlock averages 19.0 m (tallest tree, 55.7 m). The regional disturbance regime is dominated by high-severity to moderate-severity fire, from which this forest is thought to have originated. There is no evidence that fire has occurred in the forest after establishment. Primary agents of stand disturbance, which act at the individual to small groups of trees scale, are wind, snow loads, and drought, in combination and interacting with root-rot and butt-rot fungi, heart-rot fungi, dwarf mistletoe, and bark beetles. The forest composition is slowly shifting from dominance by Douglas-fir, a shade-intolerant species, to western hemlock, western red cedar, Pacific yew, and Pacific silver fir, all shade-tolerant species. The Wind River old-growth forest fits the regional definition of Douglas-fir “old growth” on western hemlock sites.