Earth Day 2021: Oregon's Ecoregions
In honor of Earth Day, we’re highlighting each of Oregon’s nine ecoregions, along with the notable species that inhabit them.
Starting off strong, the Blue Mountains ecoregion is the largest in Oregon. It stretches from Enterprise to Bend, as well as extending east into Idaho and North into Washington. This ecoregion is named for its largest mountain range, but contains an array of landscapes, including complex mountain ranges, glacial gorges, rock-walled canyons, sagebrush steppe, and juniper woodlands. Animals like wolverines, white-headed woodpeckers, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are among those that call this region home!
Like you’d guess from the name, the Coast Range extends along the entirety of Oregon’s coast and into the coastal forests that border it. Because of the mild, moist climate, this ecoregion is home to many highly productive temperate rainforests. It’s also home to important estuarine ecosystems, which provide habitat for many different species. (Estuaries are the tidal mouths where saltwater and freshwater systems meet, making them semi-saline.) The Coast Range is home to animals like the Northern spotted owl, Peregrine falcon, and coastal tailed frog.
The Columbia Plateau ecoregion covers the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, extending to the border of the Blue Mountains ecoregion. Millions of years ago, this range was covered in lava flows up to two miles deep. Now, due to millennia of erosion, the entire region is made up of rolling hills and nutrient rich soils. The entire region is lowlands, with an arid climate of cool winters and hot summers. The Ferruginous hawk, Lewis’s woodpecker, and Washington ground squirrel all call the Columbia Plateau home.
The East Cascades extends from the summit of the Cascade Mountains to the high desert in the east. While the climate is generally dry, there is high variation in temperatures across the ecoregion. Like the Columbia Plateau, the East Cascades also have a volcanic history. This ecoregion is home to animals such as the Oregon spotted frog and Townsend’s big-eared bat.
This region covers much of Southwest Oregon, including the Umpqua Mountains, Siskiyou Mountains, and the foothills to the border of the Cascade Range. This ecoregion is a popular recreational destination for fisherman, as an array of scenic rivers from the Rogue Watershed cut straight through it. One of Oregon’s two native turtles, the Western Pond Turtle, can be spotted here.
Northern Basin and Range
The Northern Basin and Range is Oregon’s driest ecoregion, and is the closest thing the state has to the Wild West. As the name suggests, this region is essentially a collection of big basins with isolated mountain ranges scattered throughout, dominated by sagebrush. This ecoregion can see as little as 12 inches of rain in a year. Despite these extreme conditions, critters like Pygmy rabbits and Greater sage-grouse call this place home.
The West Cascades stretch the entirety of the state, from Washington to the California border. It covers the area between the summit of the Cascades, across to the foothills of the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue valleys. The vast majority of this ecoregion is covered in conifer forests, and hosts animals like the Great gray owl and American pika.
Portland, Salem, Corvallis, and Eugene are just some of the major cities within the Willamette Valley ecoregion. This ecoregion has mild winters and warm, dry summers, and the abundance of rainfall and good soil makes it the stronghold of agricultural production within the state. This ecoregion hosts critters like Northern Red-legged frogs and Western Meadowlarks.
The Nearshore ecoregion is a little different from the rest--it covers the region up to three nautical miles from the shore, overlapping with the Coast Range in some places, like estuaries. There are tons of neat critters to see here, whether you’re whale watching or taking a walk on the beach. Gray whales and Tufted puffins can be spotted in this ecoregion.
Happy Earth Day everyone!