Sierra-Cascade Forest Wildlife

Parklike forest, aromatic with the scent of sun-warmed cedar and pine, climb the western foothills and lower slopes of California's rugged sierra Nevada. The middle-elevation Sierras—from 4,500 to 7,000 feet—are notable for the world's biggest trees. Almost as tall as the redwoods, the Giant Sequoias are much more massive, with heavy trunks and thick angular limbs. They grow in scattered groves, in company with Ponderosa Pines, in a narrow belt about 250 miles long. The Cascade Range of Washington and Oregon lacks the giant trees, but the ponderosa forests offer the same sunlit vistas. A ground cover of wildflowers and shrubs supplies seeds and berries for many birds and small mammals. Lively squirrels are plentiful, deer and bear are frequently seen, and even the elusive Mountain Lion occasionally wanders through these open forests.

This ecoregion contains one of the most diverse cone-bearing plant forests on Earth (typical examples of cone-bearing include cedars, cypresses, douglas-firs, firs, pines, redwoods, spruces, and yews). It has a wide range of habitat types and about 3500 species of plants, including 400 species exclusively native to this community, and about 400 species of animals.

Central Cascade Forest
Central Cascade Forest (© 2002 Steve Baskauf)

The Cascade Mountains, in fact, are named for the many waterfalls they contain. Many of the waterfalls are quite spectacular. Wildflowers and plants of various types are plentiful. Plants grow so quickly in the moist climate that some trails have to be cleared each year. Only within the Deschutes National Forest and the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, you'll find snowcapped peaks, more than 150 lakes, and a river.

High ridges and steep-sided valleys characterize the Central and Southern Cascades Forests ecoregion. This ecoregion includes several dormant volcanoes, including Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier. Below these towering peaks, ancient glaciers have created a network of beautiful lakes and mountain valleys. Large predators including grizzly bear are still found in this ecoregion. The forests of western hemlock, Pacific silver fir, and western red cedar that make up the Central and Southern Cascades Forests ecoregion are home to many amphibians exclusively native to this area such as giant salamander.

Under the forest canopy, northern spotted owls and northern goshawks fly. Because they have large home ranges and require old-growth forests to nest and feed, northern spotted owls are good indicators of the health of the Cascade Forests.

Sierra Nevada Forest
Sierra Nevada Forest (© 2002 Steve Baskauf)

Extensive logging, road building and hydroelectric development have fragmented the habitat. Fire suppression and the development of tree plantations have further decreased the quality of habitats in the region.

Places to see this habitat includes:

  • California: Kings Canyon, Lassen Vocanic, Sequoia, and Yosemite national parks; Inyo, Lassen, Shasta-Trinity, Sierra, and Stanislaus national forests; Calaveras Big Trees State Park
  • Oregon: Crater Lake National Park; Deschutes and Fremont national forests
  • Washington: Snoqualmie and Wenatchee national forests

Animal life includes: Deer Mouse, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, Marten, Black Bear, Mule Deer, Pygmy Owl, White-throated Swift, Acorn Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Tanager, Fox Sparrow, Mountain Goat.

Plant life includes: Loddgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, White Fir, California Red Fir, Giant Sequoia, California Black Oak, Quaking Aspen, Manzanitas, Ceanothuses, Snow Plant, Lupines, Giant Red Paintbrush, Leopard Lily, Western Red Cedar, Pacific Silver fir, Western Hemlock, Mountain Hemlock.