Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cascade Rain Shadow, Edge Habitat and Wolves

Cascade rain shadow

After flying up through the cloudy sky of western Washington last week I got an overhead view of the rain shadow while crossing the Cascade Range. The sky or in my case the view changed abruptly from complete overcast to clear. With the change in cloud cover and rain fall amounts there is a rapid change in the landscape from tree covered thick forest to grass and scrub steppe. 

Vegetation shift from forest on the west (right) and grass lands to the east

I was particularly interested in this landscape as just a few days before a wolf pack had been confirmed near this area. The mix of forest and grass lands on the east slope of this part of the Cascade Range makes for very good elk and deer habitat. Wolves have been reported in this area for some time by a locals but were very recently confirmed to be present via motion cameras and DNA testing.

On the ground I have always thought of the ecosystem in this area as being very dynamic. It is an area with cold snowy winters that sometimes can be very severe. The summer can be exceptionally hot and is very susceptible to big grass land fires and forest fires. The elk and other wildlife move east and west and up and down in elevations with the seasons moving to where the forage is best. With wolves entering the area, the elk will likely make moves to avoid predation as well. And of course how this plays out with people will be a new episode in natural resource management for Washington State.  

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