Thursday, December 26, 2013

Small Prairie at Discovery Bay

I was on a high slope above Discovery Bay and got a taste of a landscape and landscape process that was once common but is now rather rare in western Washington. The pictures that follow capture a prairie landscape on a bluff slope above Becket Point.

Prairie, Discovery Bay, Becket Point and distant Olympic Range

Deer path with grasses and ferns above Discovery Bay

Note the trees on the edge of the prairie

Snowberry patch, prairie and fringe of dead trees

Reason for the dead trees - fire

Site in 2011

2013 view showing the killed trees

The fire did not cover a very large area but it burned fairly hot given that it killed a fair number of mature trees. The northern edge of the prairie and the burn is right at the slope break where the slope switches from very steep southwest facing slope to very gentle. There is no grass under the canopy - mostly salal and moss.

Madrone apparently regenerates after fire.

Prairie landscapes have been declining in western Washington due to conversion to agriculture and development and by the encroachment of forest into the prairie due to fire suppression. Burning of prairie areas was a common practice in the pre white settlement period.

This small isolated prairie perhaps has hung on as prairie due to the sand and gravel soils underlying the slope, the south facing aspect, rain shadow location on the lee of the Olympic Range and occasional unintentional fires.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these pictures. We live not far from here and saw the smoke from the fire. It was at the end of the summer and with 15 mph winds coming off of Discovery Bay. I suppose that accounts for the heat, but this area is dry even in a good year. There's cactus growing on the slope, too. Neighbors say that it had been about 20 years since the last fire on this slope.

Dan McShane said...

thanks for the info on the fire. I did not see any cactus, but know that they are smallish.