Ponderosa pine–with its distinctive orange-brown puzzle-piece bark; open, bushy canopy; and vanilla-like aroma–is a symbol of the dry intermountain West.
A ponderosa pine belt rings the Columbia Basin; this tree is often the first travelers see as they leave the arid steppe country of central Washington. With long taproots and thick bark, ponderosas are able to thrive in this hot, dry, wildfire-prone zone. Majestic parklands of ponderosa pines can be found throughout the Columbia Highlands, with particularly impressive stands in Clackamas Mountain roadless area, west of Republic, and Cougar Mountain/Thirteenmile roadless areas, south of Republic.
By virtue of their thick bark and resin-filled trunks, old-growth ponderosas will remain standing long after they die. These snags provide homes to a variety of cavity-dwelling critters. Clackamas Mountain roadless area has one of the region’s highest densities of old-growth snags; birders have a good chance here of spotting woodpeckers and owls, including the state-listed great grey owl.
Despite the tree’s ubiquity, old-growth ponderosa pines are among the most endangered forest types Washington; clear-cutting, development and overcrowding by smaller trees have reduced old-growth ponderosa forests to just 1% of their historic range. Protection of the last stands of old-growth ponderosas in places such as Clackamas Mountain and Thirteenmile roadless areas would protect this emblem of the West for future generations.