Wetlands

In the Inland Northwest, where water is at a premium, life revolves around its presence or absence. Small fluctuations in amount of water mean great differences in plant and animal life.

Forested swamp in the Jackson Creek roadless area. Photo: Eric Zamora.

Westside visitors to the Columbia Highlands may be surprised to find that this corner of the “dry side” of the state boasts a wide array of wetlands. Wetlands, which form when the water table is at or near the surface, are a transition world between wet and dry.

When the last glaciers of the Ice Age receded from northeast Washington, they left behind a landscape pockmarked with ponds, forested swamps, bogs (a poorly drained, oxygen-poor and highly acidic wetland dominated by accumulated dead plant matter) and fens (a wetland with slightly more water exchange—and thus oxygen—than a bog). Although many lowland wetland areas were drained to make way for agriculture, within the last untouched wild areas of the Columbia Highlands can be found numerous unique and sensitive riparian areas.

These wetlands are veritable oases for many rare birds, mammals and plants. The forested swamps of Jackson Creek roadless area, near the Canadian border, host most of the half-dozen known populations of northern golden carpet (Chrysospleniumtetrandrum) in Washington. The sphagnum bog of Bunchgrass Meadows is home to two species of rare dragonflies and the bog lemming, which burrows among the grasses and sedges (water-loving grasslike plants) of cold, wet bogs in only a few locations in Washington. Bunchgrass Meadows even supports the sundew, a carnivorous plant that can survive in the nutrient-poor soils of bogs by digesting the hapless insects that alight on them.

The increased moisture of wetlands can support the growth of deciduous trees, which, because they rely on moisture during their growing season, otherwise do not grow well in the dry summers of the Inland Northwest. Water birch, aspen and willow all grow where the water table is high and provide important food and shelter for a variety of wildlife.

Responses

  1. […] Westside visitors to the Columbia Highlands may be surprised to find that this corner of the “dry side” of the state boasts a wide array of wetlands. Wetlands, which form when the water table is at or near the surface, are veritable oases for many rare birds, mammals and plants. The Columbia Highlands boast many unique and sensitive ponds, swamps, fens and bogs. […]

  2. […] springs up following disturbances such as wildfire. However, they are most at home in the various wetlands of the Columbia Highlands, such as Betts Meadows, a private conservation easement adjacent to […]

  3. […] and permanent ponds dot the ridgeline, proof that even the driest of eastside habitats offer oases for wildlife. The open slopes of Bodie Mountain invite cross-country exploration. Photo: Aaron […]


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