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Scientific Name: North Pacific Herbaceous Bald and Bluff
Unique Identifier: CES204.089

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Summary: This system consists of mostly herbaceous-dominated areas located primarily on shallow soils from eastern Vancouver Island and the Georgia Basin south to at least the southern end of the Willamette Valley and adjacent slopes of the Coast Ranges and western Cascades, excluding areas adjacent to the outer coastline (hypermaritime climate). They are largely, if not completely, absent from the windward side of Vancouver Island, the Olympic Peninsula, and the Coast Ranges of Washington and Oregon. Due to shallow soils, steep slopes, sunny aspect, and/or upper slope position, these sites are dry and marginal for tree establishment and growth except in favorable microsites. Rock outcrops are a typical small-scale feature within balds and are considered part of this system. Sites with many favorable microsites can have a "savanna" type structure with a sparse tree layer of Pseudotsuga menziesii or, less commonly, Quercus garryana. The climate is relatively dry to wet (20 to perhaps 100 inches annual precipitation), always with a distinct dry summer season when these sites usually become droughty enough to limit tree growth and establishment. Seeps are a frequent feature in many balds and result in vernally moist to wet areas within the balds that dry out by summer. Vegetation differences are associated with relative differences in soil moisture. Most sites have little snowfall, but sites in the Abies amabilis zone (montane Tsuga heterophylla in British Columbia) can have significant winter snowpacks. Snowpacks would be expected to melt off sooner on these sunny aspect sites than surrounding areas. Fog and salt spray probably have some influence (but less than in the hypermaritime) on exposed slopes or bluffs adjacent to saltwater shorelines in the Georgia Basin, where soils on steep coastal bluffs sometime deviate from the norm and are deep glacial deposits. Slightly to moderately altered serpentine soils occur rarely. Fires, both lightning-ignited and those ignited by Native Americans, undoubtedly at least occasionally burn all these sites. Lower elevation sites in the Georgia Basin, Puget Trough, and Willamette Valley probably were burned somewhat more frequently and in some cases intentionally. Because of this fire history, the extent of this system has declined locally through tree invasion and growth, as areas formerly maintained herbaceous by burning have filled in with trees.

Grasslands are the most prevalent vegetation cover, though forblands are also common especially in the mountains. Dwarf-shrublands occur commonly, especially in mountains or foothills, as very small patches for the most part, usually in a matrix of herbaceous vegetation, most often near edges. Dominant or codominant native grasses include Festuca idahoensis ssp. roemeri, Danthonia californica, Achnatherum lemmonii, Festuca rubra (near saltwater), and Koeleria macrantha. Forb diversity can be high. Some typical codominant forbs include Camassia quamash, Camassia leichtlinii, Triteleia hyacinthina, Mimulus guttatus (seeps), Plectritis congesta, Lomatium martindalei, Allium cernuum, and Phlox diffusa (can be considered a dwarf-shrub). Important dwarf-shrubs are Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Arctostaphylos nevadensis, and Juniperus communis. Small patches and strips dominated by the shrub Arctostaphylos columbiana are a common feature nested within herbaceous balds. Significant portions of some balds, especially on rock outcrops, are dominated by bryophytes (mosses) and to a lesser degree lichens.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL001568 Festuca rubra Montane Meadow
CEGL001598 Danthonia californica Valley Grassland
CEGL001800 Achnatherum lemmonii / Racomitrium canescens Grassland
CEGL001972 Lomatium martindalei Grassland
CEGL003347 Festuca rubra - (Camassia leichtlinii, Grindelia stricta var. stricta) Grassland
CEGL003349 Festuca idahoensis ssp. roemeri - Cerastium arvense - Koeleria macrantha Grassland


Land Cover Class: Herbaceous
Spatial Pattern: Small patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Ridge/Summit/Upper Slope  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Arabis furcata var. olympica
  (Columbia Gorge Rockcress)
Cardamine pattersonii
  (Saddle Mountain Bittercress)
Castilleja chambersii
  (Chambers Paintbrush)
Castilleja levisecta
  (Golden Indian-paintbrush)
G2 LT: Listed threatened
Delphinium nuttallii ssp. ochroleucum
  (White-rock Larkspur)
Erigeron howellii
  (Howell's Fleabane)
Erythronium elegans
  (Coast Range Fawnlily)
Horkelia congesta ssp. congesta
  (Shaggy Horkelia)
Lupinus oreganus var. kincaidii
  (Kincaid's Lupine)
G4T2 LT: Listed threatened
Micranthes hitchcockiana
  (Saddle Mountain Saxifrage)
Phaeocollybia californica
  (a fungus)
Speyeria zerene hippolyta
  (Oregon Silverspot)
G5T1 LT, XN: Listed threatened, nonessential experimental population
Sullivantia oregana
  (Oregon Sullivantia)

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Arctostaphylos columbiana G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Allium cernuum G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Arabis furcata var. olympica T2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Camassia leichtlinii G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)  
Camassia quamash G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)  
Cardamine pattersonii G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Castilleja chambersii G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Delphinium nuttallii ssp. ochroleucum T2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Erigeron howellii G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Erythronium elegans G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Horkelia congesta ssp. congesta T2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Lomatium martindalei G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Lupinus oreganus var. kincaidii T2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Micranthes hitchcockiana G1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Mimulus guttatus G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Phlox diffusa G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Plectritis congesta G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Sullivantia oregana G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Triteleia hyacinthina G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)  
Achnatherum lemmonii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Danthonia californica G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Festuca roemeri G4 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Festuca rubra G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Koeleria macrantha G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Phaeocollybia californica G3 Non-plant Nonvascular      

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Callospermophilus saturatus
  (Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel)
Derephysia foliacea
  (Foliaceous Lace Bug)
Neotoma cinerea
  (Bushy-tailed Woodrat)
Peromyscus keeni
  (Northwestern Deermouse)
Speyeria zerene hippolyta
  (Oregon Silverspot)
G5T1 LT, XN: Listed threatened, nonessential experimental population    

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: OR, WA
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: BC
Global Range: This system occurs in the Willamette Valley, Puget Trough, Georgia Basin, eastern and northern Olympic Mountains, eastern side of Vancouver Island, western and northwestern Cascades of Washington, probably on the leeward side of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia (submaritime climates)?, Old Cascades of western Oregon, and Oregon Coast Ranges (but not the coast itself).

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
204-North American Pacific Maritime C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
1 Pacific Northwest Coast Confident or certain
2 Puget Trough - Willamette Valley - Georgia Basin Confident or certain
3 North Cascades Predicted or probable
81 West Cascades Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
1 Northern Cascades Confident or certain
2 Oregon Coastal Range Confident or certain
7 Cascade Mountain Range Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 7162

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 04Apr2005
Element Description Author(s): C. Chappell and M.S. Reid

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Chappell, C., and J. Christy. 2004. Willamette Valley-Puget Trough-Georgia Basin Ecoregion Terrestrial Ecological System EO Specs and EO Rank Specs. Appendix 11 in: J. Floberg, M. Goering, G. Wilhere, C. MacDonald, C. Chappell, C. Rumsey, Z. Ferdana, A. Holt, P. Skidmore, T. Horsman, E. Alverson, C. Tanner, M. Bryer, P. Lachetti, A. Harcombe, B. McDonald, T. Cook, M. Summers, and D. Rolph. Willamette Valley-Puget Trough-Georgia Basin Ecoregional Assessment, Volume One: Report prepared by The Nature Conservancy with support from The Nature Conservancy of Canada, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources (Natural Heritage and Nearshore Habitat programs), Oregon State Natural Heritage Information Center and the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre.

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Franklin, J. F., and C. T. Dyrness. 1973. Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington. General Technical Report PNW-8. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. 417 pp.

  • WNHP [Washington Natural Heritage Program]. 2018. Unpublished data files. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA.

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Data last updated: March 2019