Oregon’s forests are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world, ranging from dry juniper and pine forests on the east side of the Cascades to lush old-growth Douglas fir forests on the west side. The fog belt region, also called the Coast Ecological Province, which is the smallest and narrowest forested region in the state, stretches north to south across the entire state along the coast.

Shore Pine. Source.

What differentiates the fog belt zone from the rest of the forested zones in Oregon is the summer climate. While the rest of the state experiences high  temperatures and little moisture, the fog belt experiences lower temperatures and increased moisture and humidity. Topographically, the fog belt sits at relatively low elevation, rising up from sea level to four or five hundred feet.

This climatically and topographically unique region supports highly diverse fauna and flora, and some common trees one will see when visiting the fog belt include Shorepine, Sitka Spruce, Western Cedar, and Douglas Fir.

Shorepine (Pinus contorta) is the only species of pine that grows in the fog belt.

They grow within a few miles of the coast and are typically bushy and distorted. The species has specially adapted to grow in rocky sites and sandy soil, such as sand dunes, and surviving powerful salty winds. These trees bare their round, twisted needles in clusters of twos.

Sitka Spruce. Source. 

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees were once called the tideland spruce because they like the cool, foggy environment of the coast.

This species is the largest species of spruce, growing to almost 100 meters tall, and the largest Sitka tree in Oregon is found in Clatsop County with a diameter of more than 5 meters. These trees bare flat needles and thin, light grey bark that easily peels off. The trunk of the Sitka Spruce is buttressed and does not go straight into the ground like lodgepole pines. Sitka Spruce is named after Sitka Island, now called Baranof Island, off the coast of Alaska. Sitka Spruce is Alaska’s state tree.

Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) trees are the only “cedars” with cones turned up and bent backwards on the branch (this species is not a true cedar species).

Western Redcedar. Source.

Another method of identifying Western Red Cedar trees is by looking at the underside of the foliage, where you will see a tiny shape outlined in white; some say this shape looks like a bowtie or a butterfly.

Western redcedar’s frondlike branches are so dense that some Northwest Native Americans called this tree “shabalup,” which means “dry underneath,” because the branches look like they could shed rain. These trees were the main trees used by the Northwest Native Americans to make canoes.

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is Oregon’s most common tree and the state tree.

Douglas fir. Source.

The coast variety of this tree grows in the fog belt. The cone of a Douglas fir is very easily identifiable. Only cones from this tree have three-pointed bracts sticking out between the cone scales. These are said to look like the hind feet and tail of a mouse diving into a hole. The largest Douglas fir, the Doerner Fir, is located in Coos County and stands at 327 feet tall.

There are many other trees that can be found along the fog belt, as well as many common understory plants. To learn more, pick up a copy of Oregon State University Extension Service’s field guide, Trees to Know in Oregon.

Pileated Woodpecker (Hylatomus pileatus)

You have probably heard a woodpecker at some point in your life, but have you been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the bird behind the noise? The Pileated Woodpecker – one of the biggest, most striking birds in North America – is a particularly beautiful sight. This black bird with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest is nearly the size of a crow. Its bill is long and chisel-like, about the length of the head.

Any forest type can sustain Pileated Woodpeckers as long as there are trees large enough for roosting and nesting, although these birds are typically found in mature and old-growth forests. These powerful woodpeckers chip out characteristic oval or rectangular excavations in the trees where they forage for their prey, including wood-boring insects and insects that nest in trees like long-horned beetles and carpenter ants. These holes can be so large that they weaken smaller trees or even cause them to break in half. The sound of the Pileated Woodpecker’s hammering carries long distances through the woods. They also drum to attract mates and to establish the boundaries of their territory. These birds roost in hollow trees with multiple entrance holes. These roosting cavities are used later by many other birds and small animals.

Shooting for sport and food was formerly a significant source of mortality for Pileated Woodpeckers; fortunately, shooting these birds is now illegal. Clear-cutting of old-growth and other forests currently has the most significant impact on Pileated Woodpecker habitat, but this species is fairly adaptable, which offsets some of the impact from habitat loss.

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Steelhead are native to North America west of the Rockies, but this popular sport fish has been introduced in almost every other state and on every continent except Antarctica. You may be surprised to learn that steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species, but rainbow trout live only in freshwater and steelhead are anadramous, meaning they spend part of their lives in freshwater and part of their lives in the ocean. Because of their different lifestyles steelhead and rainbow trout are different in appearance, most noticeably in size and color. Rainbow trout derive their name from their beautiful, multi-hued coloration. Steelhead are generally more streamlined in shape and silvery or brassy in color as adults. Adult steelhead/rainbow trout range in size. They can reach 45 inches in length and weigh over 50 pounds, although they are usually much smaller. A typical weight is about 8 pounds. Because steelhead spend 2-3 years in freshwater followed by 2-3 years in the ocean they are typically larger than rainbow trout.

Steelhead/rainbow trout have a varied diet and will feed on just about anything, including zooplankton when they’re young and fish eggs, small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and even mice as they mature. This fish is also a food source for many different predators depending on the region and habitat. Their predators include lampreys, fish, birds, bears, river otters, raccoons, and humans. In the ocean, steelhead are eaten by many species including seals, sea lions, and orcas.

Steelhead have been called the ultimate game fish. These elusive and challenging fish can test an angler’s patience and persistence, but the reward is hooking into a fish that is famous worldwide for its line-peeling runs and spectacular, acrobatic fight.