Myrtlewood tree (Umbellularia californica)

The Myrtlewood Tree is a very special broadleaf hardwood which is also an evergreen species.  This is not to be confused with the Pacfic Myrtle shrub which also grows along the coast. The Myrtlewood tree grows to heights of 60 to 120 feet, growing at a slow pace of 1” to 12” during each of its first few years of life.   At this pace, the myrtlewood tree may take from 80 to 120 years to reach its full size.T he range of myrtlewood tree, also known as the California-laurel, extends from Reedsport, Oregon to San Diego, California within 160 miles of the Pacific Ocean. 

Myrtlewood comes in a wide variety of colors and is well known for being one of the world’s most beautiful woods. The colors that make up the myrtlewood tree are often a result of the minerals in the soil where it grows. Making furniture, home decor, and other gifts out of the myrtlewood tree became popular in the early 1900s and has continued ever since. Woodworkers in Oregon love working with the wood because of the beauty and many types of finishes it provides. In addition to being appreciated by humans, myrtlewood provides food and cover for various animals. Its seeds are an important food source for squirrels, woodrats, mice, and birds. Deer brown young shoots during the summer.  When visiting the southern coast of Oregon be sure to stop in one of the the “Myrtlewood Factories” that sell Myrtlewood products. Some even give tours of wood working operations. You should also take the opportunity to experience walking through groves of Myrtlewood trees yourselve at  forest trails and roadside parks near the southern Oregon coast.

Chinook salmon

The Chinook salmon is an important keystone species of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It is a vital food source for a diversity of wildlife, including orca whales, bears, seals, and large birds of prey. Chinook salmon is also prized by people who harvest salmon both commercially and for sport. Chinook are the largest Pacific salmon species. On average, these fish are 3 feet long and approximately 30 pounds, but some individuals can grow to over 5 feet long and 110 pounds! Chinook salmon live about three to seven years. Juvenile salmon stay in freshwater habitat for the first year or so, before moving to the estuaries and then the open ocean. Estuaries provide a lot of food and nutrients to the developing salmon. The fish will spend approximately two to four years feeding in the ocean before returning to the spawning grounds to breed and die.

 

The Chinook Salmon is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Sacramento River winter-run population in California is classified as endangered wherever it is found. Other naturally spawned populations in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are classified as threatened. Why the Chinook and other Pacific Northwest salmon have declined is no mystery. The causes are known as “the four H’s”: harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydroelectric power. Harvest refers to the overfishing of these species by commercial fishing interests. Habitat refers to the degradation of habitat, usually by pollutants or sediment in the water that make it uninhabitable by the salmon or their eggs. Captive-bred hatchery fish, released in the waterways used by native fish, compete and interbreed with the natives, weakening their stocks. Hydroelectric dams have had perhaps the largest impact, blocking migration routes and changing the quality, quantity, rate of flow, and temperature of the water in rivers, lakes, and tributary streams that once supported tens of millions of salmon. Protection of Chinook salmon is crucial to maintain healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystems and to provide a delicious food source for years to come.

Pacific harbor seals

Harbor seals are the most widely distributed pinniped. On the Oregon Coast, you will most likely encounter the Eastern Pacific harbor seal, a subspecies found between Alaska and Baja California, Mexico. These seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades from white or silver-gray to black or dark brown. They favor near-shore coastal waters and use rocks, reefs, beaches, and drifting glacial ice as haul out and pupping sites. Pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on land and half in the water. They can even sleep with their bodies nearly submerged in water, exposing only the tip of their nose to the air – a posture called “bottling.”

Despite being skilled swimmers, harbor seals face a number of threats in the ocean. There is currently no commercial hunting of harbor seals, but some native subsistence hunting of seals still occurs. Because they compete for many of the same species of fish, harbor seals are sometimes killed by commercial fishermen. Seals can also become entangled and drown in fishing nets and gear. In addition, the species is preyed upon by killer whales, sharks and Steller’s sea lions. El Niño events can decrease the animal’s food availability, which includes a variety of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.