Olympic Rainforest

Photo by Douglas King.

Towering hemlocks, glacier-fed rivers, wetland habitats — these are the hallmarks of the Olympic Rainforest, our state’s coastal jewel. These forests are some of the most productive on Earth, and contain the largest specimens of Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, Sitka spruce and mountain hemlock.

Big, untamed rivers connect the mountain tops to the sea — the Quillayute, Hoh, Queets, Clearwater and Quinault. When they are running high, they pull cedars and Douglas firs and other rainforest giants out of the ground and toss them around like matchsticks. The rivers provide the spawning grounds for some of the healthiest and most diverse wild salmon runs south of the Canadian border. More than 50 percent of wild salmon on Washington’s coast spawn and rear in coastal streams of this area.

The Olympic Rainforest is also the southern anchor of the world’s most expansive temperate rainforest and one of North America’s most iconic landscapes. The broader region The Nature Conservancy calls the Emerald Edge stretches from Washington to Southeast Alaska, and is abundant with salmon, old-growth forests and marine life. Local communities including more than 50 indigenous communities depend on this abundance for their way of life.

Fishing guide Shannon Carroll fishing at dawn for steelhead on the Hoh River. Photo by Bridget Besaw.

The Conservancy has an ambitious vision for the future of the Olympic Rainforest. Our goal is far beyond saving salmon from extinction — we are working to return salmon to an abundance that keeps ecosystems and communities thriving. The Conservancy, coastal tribes, the Hoh River Trust and the Washington Department of Natural Resources are working together to rebuild the Olympic Rainforest by restoring lands along these rivers that flow through the heart of the forest — from mountain summits to the sea.

"Olympic Peninsula communities are intimately tied to the land where forests provide sustenance, jobs and attract people from around the world"
—Rod Fleck, Forks city planner

Since 2010, the Conservancy has worked closely with private and public partners to acquire key timberlands, begin the restoration process and build a new model for how conservation lands can bring tangible benefits to the local community and beyond 

Beyond forest protection and restoration, the Conservancy is actively working with communities on sustainable economic development. For example, the Washington Coast Works business competition, which is starting its third year, is providing seed funding and training for startup businesses on the coast.

This effort is about empowering people who live in and around the Olympic Rainforest to use resources in a way that benefits their families, the community at large and sustains the forest and fish for future generations. In the coming years, we will build on this effort as we assess early results, engage more deeply with the community and test solutions using an exploratory “social lab” process.

Olympics Fast facts:

Nine species of fish spawn in their natal streams

Contains nearly 60 percent of Washington coast's wild salmon habitat

More than $200 million per year spent by regional visitors

2.2 million gallons of fresh water (median) flows from the Hoh, Quinault and Queets/Clearwater rivers