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.

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

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

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

Restoring nature, community

It’s happening in the Hoh River Rainforest

May 2017: We're excited to announce the transfer of 7,000 acres from the Hoh River Trust to The Nature Conservancy. It's a big step forward for restoration and renewal in more than 10,000 acres of vital habitat in the Hoh River Valley in the Olympic Rainforest.

The mossy Hoh River is among Washington’s most iconic places. Clear and undammed, the river hosts one of the healthiest wild salmon runs in the Lower 48 states. Downstream of Olympic National Park, people come to the Hoh River valley to fish, hunt and gather plants. The Hoh Tribe lives at the river’s mouth, with profound cultural ties to resources and places in the watershed.

Roosevelt Elk in the Hoh River valley. Photo by Keith Lazelle.

Goals for this corridor — restore a natural, mature forest and keep forest and resource management local — fit with those of the larger Emerald Edge program, explains Dave Rolph, our director of forest management for Washington. “One of the program goals is to create a rainforest ecosystem that also benefits local communities,” says Rolph. The Hoh offers an opportunity for a high-profile test case.

Did you know?
750 miles of tributaries flow in the Hoh River below Olympic National Park.

Ideal, he adds, would be a community forest, owned and managed locally, with sustainable forestry and income flowing back into the community.

Restoration includes thinning and planting trees to increase natural diversity, adding log jams and repairing culverts to create more salmon habitat, and fixing forest roads, which can wash out and deliver damaging sediment to streams. Local residents already benefit, with jobs related to the restoration. Two hundred years from now, says Rolph, big trees will once again thrive, along with the local communities that will be the stewards of this treasured valley.

Hikers in Hall of Moss in the Hoh River valley. Photo by Keith Lazelle.

Read More About Our Work in the Olympics