Wildlife Habitats

While most of our work focuses on protecting and enhancing habitat for at-risk fish species, our mission covers all at-risk fish and wildlife species. Below you'll find a brief overview of the major habitat types and conservation issues in the Yakima Basin.

 

Riparian Forests

The river valleys of the Yakima Basin create broad floodplains filled with cottonwoods, willows and other deciduous trees. These riparian forests are oases in our arid lowlands, and support a wide range of migratory birds, reptiles and amphibians and other wildlife. The long term health of these riparian areas depends on periodic rearrangement of the floodplains by floods. Conservation efforts focus on protecting the river corridors and allowing the river to move within them, while ensuring that homes, roads and other infrastructure are protected from the negative impacts of floods. Many of the projects aimed at protecting and enhancing habitat for at-risk fish species also directly benefits riparian forests and the wildlife that depends on them.

Wapato Reach Side Channel
Photo Credit: A. Conley

 

Sage Steppe & Grasslands

Low rainfall east of the Cascades means that roughly half of the basin is covered with arid grasses and a mix of shrub species dominated by sagebrush. Much of the lower elevation sage steppe has been converted into productive irrigated agriculture. The remaining areas support working ranches, provide critical winter range for elk, deer and bighorn sheep, and are home to sensitive species like sage grouse and burrowing owls. These open ridges and valleys provide views and recreational areas prized by the basin's population. For an overview of conservation issues in the sage steppe, see the strategy document of the South Central Washington Shrub Steppe Rangeland Partnership.


Waterworks Canyon in bloom
 Photo Credit: J. Conley

 

Dry Forests

Heading into the mountains of the Yakima Basin, you enter dry forests dominated by Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir. These dry forests are home to the declining white-headed woodpecker, golden eagles, Rocky Mountain elk, mountain lions and many other wildlife species. They provide wood products and recreational areas for local communities.

A century of logging and fire suppression has changed the makeup of these forests, which are threatened by insect pests and catastrophic wildfires. Conservation efforts are focusing on restoring more open, fire-tolerant forests. For more information on dry forest conservation in the Yakima Basin, see the webpage of the Tapash Sustainable Forests Collaborative.

Yellow-belly Ponderosa Pines
Photo Credit: J. Conley


 

High Cascades

The upper reaches of the Yakima River and its tributaries are in the moist evergreen forests and alpine areas of the Cascade Mountains. Most of this area is within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, with significant Department of Natural Resources and private timber companies. Conservation efforts focus on ensuring a wildlife-friendly future for both the public land (much of which is designated wilderness) and the private timber land (which is under increasing development pressure).

For years, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has been protecting open spaces and wildlife habitat in the High Cascades. Upgrades of Interstate 90 from Snoqualmie Pass to Easton are incorporating innovative features to increase the ability of wildlife to move across the highway corridor. For more information, see the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition.

Wapatus Lake 
Photo Credit: D. Batura

 

Large Predators

Recently, wolves reestablished themselves in the Teanaway Basin, drawing the Yakima Basin into the larger discussion of whether and how to promote the reestablishment of large predators like wolves and grizzly bears. Expect ongoing debate about how best to balance the needs of ranchers, hunters and large predators!