WILLAPA NATURAL RESOURCES
The Willapa Basin sits among the coastal hills along the Pacific Ocean just north of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The basin covers more than 1000 square miles including the Willapa Bay estuary with over 100 miles of shoreline. The dominant habitat is coastal temperate forest. Western hemlock and Douglas fir are the principal tree species. Other habitats include dune and sea cliff grasslands, coastal pine forests, extensive salt and freshwater marshes and Sitka spruce swamps. Several salmonids breed in the watershed: coho, chinook, chum, searun cutthroat, and steelhead. On the Pacific Flyway the Willapa Basin is a major feeding and resting area for migrating shorebirds, waterfowl and other species.
The Willapa watershed is the most productive coastal ecosystem remaining in the continental United States. One of every six oysters consumed in the United States grows on Willapa tideflats. Pacific Salmon, Dungeness crab and several species of clams also abound in the bay. Nowhere in the Northwest do conifers grow faster.
The Willapa basin encompasses approximately 680,000 acres in the southwest corner of Washington above the mouth of the Columbia River. Its forests of Douglas fir, Western hemlock, Western red-cedar and Sitka spruce once held some of the most massive trees encountered anywhere in the world. The Willapa tide flats make up a quarter of the productive shell fish growing waters in the western United States. Its eel grass beds and marshlands provide critical habitat for 70 species of migratory birds. Today Willapa’s economy is based on its rich natural resources. Nearly two-thirds of the land in the watershed is commercial forest lands. Farms make up another seven percent including 1400 acres of bogs that produce virtually all of the state’s harvest of cranberries. Oysters are cultivated on nearly 10,000 acres of privately owned or leased tidelands. Three species of Pacific salmon that return to spawn in Willapa streams are caught by commercial fishermen in the open waters of the bay.
More than 90 percent of the Willapa uplands are suitable for timber growing. Hardwoods cover 38 percent of the uplands with conifers covering another 46 percent. Approximately three percent of the present stands are undisturbed old growth with the majority of the remainder managed timberlands.Fisheries
Commercial fishing has always been an integral part of the local economy. Salmon generally account for more than 90 percent of the finfish caught in Willapa’s waters. Recently chinook and coho harvests have been above historic averages. Native Chum runs are critically low. Dungeness crab are a Pacific Coast specialty. The Willapa Bay hosts thriving commercial and sports crabbing. The commercial catch varies between two and ten million crabs per year.
Oysters have been farmed in Willapa Bay for over 100 years. Willapa Bay produces about 15 percent of the national oyster crop, most of it shipped out as freshly opened oysters — oysters that have been removed from their shells. Suitable grounds for growing oysters are found in low intertidal and shallow subtidal areas. Historically, the native Olympia oysters grew on more than 20,000 acres. The local industry is now concentrated on 10,000 acres and grows Pacific oysters. Oyster harvests average three to four million pounds per year.
Cranberries have been cultivated locally for more than 100 years, growing well with moderate temperatures and ample water. Cranberries thrive in the coastal climate with virtually all of the berries produced in the state grown in the Willapa basin. Approximately 1.5 million pounds of cranberries are harvested annually. The Willapa is also home to traditional farms that raise beef cattle and dairy cows in with related production of hay, silage and calves.
Sources of Information
1) "Willapa Indicators For a Sustainable Community, 1996" by the Willapa Alliance Web Site www.willapabay.org/~alliance
2) "A Tidewater Place, a Portrait of the Willapa Ecosystem" by Edward C. Wolf, Published by the Willapa Alliance