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Puget Lowland Ecoregion: Chapter 2 in Status and trends of land change in the Western United States--1973 to 2000

December 1, 2012

The Puget Lowland Ecoregion covers an area of approximately 18,009 km² (6,953 mi²) within northwestern Washington (fig. 1) (Omernik, 1987; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1997). The ecoregion is located between the Coast Range Ecoregion to the west, which includes the Olympic Mountains, and the North Cascades and the Cascades Ecoregions to the east, which include the Cascade Range. From the north, the ecoregion follows the Interstate 5 corridor, from the Canadian border south through Bellingham, Seattle, Olympia, and Longview, Washington, to the northern border of the Willamette Valley Ecoregion. The Puget Lowland Ecoregion borders the shoreline of the greater Puget Sound, a complex bay and saltwater estuary fed by spring freshwater runoff from the Olympic Mountains and Cascade Range watersheds. The ecoregion is situated in a continental glacial trough that has many islands, peninsulas, and bays. Relief is moderate, with elevations ranging from sea level to 460 m but averaging approximately 150 m (DellaSala and others, 2001). Proximity to the Pacific Ocean gives the Puget Lowland Ecoregion its mild maritime climate (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1999). Mean annual temperature is 10.5°C, with an average of 4.1°C in January and 17.7°C in July (Guttman and Quayle, 1996). Average annual precipitation ranges from 800 to 900 mm, but some areas in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains receive as little as 460 mm (DellaSala and others, 2001). Varying annual average precipitation greatly influences vegetation and soil type in the ecoregion. In the Puget Lowland Ecoregion, soils are dominated by Inceptisols in the north and Ultisols in the south (Jones, 2003). Before European settlement, most of the ecoregion was covered by coniferous forests, with species composition dependent on local climate (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1999). The World Wildlife Fund places the Puget Lowland Ecoregion in the Western Hemlock Vegetation Zone. Although this vegetation zone is named after the western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the dominant tree species. Seattle, which had an estimated population of 563,376 in 2000, is the largest city in the Puget Lowland Ecoregion (Puget Sound Regional Council, 2001). The greater Seattle metropolitan area, comprising Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Bremerton, had an estimated population of 3.5 million people in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Other sizable cities in the ecoregion include the state capital Olympia, as well as Tacoma, Bellingham, and Everett, Washington. The center of the Puget Lowland Ecoregion is dominated by the Seattle metropolitan area and developed land cover, whereas agriculture occurs mainly on river floodplains in the north and south. The remainder of the ecoregion area is dominated by forest land cover (fig. 1).

Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title Puget Lowland Ecoregion: Chapter 2 in Status and trends of land change in the Western United States--1973 to 2000
DOI 10.3133/pp1794A2
Authors Daniel G. Sorenson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1794-A-2
Index ID pp1794A2
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center