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Vegetation of the Elwha River Estuary - Chapter 8

January 9, 2021

The Elwha River estuary supports one of the most diverse coastal wetland complexes yet described in the Salish Sea region, in terms of vegetation types and plant species richness. Using a combination of aerial imagery and vegetation plot sampling, we identified 6 primary vegetation types and 121 plant species in a 39.7 ha area. Most of the estuary is dominated by woody vegetation types, with mixed riparian forest being the most abundant (20 ha), followed by riparian shrub (6.3 ha) and willowalder forest (3.9 ha). The shrub-emergent marsh transition vegetation type was fourth most abundant (2.2 ha), followed by minor amounts of dunegrass (1.75 ha) and emergent marsh (0.2 ha). This chapter documents the abundance, distribution, and floristics of these six vegetation types, including plant species richness, life form, species origin (native or introduced), and species wetland indicator status. These data will serve as a baseline to which future changes can be compared, following the impending removal of Glines Canyon and Elwha Dams upstream on the Elwha River. Dam removals may alter many of the processes, materials, and biotic interactions that influence the estuary plant communities, including hydrology, salinity, sediment and wood transport, nutrients, and plant-microbe interactions.