263 California Coastal Steppe, Mixed Forest, and Redwood Forest Province

Northern California coast, 4,600 mi2 (11,900 km2)

Land-surface form.--Much of this province is composed of low mountains, but in places there are a narrow coastal plain and gently sloping marine terraces. A few broad valleys extend inland through the mountains. Confined to the coast, this region extends no farther inland than 35 mi (56 km), remaining at elevations below 3,000 ft (900 m).

Virgin redwood forest Virgin redwood forest on Mill Creek, near Crescent City, California.

Climate.--Characterized by a cool-summer subtype of the Mediterranean dry-summer subtropical climate, this province is confined to coasts washed by cool currents. The annual temperature cycle is very weak, reflecting the powerful influence of the cold California sea current with its cool marine air layer. Cool summers are typical, and winter temperatures are much milder than those of inland locations at similar latitudes. Annual temperatures average 50 to 55F (10 to 13C). All months are above freezing. Rainfall drops to nearly zero for 2 consecutive summer months, but rises to substantial amounts in the rainy winter season. Annual rainfall ranges from 40 to 100 in (1,020 to 2,550 mm). Heavy fogs are common along the coast in summer. This region has a greater mean number of days with dense fogs than any other place in the United States.

Vegetation.--The redwood is characteristic of the fog belt on seaward slopes of coastal northwestern California. Associated with it are Douglas-fir and other conifers such as hemlock and cedar. The redwood forest is a hygrophyllic type of warm-temperate forest. Redwoods, which attain a height of 330 ft (100 m), are taller than the giant sequoia (big tree), which grows only in the Sierra Nevada of California. But redwood trunks remain relatively slender. Although redwoods live 500 years on average, they can reach up to 1,800 years of age. By comparison, 4,000 annual rings have been counted in the trunks of giant sequoia.

Redwood forests typically have a well-developed understory, usually dominated by large and colorful Pacific rhododendrons and western azaleas. Other shrubs, especially salal and California huckleberry, are usually present. Many ferns and flowers grow in the cool shade, such as western sword fern and redwood sorrel.

Headlands tend to be dry, and their outer ends are covered with fescue-oatgrass grasslands. Along the coast in a narrow, patchy belt lies pine-cypress forest. Inland, the southfacing mountain slopes are covered by mixed forest, including tanoak, coast live oak, madrone, and Douglas-fir. Oaks in the area of coastal forest tend to form distinct patches of oak woodland.

Soils.--The dominant soils are Ultisols under forest and Mollisols under grasslands.

Fauna.--Mule deer are common, and the Roosevelt subspecies of elk can be seen in Redwood National Park. Mammals include both Douglas and western gray squirrels, as well as two chipmunk species.

Birds include Anna's hummingbird and Wilson's warbler. The spotted owl can be found in both old-growth and second-growth redwood forest, along with great horned owls, western screech-owls, and northern pygmy-owls. A variety of shore birds and waterfowl occur in the coastal part of the province. Species of concern include marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl.

Salamanders, such as the Pacific giant salamander, are numerous in the cool, moist litter of the redwoods, especially near streams and rivers. The banana slug is also found here.

Streams and rivers are used by anadromous fish.