Wind River Experimental Forest
Although the Wind
River Experimental Forest was not established until 1932, Forest
Service research in the area began at least 20 years earlier. Thornton
T. Munger, who later became the first director of the Pacific Northwest
Research Station, arrived in 1909 and proceeded to establish a tree
nursery, an arboretum, the first Douglas-fir growth-and-yield plots,
and an important tree heredity study. Munger also established the
Wind River Research Natural Area (RNA), later to be named after
him, in 1926. The Wind River was set up as two divisions, Panther
Creek and Trout Creek. Early on, the forest became the central area
for studying the great Douglas-fir forests of the Pacific Northwest,
and many of the silvicultural practices for managing these forests
were developed there. Silvicultural studies continued following
World War II and into the 1960s, though many other areas served
as important sites for the study of Douglas-fir forests. In the
1980s research at Wind River was rekindled with an increase in ecosystem
studies and old-growth/wildlife habitat research. In 1994, the Wind
River Canopy Crane was established in the T. T. Munger RNA.
The nearby Columbia River Gorge affects the valley’s climate, contributing to strong winds in any season and
cool, wet weather in the winter. Average annual precipitation is about 2,540 mm annually, occurring as
rain or snow during fall, winter, and spring. Summers are warm and dry. Cold air draining into the valley can bring
frosts almost any time of year.
Soils are primarily volcanic in origin with some colluvial and glacial till.
The Wind River is best known for its old-growth forests of Douglas-fir and western hemlock. Other tree species
in the forest include western redcedar and Pacific silver, grand, and noble firs. Understory trees include Pacific
yew, vine maple, Pacific dogwood, and red alder. Western white pine used to grow in the forest, but most trees
have been killed by white pine blister rust. Much of the forest consists of stands more than 400 years old.
Younger forests include stands that were established after burns in the late 1840s and then again after the 1902
Yacolt Burn. Numerous plantations have been established following timber harvest into the late 1980s.
Many shrubs grow in the forest understory, including salal, Oregon-grape, red and big huckleberries, and west
coast rhododendron. Dozens of plant species grow on the forest floor, including queencup beadlily, vanilla leaf,
bracken fern, beargrass, twinflower, trillium, and little pipsissewa. Huckleberries and beargrass are particularly
abundant at higher elevations.
Long-Term Data Bases
Long-term data from the spacing study, some of the thinning studies, the arboretum, and the heredity study
are available, but not all are are in digital form. Data for permanent plots in the Munger RNA (from 1949 on) are
digital. Long-term weather data have been published. A complete weather station was established with the Wind
River Canopy Crane. These data are available at: http://depts.washington.edu/wrccrf/ .
Research, Past and Present
The earliest concerns at Wind River were how to prevent and control wildfires, regenerate burned and cutover
Wind River Experimental Forest (Washington) lands, and grow seedlings to revegetate large areas of
denuded forest land. The Wind River Arboretum was established to study which tree species from all over the
world would grow best in the area. Permanent growth and yield plots, spacing studies, pruning, fertilization,
and thinning studies, along with work on the autecology of Douglas-fir, provided the most complete body of
knowledge on the management and silviculture of Douglas-fir-western hemlock forests in the Pacific
Northwest prior to World War II. After the war, work continued at Wind River, but there was an increased
interest in working in younger stands and in laboratories. Although the older studies, residue use, and thinning
continued to be studied at Wind River, the late 1960s and 1970s saw a waning of traditional forestry work.
One exception in the late 1970s was the Trout Creek Hill study, which continues to look at growth of different
species mixtures with an eye toward managing for diversity, not only of species but for different
management objectives. In the early 1980s, use of Wind River increased, with more ecosystem-oriented studies,
including pollutant monitoring, nutrient cycling, decay of coarse woody debris, and forest gaps. The forest also
became one of two focal sites for the USDA Forest Service’s Old-Growth Forest Wildlife Habitat Program,
whose objectives were to define old-growth Douglas-fir forests, identify wildlife species associated with these
forests, and determine their biological requirements and ecological relationships.
In 1994, a standard construction canopy crane was installed in the old-growth forest of the Munger RNA to
study processes operating at the interfaces between vegetation and the atmosphere and belowground. The
major research emphases of this facility are forest carbon and nutrient cycling, biological diversity and ecosystem
functioning, forest health and protection, monitoring of climate and climate variability, ground validation and
testing of new remote sensing technology, and tree physiology and growth. Many studies within these
broader categories are taking place in the old-growth forest, but also in the younger stands and plantations
throughout Wind River. The arboretum, heredity, spacing, permanent plots, and the Trout Creek Hill
studies are ongoing.
Major Research Accomplishments and Effects On Management
The Wind River is often referred to as the “cradle of forestry research for the Pacific Northwest.” Early
research work had much influence on the management of Douglas-fir forests. In the 1980s, the forest was the site
for old-growth forests and wildlife studies, which changed the direction of federal forest management in the
Pacific Northwest. Today, the Trout Creek Hill study and old-growth and young-growth studies at and adjacent to
the Wind River canopy crane are addressing current issues of global carbon cycling, management of young
forests for objectives other than timber management, and issues of biological diversity.
Collaborators include the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Smithsonian
Institution, Universities of Washington, Idaho, California at Davis and Irvine, and Georgia, Oregon State
University, Arizona State University, Evergreen University, Utah State University, and Stanford University.
The opportunities for research at Wind River are broad given the diversity of forest age classes, the existence of
maintained long term study plots, the vibrant partnership that is the Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility,
the forest’s proximity to a large city, and the large extent of undisturbed forest that remains.
At Wind River there are two residences, with a total of 20 beds and kitchen facilities. The Wind River Ranger District
has a 24-bed bunkhouse, which is sometimes available.
Lat. 45° 50' N, long. 121° 54' W
Wind River Experimental Forest
USDA Forest Service
Pacific Northwest Research Station
Corvallis Forestry Sciences Laboratory
3200 SW Jefferson Way
Corvallis, OR 97330
Tel: (541) 750- 7288
1Information has been updated since original publication.