USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
1220 SW 3rd Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service

Wind River Experimental Forest


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.

Vanilla leaves in Wind River Experimental Forest

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: .

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.

Old growth trees in Wind River Experimental ForestCollaborators

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.

Research Opportunities

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

Contact Information

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.

pnw > exforests > Wind River

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Wednesday,27July2016 at12:36:19CDT

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