Features protected: Old growth Douglas-fir forest, subalpine lands, mid-elevation lakes, and habitat for marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl and native mountain goat.
Ecoregion: North Cascades (King County)
Description: The Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA) was established in 2011 with the transfer of 9,001 acres from DNR-managed state trust lands into conservation status. The new NRCA abuts Mount Si NRCA to create a large forested landscape from the City of North Bend to Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest— extending from 800 feet elevation at the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River to 5,000 feet. This conservation landscape protects wildlife habitat, scenic views and the upper reaches of the river, while also offering low-impact recreation on a variety of hiking trails.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA is located along the western edge of the Cascade Mountains and stretches from the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River on the north to the South Fork Snoqualmie River. It includes the Gifford Lakes and Granite Lakes drainages. The western shoreline of Thompson Lake also lies within the NRCA, with the remainder of the lake located in the national forest.
Natural Features: The NRCA consists of a mix of low- and mid-elevation forest, subalpine forest, subalpine shrubland and meadow, talus fields and riparian vegetation along the major water courses and around the lakes. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) or western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) dominate most stands, with western redcedar (Thuja plicata) occasionally occurring in significant amounts. Forested stands located near the major water courses frequently are co-dominated by hardwoods including red alder (Alnus rubra) and big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). At mid elevation, noble fir (Abies procera) is an occasional component and Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis) begins to increase in abundance. Above approximately 3,000 feet and on more mesic sites, forests become increasingly dominated by Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), and noble fir. Highest elevation stands are generally dominated by mountain hemlock.
The age of forest communities varies over the landscape, with stands ranging from 15 to more than 500 years old. The majority of the lower elevation forests are 70-80 years old, with more recently harvested and replanted patches that are 15-30 years old. Moving up in elevation, the range of stand ages increases, reflecting harvest activity within the last eight to 50 years, and including areas of mature forest 100 or more years old. At higher elevations, the site consists of considerably older forest stands and non-forested habitats (talus, shrubland, rock, meadow). The older forest stands range from 170 to more than 500 years old.
Subalpine shrublands and meadows are found in a number of locations, particularly the Granite Lakes and Gifford Lakes basins. Scattered talus and rock habitat occurs over much of the upper elevations on steep, west-facing slopes, around Mailbox Peak and Dirty Harry Peak, and just north of the Gifford Lakes.
Helping to meet the commitments of DNR’s trust lands Habitat Conservation Plan, nearly the entire area is considered Nesting Roosting Foraging (NRF) habitat for the northern spotted owl. Older forest within the NRCA is also considered potential or suitable habitat for marbled murrelet, which have been detected within about 10 miles of the conservation area, to the north, east and south.
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River runs along the northwestern boundary of the site and includes a number of associated riverine wetlands, as well as gravel bar and main channel habitats. In addition, the NRCA contains a number of montane streams, lakes, and wetlands including the Granite Lakes and Gifford Lakes systems. Both of these lake systems are located in glacial cirques and include a pair of lakes, each 5-15 acres in size. The Granite Lakes system also includes a wetland near the head of the drainage that feeds into the uppermost lake. Several other forested, shrub-scrub and emergent wetlands are also found in the conservation area, some at low elevations near the river and others at higher elevations in association with the lake systems. The lakes and associated stream and wetlands within the NRCA are potential habitat for several rare amphibians, such as the Cascades frog, coastal tailed frog and western toad. Steep rocky slopes within the site are also potential habitat for the Larch Mountain salamander.
Science, Research and Monitoring
Public and private universities, other research institutions or individual researchers may contact DNR to propose a research project at Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA. If you are interested in pursuing a research project, please contact David Wilderman, Natural Areas Program statewide ecologist, at email@example.com.
Environmental Education and Public Access
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA offers an excellent outdoor classroom and it is convenient to many school communities in the Puget Sound region. A variety of trails in the NRCA provide opportunities to study the ecology of the NRCA, older forest ecosystems and stream systems. For more information, contact the DNR South Puget Sound Region natural areas manager, listed here.
Volunteer and Stewardship Opportunities
If you are interested in volunteer and stewardship opportunities in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA, please contact the DNR South Puget Sound Region natural areas manager.
Directions to Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA
Traveling either east or west on Interstate 90, take Exit 34 (just east of the City of North Bend). Turn north on 468th Avenue SE. Travel about one-half mile and turn right on SE Middle Fork Road. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA begins where the pavement ends and continues until you reach the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest.
Washington Trails Association – www.wta.org
Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust – www.mtsgreenway.org
Alpine Lakes Protection Society – no website
Washington Native Plant Society – www.wnps.org