Critters of Mt. Rainier’s Lowland Forest Zone

God has placed inside the Pacific Northwest a vibrant and beautiful region, known to us as Mount Rainier.  The variety of “life zones” on Mount Rainier creates an environment in which many types of wildlife can live.  The first life zone that one encounters when entering the park is the “Lowland Forest Zone.”  The dense forest shades most of Ohanapecosh, Longmire & Carbon River from sunlight.   A number of animals prefer this environment.

American Beaver.jpg

Beavers love the Lowland Forest Zone of Mt. Rainier.  The waters flow at a slower pace here, making for a gentler place to build their dams and lodges.  These constructs can be made of the softer spruce, fir, cedar or hemlock; though the beavers prefer the harder willows, alders and maples.  The like to eat the inner bark on the harder trees, as well as various roots, water plants and pond algae.

Tamiasciurus douglasii (Oregon coast)

Douglas Squirrels can also be found in the park’s Lowland Forest Zone.  You can tell they’re about when you hear their alarm call… chickareeeee!  These squirrels mostly eat seeds from coniferous trees, but they also like acorns, berries, mushrooms, fruit and even the occasional bird egg.  Unlike most tree squirrels, Douglas Squirrels do not have a cheek pouches to carry their food in.  Wandering through Mount Rainier’s Lowland Forest Zone, one might happen across a pile of pine cone scales.  Douglas Squirrels will use the same pile for years, sometimes over multiple generations.

 

Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons are attracted to the Lowland Forest Zone of Mount Rainier.  Critters like the ones listed above serve as tasty meals for these birds of prey.  Though these birds are often seen there, Mount Rainier’s website states that there are no reports of the birds nesting in the park.  Apparently they like to dine and dash.

The Northern Spotted Owl is another bird of prey that is attracted to Mount Rainier National Park.  They are the only bird species on the USFWS list of threatened & endangered species that call the park home.   These owls like to swallow their prey whole, and vomit up the indigestible parts in pellet form.  Don’t count on seeing much of these owls during the day, as they are mostly nocturnal.

Many other species of animals can be found in the Lowland Forest Zone of Mount Rainier.  For more information on these animals, check out ” A Pocket Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of Mount Rainier,” available at Whittaker Mountaineering‘s online store.

Mount Rainier- Life Zones

I want to start by giving a big thanks once again to Whittaker Mountaineering for helping to bring these weekly posts on Mt. Rainier!

So we’ve started into our series on wildlife in Mount Rainier National Park, and I realized that there is one element we should take a look at before going on any further… Life Zones. 

Because these Life Zones separate where you will typically find specific types of wildlife, it will be good for us to have this sort of “animal map” in mind.  Keep in mind that some animals live across multiple Life Zones, generally driven there and there by the seasons.

These Life Zones also apply to vegetation, which Lord willing we will discuss in future posts.  One of the amazing things about Mount Rainier National Park is that it is one of the few places in Washington where you can see so many life zones in one place.

There are a number of ways to classify and differentiate Life Zones.  Different areas of the world require different systems of classification to account for certain variables.  It would seem that for Mount Rainier the common method of defining Life Zone is by altitude. 

Lowland Forest Zone

The Lowland Forest Zone is the zone in which we enter the park.  Mostly you will find smaller creatures here.  It lies between the 2,000 to 2,900 ft. elevation marks.

Pacific Silver Fir Zone

This zone lies between 2,900 and 4,500 ft, where the air temperature really begins to cool down.  Here you may find squirrels flying around in the trees, and bear cubs up there watching them.

Subalpine Zone

Between 4,500 and 6,000 ft you’ll find the Subalpine Zone.  It’s even colder here than in the Pacific Silver Fir Zone, so look for open meadows so you can soak in some sunlight.    Remember to keep your eyes peeled for elk and deer in this zone!

Alpine Zone

This is where the trees stop.  It starts between 6,000 and 7,500 ft, and goes all the way up to the top of Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft).  Permanent snow and ice can be found here, limiting the number of species that can live here.  Look for big vermin like the Pika or the Marmot.  Alpine insects like the Ice Worm (which “melt” in above freezing temperatures) can also be found here.

With these Life Zones in mind we can have a better idea of where particular creatures can be found on Mt. Rainier.  Tune in next week as we dive further into the wildlife of Mt. Rainier.

A big thanks to ecologist Jim Schaberl, biologist Mason Reid and park ranger/Volunteer Program Manager Kevin Bacher!  All three of these men have a measure of experience on Mt. Rainier, and have given of their valuable time to help make this and future posts possible.

Also, remember to check out this field guide, available from Whittaker Mountaineering.

 Thanks for reading, and praise God who created our beautiful Mt. Rainier!!!