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Washington's native prairies

You may think of forests when you hear "western Washington." But this was also the land of woodland-prairies, especially in the south Puget Sound. Today that prairie habitat is scarce indeed.

Oak-woodland prairie, Cross-Base. Rod Gilbert
Oak-woodland prairie, Cross-Base. Rod Gilbert

Prairie habitat in Washington is native but, today, rare. There was at one time in western Washington an estimated quarter-million acres of native prairie. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, that number has dwindled in 2012 to just several thousand acres.

Development, agriculture, and invasive species have shrunk the native prairie habitat to just 3 percent.

Learn about protecting rare remaining native prairie at the site of the Cross-Base Highway.

One of the largest pieces of remaining prairie is between Fort Lewis and McChord Airforce Base near Tacoma, where the proposed Cross-Base Highway, a six-mile, six-lane connector freeway has been proposed - and fought by local conservationists - for years.

Other small prairies exist in northeast Washington and on parts of the San Juan Islands.

Native grasslands are vulnerable to agricultural and urban development, tree encroachment, and invasive plants. Butterflies and other creatures native to the prairies are highly susceptible to pesticides, recreation, and farm grazing.

Oak-woodlands support hundreds of native prairie species. At the Cross-Base Highway prairie live rare wildlife including the western gray squirrel, Mazama pocket gopher, Mardon skipper and Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, and horned lark.

South Sound prairies photo gallery ~ Wildlife restoration by Sustainable Prisons Project ~ VIDEO about prairie habitat
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