Restoration Groups / Volunteer

People for Puget Sound

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

SPS Salmon Enhancement Group

Restoration Projects
Local Indigenous Tribes

Lushootseed Peoples

Map of Salish Villages

Councils
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Fourth Corner Exchange

Interra Community Card

Public Transportation

Amtrak Train

Greyhound Bus

Local Language / Dialect
Ecoregion Description

The Salish Sea ecoregion is named after the prominent body of water that occupies much of the central valley within the ecoregion. It is sometimes referred to as “Ish River Country” after a poem by Robert Sund of the same name, which refers to many of the ecoregion’s rivers ending in “ish”. Perhaps it is better referred to as “Mish River Country” as these same rivers actually end in “Mish” and this word translates in a local indigenous language as “people”. This has special significance as these rivers were named after the people who have historically lived in the watersheds.

The ecoregion’s rivers sweep up from the waters of the Salish Sea into the meadows and peaks of the 3 mountain ranges which bound the ecoregion. To the east there exists a definitive line of the Cascade crest which sends all waters either east or west, and defines the amount of water to be dropped from the clouds as they are squeezed of moisture by the high elevations of land. This keeps the Salish Sea side of the range wet and thus provides the climate suitable to the rainforests of the western slopes of the Cascades. To the south, the previous outlet to the Salish Sea has been stopped up by materials pushed into place by glaciers and now forms and less distinct watershed boundary in that part of the ecoregion. The western side is in places the driest of the ecoregion as it lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic mountain range, crested by the eroding peak of geologic uplift of basalt and sedimentary rock found in the mountains.

The inland sea is less well defined in terms of ecological boundaries, as the islands found throughout are rather similar in overall appearance, but quite different in their influence upon marine ecosystems and many other historical and environmental specifics. For the time being, we’ll use the political boundaries of the present day dominant species to define a border in this inland sea, but further examination in following descriptions of this place will allow for more debate as to where the fuzzy line actually lies, if at all. To the north many features play an important role in defining the boundary of the ecoregion. The most defining feature is Desolation Sound, at which the marine water temps change, the rivers sweeping down from the mountains are more directly fed by glaciers to the north, and marine species that prefer colder water are found in greater abundance.

Geography

Geology (& Tectonic Activity, Landforms)

Being a rather new feature to the Cascadian region, this ecoregion was not really in its current form until soon before humans reached it, perhaps even later. The actual physical setting that now exists has only recently become part of the region as a whole, arriving in segments during the last 3 of 4 different periods of accretion. The ecoregion itself was formed through various stages of island chains and ocean floor rocks being pasted on piece by piece as the continent moved ocean-ward, scraping off pieces of geologic structures from the tectonic plate that it was riding up and over. The ecoregion finally came to have its’ current mountain ranges through a rippling effect in the continental crust that pushed them skyward into being. Over hundreds of millions of years, sediments deposited in ancient seas accumulated, tectonic plates collided, and molten magma rose through the bedrock below, all contributing to the upwelling which displaced the ocean father west. More recent geologic uplift has caused the northern Cascade mountains to rise faster than those to the south, and the erosive powers of water and ice have stripped away the volcanic and sedimentary rock covering, exposing the highly metamorphosed crystalline core of the mountain range.

In more recent times, periods of climatic warming and cooling has expanded the glaciers found in the mountains to the north and east of the ecoregion, sending them oozing down into the valley between the mountain ranges of the Cascades and the Olympics. The Salish Sea was formed only after the glaciers of the area retreated and left a grooved configuration in the midst of a basin. This basin consists of the lowland areas surrounding the Salish Sea and is believed to have been created by the weight of the glaciers pushing it downward. Glaciers still inhabit the mountain highlands of the cascades, most notably on the volcanic peaks. Evidence of their greater past expanses can be seen not only in the craggy peaks of the mountain tops, but also in the deep u-shaped valleys between them. Evidence can also be seen in the makeup of soils around the Salish Sea, much of which is sediments pushed into place and dropped by the receding glaciers.

Hydrology (& River Systems, Watersheds, Water Temperature, Water Salinity)

The Salish Sea ecoregion consists of about 20 main watershed systems, most beginning their seaward journey in the mountains of one of three separate chains in the region. There also exists a rather flat peninsula in the midst of the Salish Sea, the Kitsap. Surrounding the Kitsap are various individual island and island chains that are grouped together for various reasons and by various methods depending on whom one asks. The islands vary in size, but their watersheds are all quite small. The Kitsap is without large rivers too, but does have some productive salmon streams. The islands of Salish Sea offer few streams navigable by salmon and none have spawning populations.

The north of the ecoregion is dominated by the Fraser River and its’ many tributaries. So prominent is it that the mountain chains of the Cascades and the Coast make their divergence here, which is actually the reason for the river path itself. The mouth of the river is a gigantic estuarial system, created by the mountain glacial silt that has been carried downriver for eons. This silt, and resulting river plains around the Fraser are part of a system of valleys and plains that surround most of the Salish Sea.

Ecology

After the last glacial retreat, great swaths of land opened up to the colonization of what became a diversity of life known as the ecological communities present before the arrival of non-indigenous humans. The trees grew taller and pushed their way inland and upwards in elevation, spurred on by the nutrients provided to them from the blossoming Salmon runs beginning in the new river systems.

Climate (& Weather Patterns, Ocean Currents)

The Salish Sea is renowned for fair-weather summers and gray, wet winters. The lowlands typically remain mild to cool in the winter, with the mountain uplands receiving heavy snow falls which feed a multitude of glaciers.

Flora

Rainforest Species:
Doug Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Sword Fern,

Riparian Species:
Red Alder, Cottonwood

Alpine Species:
Alpine Forget-me-not, Moss Campion

Marine Species:
Eelgrass, Pickleweed, Bull Kelp

Prairie Species:
bunchgrasses, wildflowers, oaks

Fauna

Marine species of the inland sea:
Salmon (Chinook, Coho, Chum, Sockeye, Pink, Steelhead), Orcas, Sea Otters,

River Species:
Trout (Cutthroat, Rainbow),

Estuary/Shore Species:
Young Salmon, Black Bellied Plover

Forest Species:
Elk, Black Bear, Black-tailed Deer, Douglas Squirrel, Coyote, Raccoon, Puget Sound Garter Snake, Rough Skinned Newt,

Prairie Species:
Mazama pocket gopher

Culture

Native Cultures (& Languages)

Humanity it seems was drawn to Salish Sea because of the protected coves and inlets that form the Puget Sound and the rich alluvial soils of the lowlands plains that reach seaward from the Cascade mountains. This is true for both pre and post arrival of the non-indigenous. The first people found refuge here from the forces of the ocean where they could continue their traditional sea fishing ways. The soils allowed for both good gathering and plentiful animals for red meat supplements to their fish diet. These early people referred to Salish Sea, and what is now called Puget Sound as Whulge, meaning “the saltwater we know”. It was the Lushootseed people who gave this water system its name, and it is now the English speakers who in turn name the waters after their English term for those same people, the Salish.

Trends of inhabitation in Salish Sea were diverse and episodic. Like most parts of the Cascadian region, trends followed the pattern of climatic change and evolved with the surrounding ecology as it advanced inland from the ocean’s edge.

The indigenous people of Salish Sea formed a complex society of interrelated villages and families. For these peoples, the cedar tree was the base resource for a majority of their survival needs. It was utilized for house building, canoe bodies, clothing, hunting and fishing tools, and ceremonial attire. They didn’t however use the wood for carving totems as did their northern neighbors, nor did they paint and carve upon them the “formline design” art style of north coast indigenous. These peoples also generally used the roots of the cedar for artwork and utensils, colored bark of various trees, grasses, the wool of mountain goats and the fur of dogs for blankets and clothing. Their sleeping mats were constructed of cattail reeds and the sea provided numerous food items, as did the meadows and surrounding forests.

In the winter months, people of this ecoregion, like those of many in Cascadia, took to their longhouse shelters to tell stories and hold gatherings in ceremony or celebration. It was “Sicalwas” or the time for “putting paddles away”, most presumably after the harvest moon. The stories often came in the form of ancient legends, which were family knowledge to be passed on to the younger generations. The gatherings were often times to invite others from outside the lodge or tribe to take part in festivities, and were an important way of creating bonds between family groups. In Salish Sea this was not technically the same as the potlatch in the northern coast.

Modern Cultures (& Western Settlement Patterns, Languages, Shared History, Shared Destiny, Current Land-use Patterns and Problems)

The Salish Sea ecoregion stands out from the others of Cascadia because it is the most populated of any of the ecoregions. The rich soils of the river plains of this ecoregion spurred early farming settlements, and an abundance of marine food sources, big timber, and a navagatible waterway encouraged rapidly expanding human populations and ever-increasing migration to the Salish Sea.

Local Amenities

Waste (& Garbage, Recycling, Sewage, Stormwater)

Water

Energy (& Electricity, Fuel)

Community Discussion Board

Feel free to discuss the map of this location (how it is depicted), the contents of the side boxes, or the ecoregion description as it appears in the box above.

Social Services / Volunteer