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Cascade Head Experimental Forest and Scenic Research Area (Cascade Head) is located on the north-central Oregon coast 8km (5 mi) north of Lincoln City, in Lincoln and Tillamook counties. It lies entirely within the Hebo Ranger District of the Siuslaw National Forest, though there are private lands included within the Scenic Research Area. The area is dominated by the large headland, Cascade Head, which juts into the Pacific Ocean just north of the Salmon River. US Highway 101 bisects the area in a north-south direction.
Located at 45.2 degrees north latitude and 123.58 degrees west longitude, Cascade Head is in the Oregon Coast Range ecoregion and lies within the Salmon River and Neskowin Creek drainages. The Salmon River drains to the south of the experimental forest and its estuary is included in the scenic research area. One upper tributary and most of Neskowin Creek lies within the experimental forest. Elevation ranges from sea level to approximately 530 m (1750').
The forests are fairly representative of the Sitka spruce-western hemlock and Douglas-fir zones of the Oregon Coast Range. The headlands and ocean front areas are mostly basalts. Soils, derived primarily from tuffaceous siltstones, are fine textured, moderately well drained, and very deep (up to 100+ cm). Soils under forest stands are fertile, rich in organic matter, and contain high levels of nitrogen. Sediments in the estuary reveal surfaces buried from previous earthquakes, the last one occurring about 350 year ago.
Because of the Pacific Ocean influence, Cascade Head has a moderate and very wet climate. Mean annual temperature is 10 C (50 F) with minimal seasonal and diurnal fluctuations. Average yearly rainfall is 245 cm (98") although fog drip through the forest canopy can add 50 cm (20") more of precipitation a year. Heavy rains and gale-force winds blowing off the ocean are common in late fall and winter. Extensive blow down and wind pruning of trees are evidence of these severe storms.
When the experimental forest was established in 1934, the area was primarily covered with a forest that came in after the huge Nestucca Fire that burned the area in the late 1840s. Spruce and hemlock that survived the fire are found in the Neskowin Crest Research Natural Area near the ridgetop and along some of the smaller drainages. The Nechesney Indians, who inhabited the area as long as 12,000 years ago, burned some of the forest close to the ocean in the early 1900s. Some of the more gentle country to the east was homesteaded by European settlers and abandoned in the early 1920s. These abandoned areas now support mostly even-aged, single canopy forests with dense shrub understories. Experimental clearcutting, shelterwwod cutting, thinning, and salvage from large windstorms have impacted about 25% of the forested area. Wind throw continues to be the dominant agent of disturbance in these forests.
Sitka spruce and western hemlock dominate the forest from the coastal edge to about 3-4 km (2-2.5 mi) inland. At this point Sitka spruce begins to drop out and Douglas-fir density increases. Western hemlock is found throughout the forest. Western red cedars occur sporadically and red alder is commonly found in drainages, on clearcuts, and in disturbance areas. Some of the highest growth rates and greatest volumes per hectare for temperate forests in the world are reported for this area.
The Salmon River estuary has a history of livestock grazing that goes back to the late 1800s. In the early 1960s the estuary was diked for pasturage. With the establishment of the Scenic Research Area, management directed the dikes to be breached and the estuary restored. Dike breaching west of highway 101 began in 1979 and was completed in 1997. Previous to dike building, the estuary was dominated by high salt marsh vegetation; currently low salt marsh communities dominate the restored areas.
Two grassy headlands are found in the area - Cascade Head itself, owned by The Nature Conservancy, and north of that the Hart's Cove headland within the Neskowin Crest Research Natural Area. Both headlands are basaltic intrusions, dominated by grass species, not all native, and fringed by Sitka spruce forest.
Diversity in the area is rich due mainly to the variety of the ecosystems involved. Over 300 species of wildlife are known to inhabit or use the area. The area is rich in moss and lichen species, over 90 and 180 species respectively, and the vascular plant list for all ecosystem types includes over 400 species. Four federally endangered species use the area - spotted owl, marbled murrelet, coho salmon, and Oregon silver spot butterfly.
The research area is approximately 8km (5 mi) north of Lincoln City where motel accommodations are plentiful, though rates are high during the tourist season. There is a residence and a field office at Cascade Head Experimental Forest headquarters. The residence will accommodate 8-12 people depending on sleeping arrangements; the office will accommodate 4 people. Both buildings have kitchens.
Cost per person per night is approximately $20.00. Food, towels and bedding are not supplied. Only people doing scientific research are permitted to use the accommodations.
HOW TO GET THERE
Cascade Head is approximately 1hour and 45 minutes from Portland, 2 hours from the Portland airport. From Portland: follow I5 south; take US 99W south off of I5; follow 99W through McMinnville until it intersects Route 18. Follow 18 almost all the way out to the coast to the town of Otis. At Otis turn right and follow the old Scenic Highway approximately 2.5 miles to a driveway on the right and a sign for Cascade Head Experimental Forest. From Salem (1 hour): take Route 22 west until it intersects with 18. From Corvallis (1.5 hour): take 99W north to Route 22. Follow 22 west until it intersects with 18.
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HISTORY OF RESEARCH USE
Before its establishment in 1934 and for sometime after, an intense forest inventory was done throughout the experimental forest to determine distribution, age classes, and volumes of major tree species. Early research at Cascade Head includes studies that determined (1) life history and characteristics of native tree species; (2) growth and yield of Sitka spruce-western hemlock, Douglas-fir, and red alder stands; and (3) basic relations between vegetation and climate. Numerous permanent plots have been established, starting in 1935, and continue to be measured and monitored at this time.
A climate station established in 1936 is still operating and is an official U. S. Weather Bureau site. From the 1940s through the 1960s, experimental, commercial sized harvests were done to evaluate the silvicultural and economic results of different cutting methods. Although research in applied forestry has continued over the years, other topics are being studied today including forest ecosystem productivity, wind disturbance, nutrient cycling, and global carbon cycling.
Research on the Salmon River estuary has been ongoing since the first dike breaching in 1979. Reestablishment of the salt marsh ecosystems continues to be studied and more recently use of these restored ecosystems by anadromous fish is being studied.
Most of the prairie headlands were grazed up until the 1960s. Ungrazed portions of The Nature Conservancy headland contain some of the best native red fescue prairie left on the Oregon coast. The headland is also home to the endangered Oregon silver spot butterfly. The Nature Conservancy is doing prescribed burning to try and improve habitat for the butterfly.
SATTELITE RESEACH AREAS
Cascade Head is part of several networks of research sites. Globally Cascade Head is a Biosphere Reserve in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere program. Its sister site is Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. Regionally, Cascade Head is allied with the HJ Andrews Long Term Ecological Research program funded by the National Science Foundation, and as such has affiliation with the Wind River Experimental Forest and Canopy Crane Research Facility and numerous Research Natural Areas throughout Oregon and Washington. The entire Cascade Head area is contained within the Northcoast Adaptive Management Area and is a Late Successional Reserve, established in 1993 by the Northwest Forest Plan. Cascade Head is a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations.