Fort Columbia State Park and Natural Area,
Pacific Co. WA

Mike Patterson

    In 1995, I was asked to inventory bird species for Fort Columbia State Park and the adjacent natural area by Brenda Senturia of the Nature Conservancy.  Fort Columbia is one of 3 retired army installations on the Columbia River Estuary.  The fort complex consists of a single battery for large guns and about 10 houses (or barracks).  These are now open to the public.  One has been outfitted as a youth hostel.  Behind the fort is a large (about 400 acre) woodland of mixed Bigleaf Maple, Red Alder, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Douglas-fir.
    I was asked to carry out monthly counts in the spring and summer, a census in September and one in December for 1996 and 1997.  I also kept notes on other vertebrates I encountered and (with much less rigor) blooming wildflowers.

Figure 1. A map of the study site including the numbered survey stations.


    I established 16 point-count stations at approximate 200 meters intervals beginning at the gate to the fort.  These were marked with orange surveyorís tapes (FigureÝ1).  I made each count in the morning (most within 2 hours of sunrise).  During counts, I looked and listened for 3Ýminutes, recording all birds seen or heard.  Because I had to walk back through all stations, I counted for an additional minute on the return.  Each survey took about 2 hours.
    I did not count birds that were obviously outside the park boundaries nor did I count random flyovers (this is why there are no gulls or cormorants on the inventories).  I selectively filtered birds I felt overlapped stations.  It may be assumed that all species on the inventory represent birds using some part of the defined study site.  A list of bird species seen in adjacent estuarine areas, but not within the study site may be found in appendix B-2.


    Table 1 shows the total number of individuals seen of each species during each of the surveys.  Over the course of 13 visits 69 species were observed.  Not surprisingly, both number of individuals and number of species seen varied with time of year (Figure 2 a & b), May and June being the most productive periods of the year.  22 species can be categorized as year round residents,18 as winter residents, 22 as summer residents and 7Ýas migrants.
    The presence of Hammondís Flycatcher (apparently on territory) and Varied Thrush during the breeding season at an elevation this low could be considered surprising.  There is certainly plenty of appropriate habitat for these species at Fort Columbia.  The density of woodpecker species is also noteworthy, especially the presence of territorial Pileated Woodpeckers in consecutive years.
    The fort area can be broken into 3 habitat types, open/residential, mixed forest and coniferous.  As one walks from the main gate through the residences and up the fire road, this transition is apparent.  Figure 3 shows the relationship between point station and number of species seen.  Open/residential and mixed forest appear to have a greater diversity of species associated with them when compared to the denser coniferous forest habitats.


    Fort Columbia is a fairly typical coastal spruce/fir forest community and the species encountered over the course of the inventory reflect this habitat type.  The fire road provides adequate, though steep, access to the area.  This road is vigorously maintained.  To some degree, this is understandable, if access as a fire road is still necessary.
   The road maintenance is, however, the one point about which I feel obliged to express concern.  It would appear that the maintenance personnel are selectively targeting salmonberry along the roadside.  Rigorous  salmonberry removal effectively manages wildlife away from the trail edge, reducing the opportunities for viewing from the trail.  Salmonberry is an important early forage crop for birds and mammals, especially hummingbirds.  It creates edge habitat that increases diversity.  Salmonberry also provides an effective mechanism for keeping hikers from wandering off the trail.
    Salmonberry removal further provides an opportunity for aggressive non-natives, like scotchbroom and Himalayan blackberry to gain a foot hold.  These non-natives are presently restricted to the lower parts of fort.  Early in 1997, a single individual with a gas powered weed eater removed most of the salmonberry in the upper areas, sometimes 15 to 2O meters on either side of the road, while leaving sword fern and spruce trees.  His efforts were almost certainly based on either misidentification of the plant or a misplaced aesthetic rather than fire road maintenance.
    Any development plan for Fort Columbia should include a well defined protocol for trail maintenance.  Supervision of trail maintenance personnel in regard to what species are removed and to what limit beyond the road bed is essential, assuming one of the goals is management for wildlife.
    The road bed is very fragile.  The thin layer topsoil and organic debris is held in place by grasses and forbes.  This becomes saturated with water in the winter and spring.  The machine used for mowing the road has scarred several of the steeper portions.  This may be an unavoidable outcome of necessary maintenance, but points to the need to restrict vehicles, including mountain bikes.  Care for the condition of the road bed would be another argument in favor of keeping a healthy salmonberry edge along the road way, as well.


    Fort Columbia can be considered a typical coastal spruce/fir habitat type with the expected bird species for Pacific Coast Range ecosystems.  The residential and transitional zones within the Fort provide diversity without significantly impacting wildlife.  It is recommended that road maintenance be restricted the minimum essential for fire suspression access and the visitor access be limited to foot traffic only.