Habitat is … everywhere. Habitat simply means those conditions of soil, water, trees, nutrients and other factors that provide organisms places to find food, mates, shelter and the other necessities of life. Over time, living things of all kinds adapt to particular habitats – and sometimes, like beaver building dams, adapt conditions to suit themselves better.
The greater Columbia Gorge area is home to a high diversity of organisms, due to its wide range of habitats. From the snows of Mount Adams to the deep, rain-soaked valleys of the Wind River to the wide dry forests skirting the Klickitat River, there are many different habitats, characterized by combinations of elevation, precipitation, topography, geology and more.
Some organisms are generalists. They can eke out a living in many different climates and settings. Consider, for example, raccoons and crows. They thrive in both wild and “disturbed” areas – that is, near human communities.
But many other, often beautiful and striking, organisms are specialists, living and feeding in very particular places. Consider the Cascade torrent salamander, a species native to the cold streams and mature conifer forests of the Cascade Mountains between Skamania County, Wash., and Lane County, Ore. The Cascade torrent salamander is adapted to finding prey and mates and rearing young near the cold moss-covered talus, seeps and large trees, especially on north-facing slopes of this area: This is its habitat. Similarly, native wild steelhead trout need moderately cold, slow-moving water over gravel bars in streams to successfully spawn; and when those aren’t available, or access is cut off, the steelhead will decline. And, they have.
UCD and others – agencies like Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group and individual landowners – are working hard to restore healthy populations of wild steelhead, salmon and other species.