Olympic National Park

 © IUCN / Elena Osipova
United States of America (USA)
Inscribed in
1981
Criteria
(vii)
(ix)

Located in the north-west of Washington State, Olympic National Park is renowned for the diversity of its ecosystems. Glacier-clad peaks interspersed with extensive alpine meadows are surrounded by an extensive old growth forest, among which is the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest. Eleven major river systems drain the Olympic mountains, offering some of the best habitat for anadromous fish species in the country. The park also includes 100 km of wilderness coastline, the longest undeveloped coast in the contiguous United States, and is rich in native and endemic animal and plant species, including critical populations of the endangered northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and bull trout. © UNESCO

 © IUCN / Elena Osipova
© IUCN / Elena Osipova

Summary

2017 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
09 Nov 2017
Good with some concerns
Internally the park is well managed and protected despite a number of threats that will need continued attention. Within the parameters of normal fluctuation, most park resources are viewed as stable or improving. External threats, and especially long term global warming, are harder to predict and mitigate. Rising temperatures from climate change impacts are causing an increase in wild land fire scale and intensity, as well as an increase in insect infestations for native trees, with increased mortality from both causes, well beyond levels that have occurred historically.

Current state and trend of VALUES

Low Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
Assessment is generally positive at the present time. Within the parameters of normal fluctuation, most park resources are viewed as stable or improving. However, several endangered species continue to decline and off site activities continue to limit the recovery of anadromous fish stocks.
Looking to the future, on-going climate change poses the most serious threat to the OUV of the site. Particularly notable will be the loss of sub-alpine habitat, glaciers and more frequent flooding and other weather related events.

Overall THREATS

Low Threat
For the period of this assessment cycle, we would assess the identified threats in the low threat category. In the longer term, as mentioned, both climate change and potential budget cuts may pose more serious threats.

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Highly Effective
Highly effective at this time, but key concern is real potential of budget cuts which could compromise future efforts to protect and management park resources. Additionally, long term global warming patterns have the potential to importantly alter the character of the OUV.

Full assessment

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Finalised on
09 Nov 2017

Description of values

The Western Hemisphere’s largest stands of temperate rainforest

Criterion
(vii)
Olympic National Park is the largest and best example in the western hemisphere of virgin temperate rainforest. The coastal Olympic rainforest reaches its maximum development within the property and has a living standing biomass which may be the highest anywhere in the world (Statement of Significance, 2006).

Remarkable combination of habitats

Criterion
(vii)
Olympic National Park is of remarkable beauty, and is the largest protected area in the temperate region of the world that includes in one complex ecosystems from ocean edge through temperate rainforest, alpine meadows and glaciated mountain peaks (Statement of significance, 2006).

Glaciers

Criterion
(vii)
The mountains contain about 60 active glaciers; the area is unique because it is the lowest latitude in the world in which glaciers begin at an elevation lower than 2,000 m and exist below 1,000 m (Statement of Significance, 2006).

Diversity of flora and fauna which continues to evolve in a relative natural state

Criterion
(ix)
The park contains 981 species of native, terrestrial, vascular plants and 342 species of native aquatic plants, 205 species of marine algae 301 species of birds, 59 species of terrestrial mammals, and 11 species of marine mammals, 536 species of marine invertebrates, 65 species of intertidal fish that collectively are continuing to evolve in a relative natural state.

Habitats of unmatched diversity on the Pacific coast

Criterion
(ix)
Within the park boundary, there are 10 major watersheds, 311 glaciers, and 112 km of roadless coastline. Topographic characteristics of Olympic Mountains results in dramatic climate gradients within and immediately outside park. The park’s varied topography from seashore to glacier, affected by high rainfall has produced complex and varied vegetation zones, providing habitats of unmatched diversity on the Pacific coast (Statement of Significance, 2006).

Endemic species associated with park’s isolation

Criterion
(ix)
The park’s isolation has allowed the development of endemic wildlife. The park is rich in native and endemic animal and plant species, including critical populations of the endangered northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and bull trout (Statement of Significance, 2006). Endemic species and subspecies in the park also include 2 sensitive plants and 6 others, 3 mammals, including the Olympic marmot (full species), 3 subspecies of endemic fish, and 7 endemic insects (Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010).

Wilderness coastline

Criterion
(vii)
The park includes 100 km of wilderness coastline, the longest undeveloped coast in the contiguous United States (Statement of Significance, 2006)
Endangered species
The park contains 22 threatened and endangered animal species, 4 candidates for listing, and 17 species of federal concern. The Whitebark Pine is a candidate species for listing. There are 11 species of plants listed as threatened and 42 listed as sensitive by the State of Washington, but none are federally designated. Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010.
Roosevelt Elk
The park protects the largest population of Roosevelt elk in its natural environment in the world. Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010
Native fish populations
The park’s 10 major watersheds and over 200 streams support 22 breeding native fish species, including anadromous as well as resident populations of 7 salmonid species. Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010 http://www.nps.gov/olym/parkmgmt/olympic-fun-facts.htm

Assessment information

High Threat
Though in general park resources are effectively managed and protected. However, a significant number of current threats identified fall into the high threat category.
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Ecosystem impacts were identified at localized sites, currently population is growing and consequently threats are increasing.
Other Ecosystem Modifications
Very High Threat
Outside site
Spotted owls and marbled murrelets continue to decline at alarming levels despite in-park protections. Extirpation is expected if the current trends continue.
Continued loss of apex predator continues to alter wildlife and plant community composition and relative abundance. (NPCA 2004, Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010)
Trend information for endangered fish species within the park is either lacking or shows populations to be relative stable in the short term. Though uncertain, threats to listed fish species without intervention are high.
Habitat Shifting/ Alteration,
Droughts,
Temperature extremes
Very High Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
Two recent publications have described potential effects of climate change on vegetation on federal lands on the Olympic Peninsula Aubry et al. (2011) and Halofsky et al. (2011). Climate change is expected to result in altered geographic ranges of dominant plant species, increase the probability of establishment of regeneration failures, and increased drought stress leading to decreased growth of forests. Habitats most at risk include wetlands, alpine and subalpine areas, temperate rainforest with Sitka spruce, and high-elevation forests dominated by Pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, and Alaska yellow-cedar. The park is developing some capacity to identify which potential consequences of climate change are occurring most rapidly through the development of long-term monitoring with other NPS units in western Washington. Effective responses will require reevaluation of agency policy, increased collaboration with other agencies and an increase in staff and funding.
Park also has some data, and is collecting more, on ocean acidification, water temperatures, etc. and their potential impact on coastal organisms.
Loss of subalpine habitat will lead to extinction of state listed marmots and federal candidate (and soon to be listed) mazama pocket gopher; diminishment of forage available for migratory elk, bear, deer, subalpine birds small animals and numerous other species. (Halofsky et al. 2011).
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
The exotic flora of the park includes species with the potential to degrade habitat for the native plants and animals in habitats including riparian/aquatic areas, non-forested uplands, and forests. Invasive plant species in waterways and lakes are impacting the ability of endangered fish species to reproduce successfully. Knotweed and reed canarygrass in Lake Ozette are clogging up the gravels used by Lake Ozette sockeye to spawn. Noxious weeds are also becoming established along the gravelly shores of Lake Crescent, with similar potential impacts to the two endangered fish species there.
. The park has increased staffing for treatment of invasive plants and enhanced coordination between working groups within the park and collaboration with partners including tribes, counties, and other federal agencies. However, at present the park’s resources are not adequate to treat all known occurrences of invasive, exotic plants. (Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010).
Invasion of some unpalatable species affect nutritional carrying capacity for some herbivore; localized impact in low elevation areas.
Fishing / Harvesting Aquatic Resources
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Intensive commercial and recreational harvest outside the park influence the number of adult salmonids that return to the park. Commercial gill-net fisheries exist at river mouths most weeks of the year and sport anglers come from around the world to fish in the park. Salmon destined for the park are also harvested in commercial and sport fisheries in the ocean from Alaska to California, including Canada. Additionally, hatchery fish pose threats to wild fish populations in the park. Federal, state, and tribal hatcheries annually release millions of hatchery fish in portions of rivers located outside park boundaries. The relatively conservative fisheries management regulations implemented by the park are not enough to minimize impacts to park resources. (NPCA 2004, Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010; Natural Resources Condition Assessment 2017)
Logging/ Wood Harvesting
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
The activity most relevant to this category of threat is illegal harvest inside the park of shrubs, ferns, and mosses for the floral trade. This incident is sporadic and localized; park law enforcement (LE) staff are aware of the problem and work to identify and respond to incidents, though LE staff reductions (50% in the past 5 years) impede management response to this threat.
A number of streams within the park are on the 3030(d) list due to elevated temperatures, turbidity, or biological indexes of integrity. Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010, Foundation Document 2017)
Low Threat
Most of the potential threats fall into the low threat category. The one exception is climate change, which will be gradual but from available data, a critical threat to the OUV of the park.
Other
High Threat
Inside site
Highway 101 lies very close to both Lake Crescent and the ocean coastline. It is heavily used by both recreational and commercial traffic with potential for runoff that contaminates adjacent waters.
Research to date has shown that automobile traffic on the highway adjacent to the lake is responsible for 5% of the annual total lake nitrogen inputs. And along this busy, commercial, route, the possibility of a major input of toxic material does exist.
Housing/ Urban Areas
Low Threat
Inside site
Outside site
Puget Sound is a rapidly growing urban area with increasing construction of primary residences and increasing demands for recreational areas. Localized high levels of human recreation lead to habituation of wildlife and food conditioning, leading to alteration in animal behavior and movement patterns. Effects of hunting on boundary areas and on migratory wildlife populations is minimal at present. Increased interest in cougar population management to increase elk harvest opportunities outside park is growing concern.
Tourism/ Recreation Areas
Low Threat
Inside site
Outside site
There are multiple sites in and adjacent to the park on which lodges and other tourism facilities, as well as staff offices and residences, have been built. They are generally well planned and managed, but never-the-less provide focal points for intense use with local resource degradation and exotic plant establishment sites.
Shipping Lanes
Low Threat
Outside site
Effect on sea otters, seabirds, (key nesting colonies on off shore islands) peregrine falcons and bald eagles occurred as a result of spills is 1988 and 1991. The potential for future oil spills continues to exist.
Other
Low Threat
Thought to be minimal because the adjacent marine sanctuary does not support fish farming at this time.
Roads/ Railroads
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Increasingly extreme flooding, due to climate change, is causing acute threats to park infrastructure, especially roads and culverts, and increases erosion well beyond traditional weather events.
For the period of this assessment cycle, we would assess the identified threats in the low threat category. In the longer term, as mentioned, both climate change and potential budget cuts may pose more serious threats.
Relationships with local people
Effective
Key stakeholders have been identified and are generally supportive of the park. For a variety of reasons there are individuals and small groups that oppose park and world heritage status. The park undertook a significant public consultation process in drafting its most recent management plan.
Legal framework
Some Concern
The legal framework under which the park is managed and protected is highly effective. The remaining law enforcement effort is generally effective, though law enforcement staff has been reduced by 50% over the past five years, and current and anticipated budget reductions will further limit the park’s ability to patrol and enforce park regulations. (Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010, Foundation Document 2017.
Enforcement
Some Concern
Law enforcement staff has been cut by 50% over the past five years, although this reduction is somewhat offset by existing reciprocal enforcement agreements with local county and state agencies.
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Effective
Integration into the regional and national park service planning systems is generally effective.
Management system
Highly Effective
The existing management system is highly effective. The development of the management plan / environmental impact statement for the park was the result of an almost 7 year process involving three public consultation periods and over 500 public comments resulting in a 15-20 year plan. http://parkplanning.nps.gov/PlanProcess.cfm?projectID=10233
Management effectiveness
Highly Effective
Management effectiveness is highly efficient.
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Highly Effective
The park has been responsive to Committee decisions for expanding boundaries and developing emergency response mechanisms for oil spills off the coast. See decisions 14COM VII.E, 15COM VIII, 16COVIII.
Boundaries
Effective
The resource protection effectiveness of the existing boundaries is improved by the surrounding U.S. Forest Service lands. Much of site’s OUV is well protected by the existing boundaries, but some resources, such as anadromous fish, are not protected over their full life cycle.
Several minor boundary adjustments (expansions) are proposed in the approved General Management Plan. This is off set by the removal of two parcels of land (both small) along the coast to allow local Indian tribes to relocate key facilities to sites above the tsunami exposure zone. (Olympic National Park General Management Plan 2010).
Sustainable finance
Some Concern
Annual budgets rise and fall with different administrations, but have generally been sufficient to maintain the site’s OUV.
Staff training and development
Some Concern
This relates directly to funding and the same pattern described above also fits this category.
Sustainable use
Effective
Sustainable use in the park is largely tourism and the programs designed to facilitate it. The level of tourism is presently sustainable, though some programs, i.e. education, are at risk from budget cuts. Some land management practices outside the park have previously been identified as potential threats, but are generally considered sustainable and consistent with maintaining the OUV.
Education and interpretation programs
Some Concern
Education and interpretations are frequently among the first to be reduced during tight fiscal times. To some extent the reduction in government programs is being offset by education provided by non-profit organizations within and around the park.
Tourism and visitation management
Some Concern
There is an increasing recognition in the region surrounding the park of the monetary value that park related tourism brings to the region. A portion of park entrance fees are returned to the park.
Monitoring
Highly Effective
Improving and effective.
Research
Highly Effective
About 80 research permits issued annually. There is a vibrant research program in park.
Highly effective at this time, but key concern is real potential of budget cuts which could compromise future efforts to protect and management park resources. Additionally, long term global warming patterns have the potential to importantly alter the character of the OUV.
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Effective
Assessment of the threats is generally effective, but there are many legal and fiscal restraints that limit the extent to which these threats can be mitigated.
Best practice examples
There are excellent best practice examples on display everywhere in the park. Two notable examples are the removal of the two Elwha river dams and re-introduction of native fisher.
World Heritage values

The Western Hemisphere’s largest stands of temperate rainforest

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
Appears stable and fairly resilient to changes impacting disturbed forest communities outside the park.

Remarkable combination of habitats

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
Due to global warming trend, glaciers are disappearing, sea levels are slowly rising, flood events, leading to erosion of river drainages, are becoming more frequent, as are drought cycles.

Glaciers

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
Due to global warming trend, glaciers are disappearing, sea levels are slowly rising, flood events, leading to erosion of river drainages, are becoming more frequent, as are drought cycles.

Diversity of flora and fauna which continues to evolve in a relative natural state

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
Generally stable, with localized impact from exotic plant invasions. Potential loss of some native species that are on the endangered list (see below).

Habitats of unmatched diversity on the Pacific coast

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
Due to global warming trend, glaciers are disappearing, sea levels are slowly rising, flood events, leading to erosion of river drainages, are becoming more frequent, as are drought cycles.

Endemic species associated with park’s isolation

High Concern
Trend
Stable
The Olympic Marmot and subalpine pocket gopher continue to decline, though endemic fish in Lake Crescent appear stable. Removal of two Elwha River dams is expected to boost anadromous fish populations in this river system. Some native fish are being crowded out by exotic species. Hatchery operations outside the park impact native fish stocks.

Wilderness coastline

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
Climate change, with associated sea level rises, and more frequent flood events in coastal drainages is expected to alter both the intertidal flora and fauna and coastal physiography.
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
Low Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
Assessment is generally positive at the present time. Within the parameters of normal fluctuation, most park resources are viewed as stable or improving. However, several endangered species continue to decline and off site activities continue to limit the recovery of anadromous fish stocks.
Looking to the future, on-going climate change poses the most serious threat to the OUV of the site. Particularly notable will be the loss of sub-alpine habitat, glaciers and more frequent flooding and other weather related events.
Assessment of the current state and trend of other important biodiversity values
Low Concern
Trend
Data Deficient
Some listed species, notably the marbled murrelet and spotted owl continue to decline, while native fishers have been re-introduced to the park. Some salmon runs are threatened by activities

Additional information

Outdoor recreation and tourism
A major element and critical justification for the park, as previously described.
Importance for research
This includes contrasting the character of largely pristine environments with disturbed areas outside park boundaries, as well as monitoring long term trends such as global warming
Contribution to education
Educating targeting visitors, local and regional students, and offering a source of academic study to scientist from a wide variety of disciplines
Outdoor recreation and tourism
It is estimated that visitation to the park, directly and indirectly, generates over 150 million dollars in regional income, supporting several thousand jobs.
The presence of a major national park on the Olympic Peninsula, coupled with the higher recognition for Olympic NP due to the world heritage site designation, have continued to greatly enhance the local economy, provide ample spaces for healthful outdoor recreation for all visitors, and builds strong public support for the park.
Organization/ individuals Project duration Brief description of Active Projects
1 Park staff Restoration of Elwha River watershed following removal of two dams (now in progress)
2 Park staff Monitor and assess endangered Native American sites, especially along the park coastline
3 Park staff Inventory and Monitoring program that is assessing 9 vital indicators
4 Park staff/contract and university associated scientists Process and manage approximately 80 research projects annually
5 Park staff Skokomish river anadromous fish restoration following modification of hydro dam structures to allow more effective fish passage
6 park staff From: 2018
To: 2020
NPS will complete compliance work in 2017, with a Record of Decision expected to be signed in December, for a 3 year project to remove the non-native mountain goat population from the park, relying primarily on live capture and relocation to US Forest Service lands in the Cascade Mountains, where the goats are native.
7 park staff From: 2018
To: 2025
Park staff will continue to remove invasive Barred Owls that have moved into endangered Spotted Owl habitat in the park. While the few remaining pairs of Spotted Owls in the park may well not survive, no recovery plan can be undertaken while the more aggressive Barred Owls are present in the park.
8 park staff & university scholars Final approval will be given in 2017 to the park's Natural Resources Condition Assessment, which has already completed peer review.
Site need title Brief description of potential site needs Support needed for following years
1 Park and United States Geologic Survey staff Continue to investigate feasibility and logistics of re-introducing extirpated wolf population

References

References
1 http://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/nccn/index.cfm
2 http://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/nccn/reportspubs.cfm
3 http://science.nature.nps.gov/research/ac/search/iars/IarSe…
4 http://www.nature.nps.gov/publications/NRPM/index.cfm
5 http://www.nps.gov/olym/parkmgmt/olympic-fun-facts.htm
6 http://www.nwparkscience.org/
7 https://irma.nps.gov/Appp/Portal/Home
8 Aubry et al. (2011). Climate Change and Forest Biodiversity: A Vulnerability Assessment and Action Plan for National Forests in Western Washington, USDA Forest Service, PNW Region.
9 Halofsky et al., editors (2011). Adapting to Climate Change at Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, USDA Forest Service, PNW Region, General Technical Report, PNW-GTR-844
10 McCaffery, R., K. Jenkins, and A. Woodward (Eds.). In Review. Olympic National Park: Natural Resource Condition assessment. Natural Resource Report NPS/OLYM/NRR—2017/XXX. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Duda, J. J., and S. J. Brenkman. In Review. Chapter 4.4: Salmon Stocks. Pages 138-185 in McCaffery, R., Jenkins, K., and Woodward, A. (eds.) Olympic National Park: Natural Resource Condition Asessment. Natural Resource Report NPS/OLYM/NRR—2017/XXX. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.
11 National Park Service (2010). Olympic National Park General Management Plan Summary Presentation.
12 National Park Service (2011). Olympic National Park Mountain Goat Action Plan. http://www.nps.gov/olym/parkmgmt/upload/Mountain-Goat-ACTIO…
13 National Parks and Conservation Association (2004). State of the Parks, Olympic National Park: A Resource Assessment.
14 Olympic National Park Foundation Document, 2017