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Special Types of Wildlife Habitat

Special habitat types are found in the following places.

Lava Flows and Rocklands

This barren habitat includes exposed rock, lava flows, mountain massif, and is often mapped as barren in landcover maps. It includes three ecological systems:


Caves can provide important areas for many species of wildlife, although they are best known for supporting bats. Caves are not nearly as widespread or common in Oregon as in many eastern or southwestern states, yet they are quite diverse. Most are volcanic in Oregon, lava tubes and openings, including Malheur Cave. Limestone caves occur at the Oregon Caves National Monument, and lava tubes and caves can be found throughout the Cascades and Columbia Plateau. Large rockfalls made an unusual network of underground cavities have near Carver, while ocean erosion created our famous Sea Lion caves.

Coastal Dunes and Beaches

Coastal beaches, open sand dunes, dune wetlands (including deflation plain wetlands and estuaries in dunes), shrublands and forests occur all along the coast. The largest areas are along the central Oregon coast between Coos Bay and Florence, most in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Extensive dunes also occur below the Columbia River, at Sand Lake, at Pistol River, and just north of the California border. They include four ecological systems:

Cliffs and Canyons

Cliffs and canyons can be extremely important for many wildlife, while providing critical nesting sites for some. They occur throughout the state, and vary with the geography and vegetation. Because of the diversity of Oregon's landscapes, there are 7 cliff or canyon ecological systems in Oregon:


Talus areas are those with total cover of loose, unstable, medium sized rocks, and limited vegetation. They provide unique habitat for salamanders, invertebrates and other species. They often occur in a matrix with forests, canyons, cliffs, wetlands, and sometimes shrublands, and can be difficult to map. Indeed, none of the statewide habitat maps show these, generally including talus slopes in the cliff and canyon ecological systems, or the forest ecological systems in which they are embedded. However, talus habitats in the Columbia River Gorge are mapped to show populations of the Larch Mountain salamander.

Inland Dunes and Sand

These are active or partially stabilized sand dunes in the arid regions of the western U.S. Shifting sand, patches of shrubs and sand adapted bunchgrasses make up the usually sparse vegetation. This system includes dry areas near major rivers, such as Bruneau Dunes and Boardman dunes, where the river-sand based habitats support sagebrush and bitterbrush. It also includes closed basin, or lakes basin dunes, with finer, alkaline sands supporting salt-bush, greasewood and other salt desert dune shrubs. It is all included in the Intermountain Basins Active and Stabilized Dune ecological system.

Deserts, Playas and Ash Beds

In southeastern Oregon, there are areas receiving less than 7 inches of rain annually. Some barren areas are seasonally flooded, forming barren, white, alkaline playas, the largest of which is the Alvord Desert. These have spring blooms typical of deserts, yet are barren most of the year. These also include extensive areas dominated by exposed ash and tuff, which support annual and desert shrubs, but generally have very sparse vegetation. These may get more rain, but the ash keeps the habitats open. This habitat includes three ecological systems:

Authored by Jimmy Kagan, INR Information Program Manager (2008)