Natural History

Eastern Washington’s shrub-steppe ecosystems are state treasures with a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Upland vegetation is dominated by sagebrush and grasslands or “steppe” with wildflowers adding seasonal color.  The uplands support a complete food chain, from small plants with assorted insects to birds, rodents, reptiles, herbivores and carnivores.

Less than half of the original shrub-steppe habitat/ecosystems remain in Washington.  What does remain is often fragmented or degraded.  The Coulee Corridor Consortium along with other organizations are committed to working together to maintain these habitats for future generations.

Riparian zones provide habitat for invertebrates, waterfowl, shore birds, songbirds, raptors, neo-tropical migrant birds and various plants such as willows.   Almost all species use the riparian zones at some time during the year. Fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates and a wide variety of plant species are at home in the water.  At the very bottom of the aquatic food chain are microscopic plants and animals called plankton and zooplankton.

Among the representative vegetation that can be observed along the Grand Coulee includes arrow leaf balsam root, bitterroot, black greasewood, blue bunch wheatgrass, bristly Nootka rose, common camas, common rabbit brush, common yarrow, coyote willow, tern-leaved lomatium, giant wild rye, golden currant, goldenweed, gray ball sagebrush, Hood’s phlox, Hooker’s balsam root, Idaho fescue, Indian paintbrush, needle-and-thread grass, nine-leaved lomatium, northern antelope brush, pink fairies, starvation cactus, Rocky Mountain iris, rush, sagebrush violet, Sandberg’s blue grass, scarlet gilia, shaggy daisy, few flowered shooting start, stiff sagebrush, tall sagebrush, Thomson’s paintbrush,  buckwheat, tapertipped onion, Wyeth’s lupine, and yellow nutgrass.

Representative fauna that can be observed throughout this area include a variety of birds, mammals, snakes,  fish ,reptiles and amphibians and invertebrates.  Among the birds are the American avocet, American kestrel, burrowing owl, cinnamon teal, common poorwill, ferruginous hawk, golden eagle,  bald eagle, loggerhead shrike, sage grouse, sage sparrow, and sharp-tailed grouse.  Mammals include badgers, coyote, mule deer, Ord’s kangaroo rat, pygmy rabbit, sagebrush vole, Townsend’s ground squirrel, and white-tailed rabbit.  Fish include largemouth bass, leopard dace, rainbow trout, redside shiner, and speckled dace. Reptiles and  amphibians include the Great Basin spadefoot, northern leopard frog,  tiger salamander and the western rattle snake, common garter snake, rubber boa,   and gopher snake.  Invertebrates are the centipede, green hairstreak butterfly, Jerusalem cricket, palli-winged grasshopper, scorpion, small flat diving beetle and viceroy butterfly.