Plant and Animal Life
The vegetation of the Forest is made up of a largely undisturbed, second-growth stand. The Forest covers about 150 hectares (370 acres), with approximately one-third dominated by Douglas-fir on the higher ground, and two-thirds red alder on the lower, wetter portions. The Forest contains endangered, ecological features that are considered rare on both a regional and provincial level.
The Sunnyside Urban Forest has an abundant diversity of plants and animals. The most common tree species in the Forest are Douglas-fir, Western red cedar, and Western hemlock, as well as black cottonwood, red alder, paper birch and big leaf and vine maples. The understory includes a diverse array of shrubs such as salmonberry, thimbleberry, elderberry, huckleberry and Oregon grape. The lower layer of the understory includes lush sword ferns and many beautiful and sometimes rare finds such as trillium, rattlesnake plantain, Indian pipe and bleeding heart.
The extensive Douglas-fir stands are irregular with a scattering of branchy “veterans,” which survived fires and now stand among quite dense stems of post-fire origin. The vigorous shrub and fern understory is a seral stage in the forest’s development towards its eventual climax of cedar and hemlock. This development is related to the climate and soil of the Acres, and to the distribution of its wetter and dryer areas. Douglas-fir seedlings require exposure to light and mineral soil for successful establishment. Cedar and hemlock develop well in shade and inorganic soils. Already, there is a notable absence of Douglas-fir regeneration while cedar and hemlock seedlings and saplings are widespread.
Besides the Douglas-firs, there is a rare Black Cottonwood stand, as well as additional deciduous stands of red alder, birch, and big leaf maple. These occur on the wetter sites, most extensively in the south-west portion where Elgin Creek arises.
The diversity of plant life makes the Forest prime wildlife habitat, providing forage, thermal cover and concealment for a variety animals. Blacktailed deer, coyotes, Douglas squirrels and raccoons, range widely. Common throughout the Forest are small mammals such as mice, shrews and voles, and amphibians such as Pacific tree frogs and Northwestern and long-toed salamanders.
The Sunnyside Society and local naturalists have together identified over 70 bird species in the Forest at different times of the year. Not all are resident and some, such as the Turkey Vulture, have been seen only rarely. Anna’s humming birds and winter wrens are known to overwinter in the Forest. The Forest is also the headwaters of Elgin Creek, a salmonid-bearing stream, though the flow of surface water dries in the summer.