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Pacific Northwest

 The northwestern part of the United States is known as the Pacific Northwest.  Its boundaries are imprecise: the Pacific coast states of Washington and Oregon are always included, with Idaho a common addition.  Extreme western Montana, near Missoula, is also sometimes included. 

A broader view of the region leads to the inclusion of the southwestern British Columbia. This broader view may relate to the region's modern origins in the former Oregon Country.

In ecology, the Pacific Northwest is restricted to the high rainfall, mild winter coastal region with an oceanic climate, from Kodiak Island in Alaska south to northwest California, but not extending more than 50-100 km inland.

Landscape in Oregon Country, by Charles Marion Russell
Landscape in Oregon Country, by Charles Marion Russell


During the colonial period, various claims to the Pacific Northwest were made by Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The United States established a claim following the exploration of the region by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From the 1810s until the 1840s, modern-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana, along with most of British Columbia, were part of the Oregon Country, which was jointly administered by the United States and the United Kingdom. John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company was the de facto local political authority for most of this time.

This arrangement ended when increased settlement caused the US government to move toward controlling the region directly. After a war scare with the United Kingdom, the two nations negotiated the 1846 Oregon Treaty partitioning the region along the 49th parallel. British Columbia, the UK portion, joined the Dominion of Canada in 1871. The US portion became the Oregon Territory; it was later subdivided into territories that were eventually admitted as states.


The Pacific Northwest is dominated by several mountain ranges, including the Coast Ranges, the Cascade Range, and the Rocky Mountains. Because of plentiful rainfall and a relatively low population density, it has:

  • some of North America's most extensive forests;
  • more than its share of aluminium refineries (because electric power is plentiful and inexpensive).

The major cities of Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle all began as sea ports supporting the logging, mining, and farming industries of the region, but have developed into major technological and industrial centers that benefit from their proximity to Asia.

Miscellaneous facts

The Pacific Northwest is the least church-going part of the United States, yet it is home to four international charities, three of which are faith-based:

The fourth is Mercy Corps.

The Cascadia is a proposed name for an independent state that would unite British Columbia, Washington State, and Oregon, each seceding from their respective federal governments in Ottawa and Washington DC. Its boundaries would incorporate those of the existing province and states. It would, according to its proponents, also include coastal Northern California and Alaska.

Regions of the United States
Census Bureau Regions
U.S. Midwest | U.S. Northeast | U.S. South | U.S. West
Non-Census Bureau Regions
Coastal states | Deep South | Delmarva | East | Eastern Seaboard | Gulf States | Great Lakes States | International Border states | Mid-Atlantic | Mississippi Delta | Mountain States | New England | North | Pacific Northwest | the Plains States | South Central States | Southeast | Southwest | Upper Midwest | West Coast

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45