Alberta Mountain forests

This ecoregion lies almost wholly within Alberta but hugs the Alberta-British Columbia border from Banff northward to Jasper and Kakwa.

Mean annual temperature in the Eastern Continental Ranges is 2.5°C, mean summer temperature is 12°C and mean winter temperature is -7.5°C. Precipitation increases from east to west with elevation, from 600-800mm per year. Valley regions are marked by warm, dry summers and mild, snowy winters, and subalpine areas have cool, showery summers and cold, snowy winters (ESWG 1995).

This region covers the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, incorporating the eastern flanks of the Continental Ranges. The major peaks cluster around the Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains. The ranges themselves are linear with great cliffs and precipitous faces of thick sections of gray carbonate strata, and peaked by rock outcrops (ESWG 1995).

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    15,400 square miles
  • Status
    Relatively Stable/Intact
  • Habitats

Biological Distinctiveness
Vegetation in this ecoregion is composed of alpine and subalpine ecosystems characterized by mixed forests of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), and alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). Alpine fir is found at higher elevations. Alpine vegetation is also characterized by heather (Ericaceae) with sedges (Carex spp.) and mountain avens (Dryas hookeriana) on warmer sites (ESWG 1995).

Wildlife of this region includes bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), elk (Cervus elaphus), black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus), wolf (Canis lupus), grizzly and black bear (Ursus arctos and U. americanus), caribou (Rangifer tarandus), and mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus). The ecoregion exhibits a high diversity of large mammals (ESWG 1995).

Conservation Status

Habitat Loss
Approximately 80 percent of this region was considered to remain as intact habitat. Major road corridors in valley lands with major outdoor recreation facilities and town sites are primarily responsible for loss of habitat.

Remaining Blocks of Intact Habitat

•Banff and Jasper National Parks - southwestern Alberta
•Willmore Wilderness - Kakwa - western Alberta and eastern British Columbia
Degree of Fragmentation
Road and travel corridors in the major valleys impedes large carnivore and other wildlife movement.

Degree of Protection

•Jasper National Park - southwesthern Alberta - 10,878 km2
•Banff National Park - southwestern Alberta - 6,641 km2
•Willmore Provincial Wilderness Park - western Alberta - 4,596.71 km2
•Kakwa Provincial Park - southeasern British Columbia - 1,276.90 km2
•Whitegoat Provincial Wilderness Area - 444.57 km2
•Bugaboo Alpine Provincial Park - southeastern British Columbia - 249.12 km2
•Ghost River Provincial Wilderness Area - southwestern Alberta - 153.17 km2
•Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve - southwestern Alberta - 32.04 km2
Types and Severity of Threats
Expansion of road systems and recreational activities pose a major threat. A recent review (1996) of Banff National Park has recommended major changes to recreational and town site development in the park which would re-dress some of the habitat loss in this ecoregion over the long term. These recommendations have generally been accepted by the federal government. Attempts are also underway to begin adding structural elements to the trans-Canada highway, which passes through Banff National Park, to lower wildlife-auto collisions, although the highway is also under going a major expansion. New coal mining adjacent to Jasper National Park is a threat to the integrity of this protected area.

Suite of Priority Activities to Enhance Biodiversity Conservation

•No net increase in town site size in the major protected areas.
•Increase control of recreation activities; limit access to trails and close off parts of the trail networks on a seasonal basis to provide less disturbance (and interaction) with wildlife such as grizzly bears.
Conservation Partners

•Banff/Bow Valley Naturalists
•Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society,Calgary/Banff Chapter
•World Wildlife Fund Canada
Relationship to other classification schemes
This ecoregion covers the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, incorporating the eastern portion of the continental Ranges (TEC 207) (ESWG 1995). The forests of this region cover the Subalpine East Slope Rockies (1), Montane Douglas-fir and Lodgepole Pine (5) and Tundra (Rowe 1972).

Prepared by: D. Demarchi, R. Usher, K. Kavanagh, M. Sims, G. Mann.