Alberta-British Columbia foothills forests

This ecoregion occupies the Rocky Mountain foothills in western Alberta and a small section of east central British Columbia. Two disjunct geographic areas comprise this ecoregion.

Mean annual temperature ranges from -0.5°C in the north to 2°C in the southern region. Mean summer temperature ranges from 13°C in the north to 15°C in the south, and mean winter temperature ranges significantly, from -17.5C in the north to -10C in the south. Annual precipitation is even throughout the entire ecoregion (400-600mm). This climate is classified as boreal southern Cordilleran (ESWG 1995).

The foothills of the Western Alberta Upland rise above the plains, and are mainly linear ridges, rolling plateau remnants, and broad valleys. Higher elevations range from 700-1500 m asl. The Clear Hills Upland in the north has elevations in the range of 550-1050 m asl, and has steep slopes, some rolling plateau remnants, and broad, gently undulating valleys (ESWG 1995).

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    46,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Biological Distinctiveness
Vegetation is characterized by mixed forests of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and white spruce (Picea glauca), with balsam poplar (P. balsamifera), paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and balsam fir (Abies balsamifera). Aspen and open stands of lodgepole pine occur on drier sites; black spruce (P. mariana) and tamarack (Larix laricina) are associated with wet sites. The Alberta/British Columbia Foothills Forests are transitional, marking mixed vegetation between boreal and Cordilleran vegetation. Fire is probably the most important disturbance regime, although seasonal and year-to-year changes in precipitation will also alter species assemblages (ESWG 1995).

Beaver (Castor canadensis), black bear (Ursus americanus), moose (Alces alces), muskrat (Ondatra zibethica), wolf (Canis lupus), snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), spruce grouse (Dendragapus canadensis) and waterfowl are characteristic of this ecoregion (ESWG 1995).

Among rare ecological and evoutionary phenomena are some of the highest population densities of moose in North America, and a variety of eastern warbler species (Parulinae) that reach their northwestern limits in North America here. In addition, Halfway Valley is a major migration stopover for migrating sandhill cranes. The northern portion of this ecoregion contains an area known as the Chinchauga Hills, which contains two subspecies of caribou (Ranigfer tarandus), one a mountain subspecies and the other a woodland subspecies.

Conservation Status

Habitat Loss
There is virtually no completely undisturbed habitat in this ecoregion. Most of the ecoregion was ranked as ‘altered’ with a smaller portion ranked as ‘heavily altered’.

A variety of extensive human use is prevalent in this ecoregion, including logging, agricultural expansion from the south that is converting aspen forests to cereal and hay crops, livestock grazing in community pastures, intensive seismic exploration, and pipelines.

Remaining Blocks of Intact Habitat
There are no completely unaltered large habitat blocks. The largest site with the least diturbance appears to be the Chinchauga Hills.

Degree of Fragmentation
Agriculture, roads and logging have fragmented the ecoregion. To a lesser extent, an extensive network of seismic lines creates divisions, but their narrow character is less disruptive to some species than roads. They do, however, create opportunities for increased access to otherwise more remote areas.

Degree of Protection

•Goose Mountain Ecological Reserve - western Alberta - 12.46 km2
•Whitecourt Mountain Natural Area - western Alberta - 5.44 km2
Types and Severity of Threats
Much of the territory in this ecoregion has been allocated to various kinds of industrial resource uses several times over. Forestry, oil and gas, and agriculture combine to place a high human demand on the landscape. Predator control of ‘nuisance’ animals, or under the guise of wildlife management, is a serious threat to both grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) and wolf (Canis lupus) populations in this ecoregion. The caribou populations in the Chinchauga Hills are severely threatened due to habitat loss and degradation.

Suite of Priority Activities to Enhance Biodiversity Conservation

•Protect the Chinchauga Hills
•Protect riparian habitats throughout the ecoregion.
Conservation Partners

•Alberta Wilderness Association
•Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society,Calgary/Banff Chapter
•Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Edmonton Chapter
•The Nature Conservancy, Alberta
•World Wildlife Fund Canada
Relationship to other classification schemes
The Western Alberta Upland (TEC 145 and 146) occurs as two separate areas in west-central Alberta. The small, southern region extends into the foothills, and the larger area crosses into British Columbia. The Clear Hills Upland, which comprises the northern section of the Foothills Forests (TEC 137), spans the British Columbia-Alberta boundary north of the Peace River district (Ecological Stratification Working Group 1995). This ecoregion falls within the Lower and Upper Foothills sections of the Boreal forest region (19a and 19c) (Rowe 1972).

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