Alberta Mountain forests

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Natural Resource Management & Policy (main)

The Alberta Mountain forests ecoregion lies entirely within Canada and almost fully within the province of Alberta, but hugs the Alberta-British Columbia border from Banff northward to Jasper and Kakwa. The ecoregion is classified within the Temperate Coniferous Forests biome.

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 and also with elevation, from 600-800 millimetres (mm) 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.


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 Icefield 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.

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 Eight-petaled mountain avens (Dryas hookeriana) on warmer sites.

249px-Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.jpg Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. @ Richard D. Huseth


Mammalian wildlife of this region includes Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), Elk (Cervus elaphus), Black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus), Gray wolf (Canis lupus), Grizzly and Black bear (Ursus arctos and U. americanus), Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), and Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus). The ecoregion exhibits a rather high diversity of large mammals.


A considerable number of bird species are found in the Alberta Mountain forests, including: Rusty blackbird (Euphagus carolinus NT); Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii VU); Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana); and Golden crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa).


There are only two reptilian species present in the Alberta mountains forests: Western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) and the Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).


There are merely four amphibian taxa present within this ecoregion, namely: Long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) and the anuranAn amphibian that has limbs but no tail (includes all frogs and toads) species Western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) and Wood frog (Rana sylvatica).

Conservation Status

Habitat Loss

Approximately eighty percent of this ecoregion is considered to be intactThe condition of an ecological habitat being an undisturbed or natural environment habitat. Major road corridors in valley lands with major outdoor recreation facilities and town sites are primarily responsible for loss of habitat.

249px-Gray wolf.jpg Gray wolf. @ Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences and CalPhotos

Remaining Blocks of Intact Habitat

The largest areas of intactThe condition of an ecological habitat being an undisturbed or natural environment habitat within the ecoregion are:

  • Banff and Jasper National Parks - southwestern Alberta
  • Willmore Wilderness - Kakwa - western Alberta and eastern British Columbia

Degree of Fragmentation

Roadway and other human travel corridors in the major valleys impede large carnivore and other wildlife movement.

Extent of Protection

The following summarises the areal extent of major protected areas in the ecoregion:

  • Jasper National Park - southwesthern Alberta - 10,878 square kilometers (km2)
  • Banff National Park - southwestern Alberta - 6641 km2
  • Willmore Provincial Wilderness Park - western Alberta - 4596.71 km2
  • Kakwa Provincial Park - southeasern British Columbia - 1276.90 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

Ecological Threats

Expansion of road systems and recreational activities pose a major ongoing threat. An earlier review of Banff National Park recommended major changes to recreational and town site development in the park, which would mitigate somehabitat loss in this ecoregion over the long term. These recommendations have generally been accepted by the Canadian federal government. Attempts are also underway to begin adding structural elements to the trans-Canada highway, which passes through Banff National Park, to reduce wildlife-auto collisions, although the highway is also undergoing a major expansion. Coal mining adjacent to Jasper National Park is a potential threat to the integrity of this protected area.

Banff.jpg Spectacular Alberta Mountain forest at Banff, Alberta, Canada. Source: Saikat Basu, own work.

Priority Activities to Enhance Biodiversity Conservation

  • Governmental agencies should write no grazing leases for below market rates, in order to discourage impairment of marginal rangelands.
  • 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 , designated as NA0501 by the World Wildlife Fund, covers the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, incorporating the eastern portion of the continental Ranges (TEC 207). The forests of this region cover the Subalpine East Slope Rockies (1), Montane Douglas-fir and Lodgepole Pine (5), and Tundra (Biome).

Neighboring ecoregions


  • Daryl W. Fedje, James M. White, Michael C. Wilson, D. Erle Nelson, John S. Vogel, John R. Southon. 1995. Vermilion Lakes Site: Adaptations and Environments in the Canadian Rockies during the Latest Pleistocene and Early Holocene. American Antiquity 60 (1): 81–108.
  • Mark Hebblewhite, Daniel H. Pletscher and Paul C. Paquet. 2002. Elk population dynamics in areas with and without predation by recolonizing wolves in Banff National Park, Alberta. Canadian Journal of Zoology 80 (5): 789–799.
  • Neil L. Jennings. 2010. In Plain Sight: Exploring the Natural Wonders of Southern Alberta. Rocky Mountain Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-897522-78-3
  • W. F. Lothian. 1987. A Brief History of Canada's National Parks. Environment Canada. ISBN 0-662-15217-4.
Disclaimer: This article contains some information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.


World Wildlife Fund & C. Michael Hogan (2015). Alberta Mountain forests. ed. Mark McGinley. Encyclopedia of Earth. NCSE. Washington DC. Retrieved from