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Classification
Scientific Name: Rocky Mountain Subalpine Dry-Mesic Spruce-Fir Forest and Woodland
Unique Identifier: CES306.828
Classification Confidence: 2 - Moderate

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Summary: Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir forests comprise a substantial part of the subalpine forests of the Cascades and Rocky Mountains from southern British Columbia east into Alberta, and south into New Mexico and the Intermountain region. They also occur on mountain "islands" of north-central Montana. They are the matrix forests of the subalpine zone, with elevations ranging from 1275 m in its northern distribution to 3355 m in the south (4100-11,000 feet). They often represent the highest elevation forests in an area. Sites within this system are cold year-round, and precipitation is predominantly in the form of snow, which may persist until late summer. Snowpacks are deep and late-lying, and summers are cool. Frost is possible almost all summer and may be common in restricted topographic basins and benches. Despite their wide distribution, the tree canopy characteristics are remarkably similar, with Picea engelmannii and Abies lasiocarpa dominating either mixed or alone. Pseudotsuga menziesii may persist in occurrences of this system for long periods without regeneration. Pinus contorta is common in many occurrences, and patches of pure Pinus contorta are not uncommon, as well as mixed conifer/Populus tremuloides stands. In some areas, such as Wyoming, Picea engelmannii-dominated forests are on limestone or dolomite, while nearby codominated spruce-fir forests are on granitic or volcanic rocks. Upper elevation examples may have more woodland physiognomy, and Pinus albicaulis can be a seral component. What have been called "ribbon forests" or "tree islands" by some authors are included here; they can be found at upper treeline in many areas of the Rockies, including the central and northern ranges in Colorado and the Medicine Bow and Bighorn ranges of Wyoming. These are more typically islands or ribbons of trees, sometimes with a krummholz form, with open-meadow areas in a mosaic. These patterns are controlled by snow deposition and wind-blown ice. Xeric species may include Juniperus communis, Linnaea borealis, Mahonia repens, or Vaccinium scoparium. In the Bighorn Mountains, Artemisia tridentata is a common shrub. More northern occurrences often have taller, more mesic shrub and herbaceous species, such as Empetrum nigrum, Rhododendron albiflorum, and Vaccinium membranaceum. Disturbance includes occasional blowdown, insect outbreaks and stand-replacing fire. Mean return interval for stand-replacing fire is 222 years as estimated in southeastern British Columbia.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: It has been proposed to split out the tree island or ribbon forests of high timberline in the drier mountain ranges of north-central Colorado, southern Wyoming and north-central Wyoming (the Bighorns) into a new Southern Rocky Mountain Parkland system. With further discussion, this may be implemented, but for now these areas are still included in this existing system.

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES306.805 Northern Rocky Mountain Dry-Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest
CES306.820 Rocky Mountain Lodgepole Pine Forest
CES306.830 Rocky Mountain Subalpine Mesic-Wet Spruce-Fir Forest and Woodland


Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL000298 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Arnica cordifolia Forest
CEGL000299 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Arnica latifolia Forest
CEGL000301 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Calamagrostis rubescens Forest
CEGL000303 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Carex siccata Forest
CEGL000304 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Carex geyeri Forest
CEGL000305 Abies lasiocarpa / Carex rossii Forest
CEGL000311 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Galium triflorum Forest
CEGL000312 Abies lasiocarpa / Jamesia americana Forest
CEGL000313 Abies lasiocarpa / Lathyrus lanszwertii var. leucanthus Forest
CEGL000315 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Linnaea borealis Forest
CEGL000318 Abies lasiocarpa / Mahonia repens Forest
CEGL000319 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Menziesia ferruginea Forest
CEGL000321 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Moss Forest
CEGL000323 Abies lasiocarpa / Osmorhiza berteroi Forest
CEGL000324 Abies lasiocarpa / Paxistima myrsinites Woodland
CEGL000325 Abies lasiocarpa / Pedicularis racemosa Forest
CEGL000326 Abies lasiocarpa / Physocarpus malvaceus Forest
CEGL000329 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii Tree Island Forest
CEGL000333 Abies lasiocarpa / Packera sanguisorboides Forest
CEGL000335 Abies lasiocarpa / Spiraea betulifolia Forest
CEGL000337 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Symphoricarpos albus Forest
CEGL000340 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Vaccinium caespitosum Forest
CEGL000341 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Vaccinium membranaceum Rocky Mountain Forest
CEGL000343 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Vaccinium myrtillus Forest
CEGL000344 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Vaccinium scoparium Forest
CEGL000346 Abies lasiocarpa / Xerophyllum tenax Forest
CEGL000355 Picea engelmannii / Arnica cordifolia Forest
CEGL000360 Picea engelmannii / Clintonia uniflora Forest
CEGL000362 Picea engelmannii / Leymus triticoides Forest
CEGL000364 Picea engelmannii / Erigeron eximius Forest
CEGL000366 Picea engelmannii / Geum rossii Forest
CEGL000368 Picea engelmannii / Hypnum revolutum Forest
CEGL000373 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Polemonium pulcherrimum Forest
CEGL000377 Picea engelmannii / Trifolium dasyphyllum Forest
CEGL000379 Picea engelmannii / Vaccinium myrtillus Forest
CEGL000381 Picea engelmannii / Vaccinium scoparium Forest
CEGL000406 Picea (engelmannii x glauca, engelmannii) / Clintonia uniflora Forest
CEGL000919 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii / Juniperus communis Woodland
CEGL000924 Abies lasiocarpa / Saxifraga bronchialis Scree Woodland
CEGL000925 Abies lasiocarpa Scree Woodland
CEGL000985 Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii Krummholz
CEGL002174 Picea engelmannii / Galium triflorum Forest
CEGL002689 Picea engelmannii / Linnaea borealis Forest
CEGL005856 Chamerion angustifolium Rocky Mountain Meadow
CEGL005925 Picea engelmannii / Juniperus communis Forest



Classifiers

Land Cover Class: Forest and Woodland
Spatial Pattern: Matrix
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Montane Upper Montane
Forest and Woodland (Treed)  
Acidic Soil  
Ustic  
Very Long Disturbance Interval Seasonality/Summer Disturbance
F-Patch/High Intensity  
F-Landscape/High Intensity  
Needle-Leaved Tree  
Abies lasiocarpa - Picea engelmannii  
RM Subalpine Mesic Spruce-Fir  
Long (>500 yrs) Persistence  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Montane Montane
Ridge/Summit/Upper Slope  
Sideslope  
Temperate Temperate Continental
Mesotrophic Soil  
Shallow Soil  
Mineral: W/ A-Horizon >10 cm  
W-Patch/Medium Intensity  
W-Landscape/Low Intensity  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Botrychium ascendens
  (Upward-lobed Moonwort)
G3  
Chaenactis thompsonii
  (Thompson's Pincushion)
G3  
Pinus albicaulis
  (Whitebark Pine)
G3G4 C: Candidate
Valeriana columbiana
  (Wenatchee Valerian)
G2G3  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
acter-
istic
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Abies lasiocarpa G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Picea engelmannii G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Pinus contorta G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Rhododendron albiflorum G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Vaccinium myrtillus G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Vaccinium scoparium G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Arnica cordifolia G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Chaenactis thompsonii G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Valeriana columbiana G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
 
 
Botrychium ascendens G3 Fern (Spore-bearing forb) Herb (field)      
 
 
Calamagrostis rubescens G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 


Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
eristic
Exotic
Erethizon dorsatum
  (North American Porcupine)
G5      
Lepus americanus
  (Snowshoe Hare)
G5      
Mustela erminea
  (Ermine)
G5      
Myodes gapperi
  (Southern Red-backed Vole)
G5      


Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: AZ, CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WA, WY
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: AB, BC
Global Range: This system is found in the Cascades and Rocky Mountains from southern interior British Columbia east into Alberta, south into New Mexico and the Intermountain region. This type tends to be very limited in the northern Oregon Cascades.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
304-Inter-Mountain Basins C: Confident or certain
306-Rocky Mountain C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
11 Great Basin Confident or certain
20 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
21 Arizona-New Mexico Mountains Confident or certain
26 Northern Great Plains Steppe Confident or certain
4 Modoc Plateau and East Cascades Confident or certain
68 Okanagan Confident or certain
7 Canadian Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
8 Middle Rockies - Blue Mountains Confident or certain
9 Utah-Wyoming Rocky Mountains Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
1 Northern Cascades Confident or certain
6 Sierra Nevada Mountain Range Possible
7 Cascade Mountain Range Confident or certain
9 Blue Mountain Region Confident or certain
10 Northwestern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
12 Western Great Basin Confident or certain
15 Mogollon Rim Confident or certain
16 Utah High Plateaus Confident or certain
17 Eastern Great Basin Confident or certain
18 Snake River Plain Confident or certain
19 Northern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
20 Missouri River Plateau Confident or certain
21 Middle Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
22 Wyoming Basin Confident or certain
23 Colorado Plateau Predicted or probable
24 Navajo Plateau Predicted or probable
25 Rio Grande Basin Confident or certain
27 Great Plains Tablelands Confident or certain
28 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
29 Wyoming Highlands Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 4242
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1055
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2055

West Landfire Legend: Yes
East Landfire Legend: No

Authors/Contributors
Element Description Edition Date: 25Jan2007
Element Description Author(s): R. Crawford, M.S. Reid, C. Chappell and G. Kittel

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


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