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Scientific Name: Rocky Mountain Cliff, Canyon and Massive Bedrock
Unique Identifier: CES306.815
Classification Confidence: 2 - Moderate

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Summary: This ecological system of barren and sparsely vegetated landscapes (generally <10% plant cover) is found from foothill to subalpine elevations on steep cliff faces, narrow canyons, and smaller rock outcrops of various igneous (intrusives), sedimentary, and metamorphic bedrock types. It is located throughout the Rocky Mountains and northeastern Cascade Range in North America. Also included are unstable scree and talus slopes that typically occur below cliff faces. In general these are the dry sparsely vegetated places on a landscape. The biota on them reflect what is surrounding them, unless it is an extreme parent material. There may be small patches of dense vegetation, but it typically includes scattered trees and/or shrubs. Characteristic trees include species from the surrounding landscape, such as Pseudotsuga menziesii, Pinus ponderosa, Pinus flexilis, Populus tremuloides, Abies concolor, Abies lasiocarpa, or Pinus edulis and Juniperus spp. at lower elevations. There may be scattered shrubs present, such as species of Holodiscus, Ribes, Physocarpus, Rosa, Juniperus, and Jamesia americana, Mahonia repens, Rhus trilobata, or Amelanchier alnifolia. Soil development is limited, as is herbaceous cover.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: This has a very broad elevation range (<3350 m) for a system; consider dividing into foothills/montane and subalpine. And/or by floristic division. This is in the Okanagan and Rockies as the montane sparse. North Pacific Montane Massive Bedrock, Cliff and Talus (CES204.093) includes everything in the Cascades and west, except the northeastern Cascades, where occurrences are this system (CES306.815). Inter-Mountain Basins Cliff and Canyon (CES304.779) occurs in the dry foothills on the east side of EDC MapZone1.

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL000766 Pinus contorta Scree Woodland
CEGL000815 Pinus flexilis Scree Woodland
CEGL000876 Pinus ponderosa / Ribes inerme Scree Woodland
CEGL000890 Abies concolor - (Pseudotsuga menziesii) / Jamesia americana - Holodiscus dumosus Scree Woodland
CEGL000893 Picea engelmannii / Saxifraga bronchialis Scree Sparse Vegetation
CEGL000902 Pseudotsuga menziesii / Holodiscus dumosus Scree Woodland
CEGL000911 Pseudotsuga menziesii Scree Woodland
CEGL000918 Abies lasiocarpa / Holodiscus dumosus Scree Woodland
CEGL000922 Abies lasiocarpa / Salix brachycarpa Scree Woodland
CEGL000923 Abies lasiocarpa / Salix glauca Scree Woodland
CEGL000924 Abies lasiocarpa / Saxifraga bronchialis Scree Woodland
CEGL000925 Abies lasiocarpa Scree Woodland
CEGL000945 Populus tremuloides / Physocarpus malvaceus - Amelanchier alnifolia Scree Woodland
CEGL001124 Ribes cereum / Leymus ambiguus Shrubland
CEGL001134 Rubus idaeus Scree Shrubland
CEGL001812 Carex nardina Scree Alpine Meadow
CEGL001849 Athyrium americanum Alpine Sparse Vegetation
CEGL001930 Saxifraga rivularis Alpine Sparse Meadow
CEGL001948 Aletes anisatus - Scutellaria brittonii Scree Vegetation
CEGL001971 Heuchera bracteata - Heuchera parvifolia var. nivalis Rock Vegetation
CEGL002055 Pinus ponderosa Limestone Cliff Sparse Vegetation
CEGL002295 Granite - Metamorphic Black Hills Rock Outcrop Sparse Vegetation
CEGL002307 Scree - Talus Black Hills Sparse Vegetation
CEGL002783 Jamesia americana - (Physocarpus monogynus, Holodiscus dumosus) Rock Outcrop Shrubland
CEGL002801 Holodiscus dumosus Rock Outcrop Sparse Vegetation
CEGL002888 Alpine Sparse (on rock and unconsolidated substrates) Nonvascular Vegetation
CEGL005283 Igneous - Metamorphic Black Hills Butte Sparse Vegetation


Land Cover Class: Barren
Spatial Pattern: Large patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Cliff (Landform)  
Ridgetop bedrock outcrop  
Talus (Substrate)  
Rock Outcrops/Barrens/Glades  
Oligotrophic Soil  
Very Shallow Soil  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Montane Upper Montane
Montane Montane
Montane Lower Montane
Lowland Foothill
Temperate Temperate Continental
Long (>500 yrs) Persistence  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Populus tremuloides G5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Abies concolor G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Abies lasiocarpa G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Pinus edulis G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Pinus flexilis G4 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Pinus ponderosa G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Pseudotsuga menziesii G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Amelanchier alnifolia G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Jamesia americana G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Rhus trilobata G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Berberis repens G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Short shrub/sapling    

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: AKpotentially occurs, AZ, CO, ID, MT, NM, OR, TXpotentially occurs, UT, WA, WY
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: AB, BC
Global Range: This system is located throughout the Rocky Mountain, including the isolated island ranges of central Montana, and northeastern Cascade Ranges in North America.

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

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
20 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
21 Arizona-New Mexico Mountains Confident or certain
25 Black Hills Confident or certain
26 Northern Great Plains Steppe 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
7 Cascade Mountain Range Never was there
8 Grande Coulee Basin of the Columbia Plateau Possible
9 Blue Mountain Region Predicted or probable
10 Northwestern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
12 Western Great Basin Possible
15 Mogollon Rim Predicted or probable
16 Utah High Plateaus Confident or certain
17 Eastern Great Basin Confident or certain
18 Snake River Plain Predicted or probable
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 Confident or certain
24 Navajo Plateau Confident or certain
25 Rio Grande Basin Confident or certain
26 Chihuahuan Desert Confident or certain
27 Great Plains Tablelands Confident or certain
28 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
29 Wyoming Highlands Confident or certain
33 Western Great Plains Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 3129

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 04Apr2005
Element Description Author(s): M.S. Reid

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

  • Andrews, R. R., and R. R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds. Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver.

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Ecosystems Working Group. 1998. Standards for broad terrestrial ecosystem classification and mapping for British Columbia. Prepared by the Ecosystems Working Group, Terrestrial Ecosystem Task Force, Resources Inventory Committee, for the Province of British Columbia. 174 pp. plus appendices. []

  • Hess, K., and C. H. Wasser. 1982. Grassland, shrubland, and forest habitat types of the White River-Arapaho National Forest. Unpublished final report 53-82 FT-1-19. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, CO. 335 pp.

  • Larson, D. W., U. Matthes, J. A. Gerrath, N. W. K. Larson, J. M. Gerrath, C. Nekola, G. L. Walker, S. Porembski, and A. Charlton. 2000a. Evidence for the widespread occurrence of ancient forest on cliffs. Journal of Biogeography 27(2):319-331.

  • NCC [The Nature Conservancy of Canada]. 2002. Canadian Rockies ecoregional plan. The Nature Conservancy of Canada, Victoria, BC.

  • Neely, B., P. Comer, C. Moritz, M. Lammerts, R. Rondeau, C. Prague, G. Bell, H. Copeland, J. Humke, S. Spakeman, T. Schulz, D. Theobald, and L. Valutis. 2001. Southern Rocky Mountains: An ecoregional assessment and conservation blueprint. Prepared by The Nature Conservancy with support from the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management.

  • Peet, R. K. 1981. Forest vegetation of the Colorado Front Range. Vegetatio 45:3-75.

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Data last updated: November 2016