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Scientific Name: Northern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna
Unique Identifier: CES306.030

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Summary: This inland Pacific Northwest ecological system occurs in the foothills of the northern Rocky Mountains in the Columbia Plateau region and west along the foothills of the Modoc Plateau and eastern Cascades into southern interior British Columbia. These woodlands and savannas occur at the lower treeline/ecotone between grasslands or shrublands and more mesic coniferous forests typically in warm, dry, exposed sites. Elevations range from less than 500 m in British Columbia to 1600 m in the central Idaho mountains. Occurrences are found on all slopes and aspects; however, moderately steep to very steep slopes or ridgetops are most common. This ecological system generally occurs on glacial till, glacio-fluvial sand and gravel, dune, basaltic rubble, colluvium, to deep loess or volcanic ash-derived soils, with characteristic features of good aeration and drainage, coarse textures, circumneutral to slightly acidic pH, an abundance of mineral material, rockiness, and periods of drought during the growing season. In the Oregon "pumice zone" this system occurs as matrix-forming, extensive woodlands on rolling pumice plateaus and other volcanic deposits. These woodlands in the eastern Cascades, Okanagan and northern Rockies regions receive winter and spring rains, and thus have a greater spring "green-up" than the drier woodlands in the central Rockies. Pinus ponderosa (primarily var. ponderosa) is the predominant conifer; Pseudotsuga menziesii may be present in the tree canopy but is usually absent. In southern interior British Columbia, Pseudotsuga menziesii or Pinus flexilis may form woodlands or fire-maintained savannas with and without Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa at the lower treeline transition into grassland or shrub-steppe. The understory can be shrubby, with Artemisia tridentata, Arctostaphylos patula, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Cercocarpus ledifolius, Physocarpus malvaceus, Purshia tridentata, Symphoricarpos oreophilus or Symphoricarpos albus, Prunus virginiana, Amelanchier alnifolia, and Rosa spp. common species. Understory vegetation in the true savanna occurrences is predominantly fire-resistant grasses and forbs that resprout following surface fires; shrubs, understory trees and downed logs are uncommon. These more open stands support grasses such as Pseudoroegneria spicata, Hesperostipa spp., Achnatherum spp., dry Carex species (Carex inops), Festuca idahoensis, or Festuca campestris. The more mesic portions of this system may include Calamagrostis rubescens or Carex geyeri, species more typical of Northern Rocky Mountain Dry-Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest (CES306.805). Mixed fire regimes and surface fires of variable return intervals maintain these woodlands typically with a shrub-dominated or patchy shrub layer, depending on climate, degree of soil development, and understory density. This includes the northern race of Interior Ponderosa Pine old-growth (USFS Region 6, USFS Region 1). Historically, many of these woodlands and savannas lacked the shrub component as a result of 3- to 7-year fire-return intervals.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: Hot, dry Douglas-fir types with grass are included here. Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland (CES306.648) and Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Savanna (CES306.649) contain mostly Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum and Pinus arizonica var. arizonica (= Pinus ponderosa var. arizonica). The FRIS site describes different varieties of Pinus ponderosa and associated species. Johansen and Latta (2003) have mapped the distribution of the two varieties using mitochondrial DNA. They hybridize along the Continental Divide in Montana backing up the FRIS information. Another ponderosa pine system remains to be defined and described for the woodlands and savannas occurring in central and eastern Montana and the Black Hills region. These "northwestern Great Plains ponderosa pine woodlands" are likely to have a floristic component that is more northern Great Plains mixedgrass in nature, as well as being open woodlands generally found in a grassland matrix. Further work is need to identify the geographic and conceptual boundaries between Northern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna (CES306.030) and the northwestern Great Plains system.

Meeting of Pacific Northwest ecologists for Landfire concluded that the "true savanna" of high-frequency / low-intensity fires and grassy understories is now minimally in existence. Most areas that may have been savanna in the past are now more nearly closed-canopy woodlands/forests. Conclusion was that these true savannas should be included with this woodland system, rather than with the climatically-edaphically controlled Northern Rocky Mountain Foothill Conifer Wooded Steppe (CES306.958). Hence, the "true fire-maintained savanna" is included in this woodland system.

Louisa Evers (pers. comm. 2006) notes that she has not found any evidence that ponderosa pine savanna existed historically in north-central and central Oregon. In north-central Oregon, the savanna would have been oak or pine-oak. In central Oregon, it may well have been western juniper. Condition surveys of the Cascades Forest Reserve and General Land Office survey notes suggest that ponderosa pine formed a woodland with grassy understories, but still was often referred to as open-parklike. Conversely pine-oak and Douglas-fir-oak savannas appeared to have once been quite common in the Willamette Valley (and are classified in North Pacific Oak Woodland (CES204.852)).

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES206.918 California Montane Jeffrey Pine-(Ponderosa Pine) Woodland
CES303.650 Northwestern Great Plains-Black Hills Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna
CES306.648 Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland
CES306.649 Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Savanna

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL000061 Pinus ponderosa / Arctostaphylos patula - Arctostaphylos viscida Forest
CEGL000062 Pinus ponderosa / Arctostaphylos patula - Ceanothus velutinus Woodland
CEGL000063 Pinus ponderosa / Arctostaphylos patula - Purshia tridentata Woodland
CEGL000064 Pinus ponderosa / Ceanothus velutinus - Purshia tridentata Woodland
CEGL000180 Pinus ponderosa / Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana / Poa nervosa Woodland
CEGL000181 Pinus ponderosa / Calamagrostis rubescens Forest
CEGL000182 Pinus ponderosa / Carex geyeri Woodland
CEGL000184 Pinus ponderosa / Elymus glaucus Forest
CEGL000187 Pinus ponderosa / Mahonia repens Forest
CEGL000189 Pinus ponderosa / Physocarpus malvaceus Forest
CEGL000193 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Carex inops ssp. inops Forest
CEGL000194 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Carex rossii Woodland
CEGL000195 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Festuca idahoensis Woodland
CEGL000197 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Pseudoroegneria spicata Woodland
CEGL000198 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Achnatherum occidentale Woodland
CEGL000200 Pinus ponderosa / Ribes montigenum Woodland
CEGL000202 Pinus ponderosa / Spiraea betulifolia Forest
CEGL000203 Pinus ponderosa / Symphoricarpos albus Forest
CEGL000205 Pinus ponderosa / Symphoricarpos oreophilus Forest
CEGL000206 Pinus ponderosa / Wyethia mollis Woodland
CEGL000207 Pinus ponderosa - Pseudotsuga menziesii / Pseudoroegneria spicata ssp. inermis Woodland
CEGL000845 Pinus ponderosa / Artemisia arbuscula Woodland
CEGL000857 Pinus ponderosa / Festuca idahoensis Woodland
CEGL000859 Pinus ponderosa / Juniperus communis Woodland
CEGL000865 Pinus ponderosa / Pseudoroegneria spicata Woodland
CEGL000879 Pinus ponderosa / Hesperostipa comata Woodland
CEGL000900 Pseudotsuga menziesii / Festuca idahoensis Woodland
CEGL000901 Pseudotsuga menziesii / Festuca campestris Woodland
CEGL000908 Pseudotsuga menziesii / Pseudoroegneria spicata Woodland
CEGL001033 Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana / Achnatherum occidentale Shrubland
CEGL002606 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Carex geyeri Woodland
CEGL005646 Pinus ponderosa / Cercocarpus ledifolius Central Rocky Mountain Woodland
CEGL005841 Pinus ponderosa / Vaccinium caespitosum Woodland


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
Ridge/Summit/Upper Slope  
Very Shallow Soil  
Mineral: W/ A-Horizon <10 cm  
Sand Soil Texture  
Intermediate Disturbance Interval Periodicity/Polycyclic Disturbance
F-Patch/Medium Intensity  
Needle-Leaved Tree  
Pinus ponderosa with grassy understory  
Pinus ponderosa with shrubby understory  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Montane Montane
Montane Lower Montane
Forest and Woodland (Treed)  
Temperate Temperate Continental
Circumneutral Soil  
F-Landscape/Low Intensity  
Short (50-100 yrs) Persistence  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Arcangeliella lactarioides
  (a fungus)
Astragalus pulsiferae var. suksdorfii
  (Ames' Milkvetch)
Chaenactis thompsonii
  (Thompson's Pincushion)
Cortinarius wiebeae
  (a fungus)
Crataegus phippsii
  (Phipps' Hawthorn)
Delphinium lineapetalum
  (Thin-petal Larkspur)
Delphinium viridescens
  (Wenatchee Larkspur)
Deroceras hesperium
  (Evening Fieldslug)
Driloleirus americanus
  (Giant Palouse Earthworm)
Hygrophorus caeruleus
  (a fungus)
Lomatium cuspidatum
  (Wenatchee Desert-parsley)
Oreohelix sp. 1
  (Chelan Mountainsnail)
Penstemon barrettiae
  (Barrett's Beardtongue)
Penstemon eriantherus var. whitedii
  (Crested-tongue Beardtongue)
Perideridia erythrorhiza
  (Red-root Yampah)
Prophysaon sp. 1
  (a terrestrial slug)
Rana pretiosa
  (Oregon Spotted Frog)
G2 LT: Listed threatened
Rhizopogon atroviolaceus
  (a fungus)
Sidalcea oregana var. calva
  (Oregon Checker-mallow)
G5T1 LE: Listed endangered
Silene seelyi
  (Seely's Silene)
Trifolium thompsonii
  (Thompson's Clover)
Valeriana columbiana
  (Wenatchee Valerian)

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Crataegus phippsii G2 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy      
Pinus ponderosa G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa T5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Symphoricarpos albus G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Artemisia tridentata G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Ceanothus velutinus G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Purshia tridentata G4 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
Astragalus pulsiferae var. suksdorfii T2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Chaenactis thompsonii G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Delphinium lineapetalum G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Delphinium viridescens G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Lomatium cuspidatum G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Penstemon barrettiae G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Penstemon eriantherus var. whitedii T2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Perideridia erythrorhiza G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Sidalcea oregana var. calva T1 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Silene seelyi G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Stenanthium occidentale G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Trifolium thompsonii G3 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Valeriana columbiana G2 Flowering forb Herb (field)      
Calamagrostis rubescens G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Carex geyeri G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Carex rossii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Arcangeliella lactarioides G2 Non-plant Nonvascular      
Cortinarius wiebeae G2 Non-plant Nonvascular      
Hygrophorus caeruleus G3 Non-plant Nonvascular      
Rhizopogon atroviolaceus G2 Non-plant Nonvascular      

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Crotalus oreganus
  (Western Rattlesnake)
Deroceras hesperium
  (Evening Fieldslug)
Driloleirus americanus
  (Giant Palouse Earthworm)
Neotamias amoenus
  (Yellow-pine Chipmunk)
Oreohelix sp. 1
  (Chelan Mountainsnail)
Pituophis catenifer
Prophysaon sp. 1
  (a terrestrial slug)
Rana pretiosa
  (Oregon Spotted Frog)
G2 LT: Listed threatened    
Sceloporus graciosus
  (Sagebrush Lizard)

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: ID, MT, NVpotentially occurs, OR, WA, WY
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: BC
Global Range: This system is found in the Fraser River drainage of southern British Columbia south along the Cascades and northern Rocky Mountains of Washington, Oregon and California. In the northeastern part of its range, it extends across the northern Rocky Mountains west of the Continental Divide into northwestern Montana, south to the Snake River Plain in Idaho, and east into the foothills of western Montana.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
204-North American Pacific Maritime C: Confident or certain
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
10 Wyoming Basins Confident or certain
26 Northern Great Plains Steppe Possible
33 Central Mixed-Grass Prairie Possible
4 Modoc Plateau and East Cascades Confident or certain
6 Columbia Plateau 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
2 Oregon Coastal Range Confident or certain
7 Cascade Mountain Range Confident or certain
8 Grande Coulee Basin of the Columbia Plateau Confident or certain
9 Blue Mountain Region Confident or certain
10 Northwestern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
18 Snake River Plain Predicted or probable
19 Northern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
20 Missouri River Plateau Possible
22 Wyoming Basin Never was there
30 Northwestern Great Plains Possible

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 4240
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1053
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2053

West Landfire Legend: Yes
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 14Jan2014
Element Description Author(s): M.S. Reid, C. Chappell and R. Crawford

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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  • Reid, M. S., K. A. Schulz, P. J. Comer, M. H. Schindel, D. R. Culver, D. A. Sarr, and M. C. Damm. 1999. An alliance level classification of vegetation of the coterminous western United States. Unpublished final report to the University of Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and National Gap Analysis Program, in fulfillment of Cooperative Agreement 1434-HQ-97-AG-01779. The Nature Conservancy, Western Conservation Science Department, Boulder, CO.

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