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Classification
Scientific Name: Northern Rocky Mountain Foothill Conifer Wooded Steppe
Unique Identifier: CES306.958

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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. It also occurs east across Idaho into the eastern foothills of the Montana Rockies. The system may also occur on the lower treeline slopes of the Wyoming Rockies. These wooded steppes occur at the lower treeline/ecotone between grasslands or shrublands and forests and woodlands, typically on warm, dry, exposed sites too droughty to support a closed tree canopy. This is not a fire-maintained system. The "savanna" character results from a climate-edaphic interaction that results in widely scattered trees over shrubs or grasses, and even in the absence of fire, a "woodland" or "forest" structure will not be obtained. 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 system can occur in association with cliff and canyon systems. It 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. These can also occur on areas of sand dunes, scablands, and pumice where the edaphic conditions limit tree abundance. Pinus ponderosa (vars. ponderosa and scopulorum) and Pseudotsuga menziesii are the predominant conifers (not always together); Pinus flexilis may be present or common in the tree canopy. In interior British Columbia, Pseudotsuga menziesii is the characteristic canopy dominant. In transition areas with big sagebrush steppe systems, Purshia tridentata, Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis, Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata, and Artemisia tripartita may be common in fire-protected sites such as rocky areas. Deciduous shrubs, such as Physocarpus malvaceus, Symphoricarpos albus, or Spiraea betulifolia, can be abundant in more northerly sites or more moist climates. Important grass species include Pseudoroegneria spicata, Poa secunda, Hesperostipa spp., Achnatherum spp., and Elymus elymoides.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: This is not a fire-maintained system; it occurs on sites too droughty to support a closed tree canopy. It does burn with a high-frequency / low-intensity regime, but fire is not carried because of the sparse vegetation of the edaphically constrained sites (rock outcrops, dunes, super-dry, sparse trees over shrubs and sometimes grasses but widely spaced). True "savannas" with grassy understories and high-frequency / low-intensity fires are now placed into Northern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna (CES306.030). Ponderosa woodlands and "steppes" in eastern Wyoming, eastern and central Montana, including the Missouri River Breaks, are now included in Northwestern Great Plains-Black Hills Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna (CES303.650). Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland (CES306.648) and Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Savanna (CES306.649) mostly contain Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum, Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa (= var. brachyptera), and Pinus arizonica var. arizonica (= Pinus ponderosa var. arizonica). The FRIS site describes different varieties of Pinus ponderosa and associated species. This ecological system of the northern Rockies is primarily Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa. Johansen and Latta (2003) have mapped the distribution of two varieties (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum and Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa) using mitochondrial DNA. They hybridize along the Continental Divide in Montana backing up the FRIS information.

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES303.650 Northwestern Great Plains-Black Hills Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna


Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL000178 Pinus ponderosa / Artemisia tridentata - Purshia tridentata Woodland
CEGL000179 Pinus ponderosa / Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis / Hesperostipa comata Woodland
CEGL000196 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Achnatherum hymenoides Woodland
CEGL000198 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata / Achnatherum occidentale Woodland
CEGL000214 Pinus ponderosa - Pseudotsuga menziesii / Purshia tridentata Woodland
CEGL000865 Pinus ponderosa / Pseudoroegneria spicata Woodland
CEGL000878 Pinus ponderosa Scree Woodland
CEGL000879 Pinus ponderosa / Hesperostipa comata Woodland
CEGL000909 Pseudotsuga menziesii / Purshia tridentata Woodland
CEGL005648 Pinus ponderosa / Purshia tridentata Central Rocky Mountain Woodland



Classifiers

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

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Woody-Herbaceous  
Shallow Soil  
Aridic  
Short Disturbance Interval  
F-Patch/Low Intensity  
F-Landscape/Low Intensity  
Needle-Leaved Tree  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
acter-
istic
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Pinus ponderosa G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa T5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum T5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Pseudotsuga menziesii G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
 
 
Physocarpus malvaceus G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Ribes lacustre G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Purshia tridentata G4 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Balsamorhiza sagittata G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Calamagrostis rubescens G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 
Pseudoroegneria spicata ssp. spicata T5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 


Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: ID, MT, 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 into the Modoc Plateau of California, and the northern Rocky Mountains of Washington and Oregon. In the northeastern part of its range, it extends across the northern Rocky Mountains west of the Continental Divide into northwestern Montana and south to the Snake River Plain in Idaho. In Oregon, it is most common in south-central Oregon, in lands managed by the Lakeview District of the BLM, and by the adjacent Fremont and Deschutes national forests. It also occurs on the marginal lands coming south out of the Blue Mountains, on the edge of the northern Basin and Range.

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 Confident or certain
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
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
12 Western Great Basin Possible
18 Snake River Plain Predicted or probable
19 Northern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
20 Missouri River Plateau Possible
21 Middle Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
22 Wyoming Basin Never was there
30 Northwestern Great Plains Never was there

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 5426
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1165
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2165

West Landfire Legend: Yes
East Landfire Legend: No

Authors/Contributors
Element Description Edition Date: 14Jan2014
Element Description Author(s): M.S. Reid 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).


References
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  • Landfire [Landfire National Vegetation Dynamics Database]. 2007a. Landfire National Vegetation Dynamics Models. Landfire Project, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior. (January - last update) [http://www.LANDFIRE.gov/index.php] (accessed 8 February 2007).

  • Littell, J. S., M. McGuire Elsner, L. C. Whitely Binder, and A. K. Snover, editors. 2009. The Washington climate change impacts assessment: Evaluating Washington's future in a changing climate. Executive summary. Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle. [www.cses.washington.edu/db/pdf/wacciaexecsummary638.pdf]

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  • Youngblood, A. P., and R. L. Mauk. 1985. Coniferous forest habitat types of central and southern Utah. General Technical Report INT-187. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. 89 pp.


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