Rocky Mountain/ Foothills Forests Introduction
These forests also equate to Alberta's Eastern Slopes: the high elevation, high precipitation area of western Alberta which serves as the water catchment for most of Alberta, as well as large parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.For example, 90 percent of the water in the South Saskatchewan River Basin comes from the foothills watersheds, which make up only 12 percent of the area of the river basin.
Three of Canada’s great rivers originate in the Rocky Mountain and Foothills Natural Regions: the Athabasca river rusn east and then north, joining with the Peace River in Wood Buffalo National Park to form the mighty Mackenzie River, which empties into the Arctic Ocean. The North and South Saskatchewan rivers join in Saskatchewan and flow east and north through Manitoba, emptying into the Hudson’s Bay.
Healthy forests serve an invaluable role in collecting, storing and filtering water, and slowly releasing it into creeks and rivers. In the past, management of these forested lands placed a firm priority on the production of a sustained and healthy water supply. In more recent years, this has arguable been superceded, so that the primary use of forests has become the production of a sustained supply of timber.
Rocky Mountain Region
The 49,000-km2 Rocky Mountain Region is divided into three subregions. Of these, the high-altitude Alpine Subregion is predominantly tree-free, but the Subalpine and Montane Subregions both include a significant treed component.
The Subalpine Subregion is characterized by closed lodgepole pine forests at lower elevations, grading to open stands of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir at higher elevations, with scattered stunted individuals and krummholz islands near treeline.
In the Montane Subregion, higher elevations are characterized by closed mixedwood and coniferous forests dominated by lodgepole pine. At lower elevations, the Montane comprises lodgepole pine, Douglas fir and aspen stands with open grasslands on southerly- and westerly- facing slopes.
The 66,500-km2 Foothills Region typically comprises rolling hills and plateaus with deciduous and mixedwood forests at lower elevations; and strongly rolling hills with coniferous forests at higher elevations. The Foothills Region is divided into two subregions: the Upper Foothills and the Lower Foothills.
“The boundary between the Lower and Upper Foothills Natural Subregions is reasonably well defined by a change in dominance from mixedwood and deciduous stands on all aspects in the Lower Foothills Natural Subregion to conifer-dominated forests in the Upper Foothills Natural Subregion” (Natural Regions and Subregions of Alberta, 2006).