Posted May 15, 1980 | Categories : Logging old-growth,SARA |



George W. Douglas

Douglas Ecological Consultants Ltd.

2049 Crescent Road

Victoria, B.C. V8S 2G9


Alpine vegetation in British Columbia has received little attention from scientists and land managers. Unfortunately, most of the work that has been done remains unpublished and generally unavailable in thesis or report form. In some instances (i.e., Brink 1959, 1964; McLean 1970; Welsh and Rigby 1971; van Ryswyk and Okazaki 1979; and others), even though the authors spent time in the alpine zone and indicate in their papers that they are going to describe alpine plant communities or vegetation, no quantitative or qualitative data or specific plant communities are given. This makes it extremely difficult or often impossible to document the plant communities of an alpine area and therefore characterize general features such as wildlife, soils or mesoclimate.

This paper will review studies pertaining to plant communities in the alpine zone (or that area above trees or krummholz) of British Columbia and immediately adjacent regions (see Table 1). Studies in adjacent regions are included since more work has been conducted in the latter than inside British Columbia and since all the study areas are within several kilometers of the border most of the plant communities may be expected to occur within British Columbia. The occurrence of these plant communities in established or proposed ecological reserves is also documented (Table 1).

In southwestern British Columbia alpine vegetation studies have been conducted by Archer (1963) in Garibaldi Provincial Park, by Eady (1971) on Big White Mountain (Cascade Range) and by Douglas (1973) and Douglas and Bliss (1977) in the Skagit Range and Similkameen-Ashnola River drainages (Cascade Range). A small productivity study, involving four plant communities, was also done in the Garibaldi and Ashnola areas by Brink et al. (1972). Extensive work has also been carried out in the Cascade Range of adjacent Washington (Douglas and Ballard 1971; Douglas 1971, 1973; Douglas and Bliss 1977; Douglas and Taylor 1978).

The most intensively studied alpine region in Canada has been in the southern Rocky Mountains, especially in Alberta. Studies in British Columbia include the work of Kuchar (1978) in Yoho National Park. In adjacent Alberta numerous studies have been carried out in Banff National Park (Beder 1967, Bryant 1968, Bryant and Scheinberg 1970, Broad 1973, Knapik et al. 1973, Trottier 1972, and Waterton National Park (Kuchar 1973, Douglas et al. 1975). Ogilvie (1976) reviewed and summarized many of the alpine plant communities of the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Farther north, in Jasper National Park, alpine vegetation studies have been conducted by Hrapko (1970), Kuchar (1975), Crack (1977) and Hrapko and La Roi (1978). In the northern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia wildlife, soils and related vegetation were studied in the alpine zone on Nevis Mountain by Brink et al. (1972), Luckhurst (1973) and Lord and Luckhurst (1974). Raup (1934), in a phytogeographic study of the Liard and Peace River regions, mentions a single alpine plant community from Mount Selwyn.

In northwestern British Columbia the only alpine vegetation studies are those of Pojar (1976) in the Spatsizi Plateau area and Douglas (1977, 1979, 1980a) in the Haines Road area (St. Elias Mountains). Douglas (1980b) has also carried out extensive alpine studies in the St. Elias Mountains of the adjacent Yukon Territory. In north-central British Columbia a small study was conducted by Polster (1975).

A second objective of this paper is to establish a framework for the future establishment of ecological reserves in British Columbia. The vast size and the markedly varying climate of the province results in a remarkably high diversity of alpine flora and fauna – a diversity that few other regions possess. After examination of the existing knowledge of the alpine flora and vegetation of the province, a physiographic framework has been constructed that includes at least the minimum variation of the alpine vegetation (Figure l – unavailable for printing). This physiographic framework subdivides the province into 14 major


alpine regions within which the vegetation varies to a degree which would be readily recognizable. This subdivision is a modification or further subdivision of the three major physiographic systems proposed by Holland (1964).


1. Archer, A.C. 1963. Some synecological problems in the alpine Garibaldi Park. M.S. thesis. Univ. British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. 129 p.

2. Beder, K. 1967. Ecology of the alpine vegetation of Snow Creek Valley, Banff National Park, Alberta. M.S. thesis, Univ. of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta. 243 p.

3. Brink, V.C. 1959. A directional change in the forest-heath ecotone in Garibaldi Park, British Columbia. Ecology 40: 10-16.

4. Brink, V.C. 1964. Plant establishment in the high snowfall alpine and subalpine regions of British Columbia. Ecology 45: 431-438.

5. Brink, V.C., A. Luckhurst, and D. Morrison. 1972. Productivity estimates from alpine tundra in British Columbia. Can. J. Plant Sci. 52: 321-323.

6. Broad, J. 1973. Ecology of alpine vegetation at Bow Summit, Banff National Park. M.Sc. Thesis, Univ. Calgary, Calgary, Alta.

7. Bryant, J.P. 1968. Vegetation and frost activity in an alpine fellfield on the summit of Plateau Mountain, Alberta. M.Sc. Thesis, Univ. Calgary, Calgary, Alta.

8. Bryant, J.R., and E. Scheinberg. 1970. Vegetation and frost activity in an alpine fellfield on the summit of Plateau Mountain, Alberta. Canadian J. Bot. 48: 751-772.

9. Crack, S.N. 1977. Flora and vegetation of Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park, Alberta. M.S. Thesis, Univ. of Calgary. 284 pp.

10. Douglas, G.W. 1971. An ecological survey of potential Natural Areas in the North Cascades National Park complex. Intercampus educational and scientific Preserves Committee, Washington State Universities. 137 pp.

11. Douglas, G.W. 1973. Alpine plant communities of the North Cascades Range, Washington and British Columbia. Ph.D. thesis. Dept. Bot., Univ. Alberta. 145 pp.

12. Douglas, G.W. 1977. Vegetation. In Environmental Impact Statement, Shakwak Highway Improvement, British Columbia and Yukon, Canada. Dept. of Public Works, Canada and U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

13. Douglas G.W. 1979. Vegetation. In Shakwak Highway project reclamation program formulation. I. Technical report of soil and plant community types and reclamation materials and methods suitable for use in segments one to eight. Dept. of Public Works, Canada.

14. Douglas, G.W. 1980a. The flora of the Haines Road region, north western British Columbia. B.C. Prov. Mus. Occas. Paper.

(In press).

15. Douglas, G.W. 1980b. Vegetation. In Biophysical inventory studies of Kluane National Park. Parks Canada, Winnipeg.


16. Douglas, G.W., and T.M. Ballard. 1971. Effects of fire on alpine plant communities in the North Cascades, Washington.

Ecology 52: 1058-1064.

17. Douglas, G.W., and L.C. Bliss. 1977. Alpine and high subalpine plant communities of the North Cascades Range, Washington and British Columbia. Ecol. Monogr. 47: 113-150.

18. Douglas, G.W., J.A.S. Nagy, and G.W. Scotter. 1975. Effects of human and horse trampling on natural vegetation, Waterton

Lakes National Park. Can. Wildl. Ser., Edmonton. 129 pp.

19. Douglas, G.W., and R.T. Taylor. 1978. Plant ecology and natural history of Chowder Ridge, Mt. Baker: A potential alpine research Natural Area in the western North Cascades. Northwest Sci. 52: 35-50.

20. Eady, K. 1971. Ecology of the alpine and timberline vegetation of Big White Mountains, British Columbia. Ph.D. thesis.

Univ. British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. 239 pp.

21. Holland, S.S. Landforms of British Columbia: A physiographic outline. B.C. Dept. of Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Bull. 48. 138 pp.

22. Hrapko, J.0. 1970. An ecological study of the alpine plant communities on Signal Mountain, Jasper National Park.

M.S. thesis. Univ. Alberta, Edmonton, Alta. 283 pp.

23. Hrapko, J.O., and G.H. La Roi. 1978. The alpine tundra vegetation of Signal Mountain. Jasper National Park. Can. J. Bot. 56: 309-332.

24. Knapik, L.J., G.W. Scotter, and W.W. Pettapiece. 1973. Alpine soil and plant community relationships of the Sunshine Area, Banff National Park. Arct. Alp. Res. 5: A161-A170.

25. Kuchar, P. 1973. Habitat types of Waterton Lakes National Park. Parks Canada, Calgary. 301 pp.

26. Kuchar, P. 1975. Alpine tundra communities and Dryas octopetala ssp. hookeriana in the Bald Hills, Jasper National Park, Ph.D. Thesis, Univ. Alta., Edmonton, Alta.

27. Kuchar, P. 1978. The vegetation of Yoho National Park. Parks Canada, Calgary. 382 pp.

28. Lord, T.M., and A.J. Luckhurst. 1974. Alpine soils and plant communities of a stone sheep habitat in northeastern British Columbia. Northwest Sci: 48: 38-51.

29. Luckhurst, A. 1973. Stone sheep and their habitat in the northern Rocky Mountain foothills of British Columbia. M.S. Thesis, Univ. British Columbia.

30. McLean, A. 1970. Plant communities of the Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, and their relationships to soils. Ecol. Monogr. 40: 403-424.

31. Ogilvie, R.T. 1976. The alpine and subalpine in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Alpine and Subalpine Environments. Eds. H.A. Luttmerding and J.A. Shields, Resource Analysis Branch, B.C. Ministry of the Environment. 33-48.

32. Pojar, J. (no date). Vegetation and some plant-animal relationships of Ecological Reserve 468, Gladys Lake. Ecological Reserves Unit, Dept. of Environment, Victoria, B.C.


33. Polster, D.F. 1975. Vegetation of talus slopes on the Liard Plateau, British Columbia. B.Sc. Thesis, Univ. Victoria.

34. Raup, H.M. 1934. Phytogeographic studies in the Peace and upper Liard River regions, Canada. Contrib. Arnold Arbor. VI. 230 pp.

35. Roemer, H.L. 1975. Ecological impact of recreational use in the Magog Area, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Parks Branch, B.C. Department of Recreation and Conservation.

36. Trottier, G.C. 1972. Ecology of the alpine vegetation of Highwood Pass, Alberta. M.Sc. Thesis, Univ. Calgary, Calgary, Alta.

37. Welsh, S.L., and J.K. Rigby. 1971. Botanical and physiographic reconnaissance of northern British Columbia. Brigham Young Univ. Sci. Bull. Biol. Ser. 15. 49 pp.

38. Rysyck, A.L., and R. Okazaki. 1979. Genesis and classification of modal subalpine and alpine soil pedons of south-central British Columbia. Arct. Alp. Res. 11: 53-67.