Boreal Forest exists as a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees across North America and Eurasia. Overlying formerly
glaciated areas as well as areas of patchy
permafrost on both continents; the forest is
a mosaic of plant
and animal communities amid varying environmental conditions. This region may also be referred to as
the Coniferous Forest or the Taiga, which is actually the Russian name for the
same type of forest that covers so much of that country as well. However, the term is used in North America
as well where the boreal ecozone extends from Alaska to Newfoundland, bordering the tundra to the north and touching the Great Lakes to the south.
The Boreal Forest Natural Region is the largest in
Alberta. It consists of broad lowland plains and extensive hill systems. The bedrock is buried deeply
beneath glacial deposits and outcrops occur only rarely along major
stream valleys. Major surficial features are moraines in the
uplands, and glaciofluvial and
glaciolacustrine deposits in the
lowlands. The land generally slopes to the north and east but the
most prominent highlands are located in the northern part of the Region.
The landscape in this particular region is
covered almost entirely by trees, with aspen and balsam poplar
dominating the evergreens. In the northernmost areas evergreens form a seemingly endless carpet, broken only by water in the form of fens,
bogs, lakes and rivers. Inside the Boreal Forest of Alberta are extensive expanses of
aspen parkland in the Grande Prairie, Peace River and Fort Vermilion areas. There are also four major river systems that drain most of Alberta's north country.
The presence of extensive wetlands is a major characteristic of the
Boreal Forest Natural Region as well.
The Boreal Forest Natural Region is very diverse
topographically, climatically and biologically. Many of the
changes are gradual and subtle which makes division into subregions difficult and seemingly arbitrary. However, the Boreal Forest may be divided
into six sub-regions based largely on distinctive climate, topography, soil and vegetation -
Dry Mixedwood, Central Mixedwood, Wetland
Mixedwood, Boreal Highlands,
Peace River Lowlands, and Subarctic.
much of this region is blanketed by trees, fire is a very real threat to
the region, particularly if the province experiences an unusually dry
summer. If conditions are too dry, fire is a crucial disturbance factor in the boreal
ecoregion. However, while forest fires can be very disruptive for
wildlife as well as local communities in the boreal region they are not
completely negative in terms of environmental impact. They can actually
facilitate the destruction of old, diseased trees along with the pests that are associated with those trees. Many animals are able to escape natural fires and some
trees such as aspen and jack pine actually require fires to stimulate their reproductive cycles. Furthermore, the nutrient-rich ash left behind helps fuel plant growth. A patchy mosaic of plant communities left in the wake of fire action provides
the variety required to sustain different species of wildlife.
Although the human population in this ecozone is relatively sparse, there are many small communities that rely on various resource extraction industries such as
mining. These activities have had severe impacts on many
areas and these will face increasing pressure for resource exploitation in the coming years. For generations, the boreal forest has also been home to
First Nations people including the Cree, Métis, Dene, and Athabascan. Traditional Aboriginal
lifestyles are also deeply tied to the continued existence of wildlife.
Information provided by and printed with the permission of Alberta
Community Development, Parks
and Protected Areas.