The ecological classification of Alberta is a hierarchical classification structure starting at a broad scale of Natural Regions, subregions, and ecosections.
Ecological classification hierarchy
Alberta plant communities are classified (in descending scale (large to small)) under:
- natural regions
Forest natural regions are further subdivided by:
- ecological site
- ecological site phase
Grassland natural regions are further subdivided by:
- range site
- ecological range site
The plant community is the lowest level of classification hierarchy for both grassland and forested regions and it is the scale at which range management planning occurs.
There is further information on ecological site phases or range sites outlined in these spatial datasets:
- Derived Ecosite Phase (DEP): available on landscapes with Alberta Vegetation Inventory (AVI)
- Grassland Vegetation Inventory (GVI): covers the grassland natural region
- Primary Land and Vegetation Inventory: in development for landscapes without AVI or GVI coverage
To view ecological land cover datasets, see: Open Government Data. Search for “Derived Ecosite Phase”, “Grassland Vegetation Inventory” and “Primary Land and Vegetation Inventory.”
Ecological site and community guides
Alberta is divided into 6 natural regions and 21 natural sub-regions. Ecological site and range plant community guides are available for each sub-region.
Guides for each natural sub-region are hosted on: Open Government Publications. Search for “range plant community guide” or “ecological site guides”. The following links provide full PDF versions of the plant community guides. For printed and bound hard copies of the guides, please contact the relevant partner or rangeland specialist:
- Grassland Restoration Forum (Recovery Strategies Range Plant and Community Guides; [email protected]) for Dry Mixed, Mixed, Foothills Fescue and Northern Fescue,
- Rocky Mountain Forest Range Association ([email protected]) for Montane, Subalpine, Foothills Parkland and Upper and Lower Foothills guides.
- Please contact either Craig Demaere (403-627-1131) or Donna Lawrence (780-674-8301) regarding availability of printed guides for other natural subregions.
Range plant community guides
- Central Mixedwood
- Central Parkland
- Dry Mixedgrass
- Dry Mixedwood
- Foothills Fescue
- Foothills Parkland
- Lower Foothills
- Northern Fescue
- Peace Parkland
- Subalpine and Alpine
- Upper Foothills
Ecological site guides
- Athabasca Plain
- Boreal Subarctic
- Kazan Upland
- Lower Boreal Highlands
- Lower Foothills
- Northern Mixedwood
- Upper Boreal Highlands
- Upper Foothills
Range managers determine the number of livestock a site can support for a specific time period. This is called the stocking rate. It is a balance between:
- the livestock’s monthly forage needs
- plant production
- site ecology
Ecologically Sustainable Stocking Rates (ESSR)
The ESSR is used to allocate grazing on Alberta's public rangelands. It represents the recommended number of livestock that can graze a given area for a specific time period, expressed as an Animal Unit Month (AUM), while maintaining ecosystem health and function.
The range plant community guides describe ESSR's. Each plant community has a unique ESSR depending on site conditions and plant productivity. Carrying Capacity is the combined ESSR for plant communities in a given area.
Range survey manuals
AEP uses various survey methods to collect plant community information needed to allocate grazing on public rangelands. They are outlined in these documents:
- Guide to Completing the Range Management Form
- Methodology for Calculating Carrying and Grazing Capacity on Public Rangelands
- Range Inventory Manual
Range Inventory Manual for Forest Reserve Allotments and Grazing Leases within Rocky Mountain, Foothills, Parkland and Grassland Natural Regions.
Connect with the local rangeland management branch office:
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