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:

  1. natural regions
  2. sub-regions
  3. eco-sections

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:

Range plant community guides

Ecological site guides

Stocking rates

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:


Connect with the local rangeland management branch office:

Donna Lawrence
Phone: 780-674-8301
Email: [email protected]

Craig Demaere
Phone: 403-627-1131
Email: [email protected]

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