Plant Communities and Habitats Affected by Recreation

Alpine and Subalpine Meadows

Alpine Meadow

The alpine areas of the province are found in high mountains above 2000 metres in the southeast, above 1650 metres in the southwest, above 1400 metres in the northeast, and above 1000 metres in the northwest.

These regions are treeless or nearly so, and the flora is mainly shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants, mosses, and lichens. Soil is often thin or nonexistent, and easily damaged. Natural processes work slowly in this environment and damage to habitat may take a long time to be naturally repaired.

Primary source of information:

Alpine Tundra Zone. 1991. J. Pojar and A.C. Stewart. In Ecosystems of British Columbia, edited by D. Meidinger and J. Pojar, pp. 263-274. B.C. Ministry of Forests, Victoria, BC. Available from: (PDF 33KB).


Riparian Ecosystems and Sensitive Wetlands

Riparian Ecosystems and Sensitive Wetlands

Riparian ecosystems are those areas adjacent to watercourses; they provide a transition zone between upland and aquatic ecosystems. The defining feature of the riparian environment is close proximity to water. In the drier parts of the province, the riparian zones are often the only places moist enough to support the growth of trees and shrubs. In much of the province, riparian zones are subject to flooding during spring runoff and winter rains.

Riparian ecosystems cover only a small portion of the forest land in a watershed, but because they are often more diverse and productive than upland areas, they provide critical wildlife habitat.

Forest riparian ecosystems have an important role in stabilizing streambanks, regulating stream temperature, and filtering out potentially harmful debris and pollutants. They produce a high diversity of plant species, which provide many opportunities to wildlife for nesting, feeding, hiding, roosting, and use as migration corridors.

Forest riparian ecosystems also are a source of large woody debris that falls into streams, providing structural stability, complexity, and nutrients to aquatic ecosystems.

Necessary permits and/or licences with specific legal conditions related to water must be obtained for road and trail development, commercial water use, sewage disposal, and water diversion for hydroelectric power development.

Primary sources of information:

Cottonwood Riparian Ecosystems of the Southern Interior (Ecosystems in British Columbia At Risk). 1997. B. Egan, C. Cadrin, and S. Cannings. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC. Available at (PDF 526KB)

Environmental Trends in British Columbia. 2000. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC. Available at: (PDF 4.92MB)

Riparian Ecosystems. 1995. A.K. Andrews, and G.T. Auble. In Our Living Resources: A Report to the Nation on the Distribution, Abundance, and Health of U.S. Plants, Animals, and Ecosystems edited by E.T. LaRoe, et al. National Biological Service, Washington, DC.


Wildlife Trees and Coarse Woody Debris

Wildlife Trees and Coarse Woody Debris

The importance of wildlife trees (what used to be called “snags” or “dead standing trees”) and coarse woody debris (also called “downed wood”) in the conservation of biodiversity cannot be underestimated. More than 80 species of wildlife in B.C.—many of which are Red- and Blue-listed species—make their homes in wildlife trees or fallen, rotting wood. These species include:

Primary cavity excavators – birds, such as woodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, and chickadees that excavate their own nest holes in trees.

Secondary cavity users – species such as owls, salamanders, and squirrels that cannot excavate their own cavities but rely on natural cavities or abandoned nest holes for nesting and denning sites, shelter, and food storage.

Downed wood is a “savings account” of nutrients. As downed wood decays, nutrients are recycled back into the soil. Fallen logs also stabilize soils and reduce erosion by wind, rain, and melting snow.

As well as being a source of food and energy, downed wood may be a safe place to hide from predators, or to breed, or to shelter from heat, cold, and storms. Loose bark and cracks in decaying wood are safe hiding places for salamanders, skinks, voles, shrews, and shrewmoles. Hollow logs provide shelter for bears, raccoons, weasels, hares, and woodrats. Amphibians, snakes, voles, and mice burrow into well rotted, disintegrating logs to nest or hid. Large logs help stabilize stream channels and create a series of pools alternating with rapidly flowing water. Some birds, such as Harlequin Ducks, use streamside logs for breeding sites.

Fallen logs are also excellent nurseries for plants. “Nurse logs” can provide greater warmth, longer snowfree periods, less competition from other plants, more moisture, and sometimes more nutrients than the surrounding forest. Soil and other organic matter that tend to gather uphill behind fallen logs also create rich, sheltered growing sites.

In estuaries, downed wood enriches the habitat for many species, and along the coastline beached logs stabilize sand spits, beaches, and dunes.

For more information, see:

Rotten luck: The role of downed wood in ecosystems [pamphlet]. B.C. Ministry of Forests, Victoria, BC. Available at (PDF 543KB).

Firewood or Wildlife Tree? B.C. Ministry of Forests, Victoria, BC. Available at (PDF 133KB).

Wildlife trees and coarse woody debris publications and products, B.C. Ministry of Forests, Victoria, BC. Available at