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Rocky Mountain Subalpine Mesic-Wet Spruce-Fir Forest and Woodland

This is a high-elevation system of the Rocky Mountains, dry eastern Cascades and eastern Olympic Mountains dominated by Picea engelmannii and Abies lasiocarpa. It extends westward into the northeastern Olympic Mountains and the northeastern side of Mount Rainier in Washington, and as far east as mountain "islands" of north-central Montana. It also occurs northward into the Upper Foothills subregion of western Alberta. Picea engelmannii is generally more important in southern forests than those in the Pacific Northwest. Occurrences are typically found in locations with cold-air drainage or ponding, or where snowpacks linger late into the summer, such as north-facing slopes and high-elevation ravines. They can extend down in elevation below the subalpine zone in places where cold-air ponding occurs (as low as 970 m [3180 feet] in the Canadian Rockies); northerly and easterly aspects predominate. These forests are found on gentle to very steep mountain slopes, high-elevation ridgetops and upper slopes, plateau-like surfaces, basins, alluvial terraces, well-drained benches, and inactive stream terraces. In the northern Rocky Mountains of northern Idaho and Montana, Tsuga mertensiana occurs as small to large patches within the matrix of this mesic spruce-fir system and only in the most maritime of environments (the coldest and wettest of the more Continental subalpine fir forests). In the Olympics and northern Cascades, the climate is more maritime than typical for this system, but due to the lower snowfall in these rainshadow areas, summer drought may be more significant than snowpack in limiting tree regeneration in burned areas. Picea engelmannii is rare in these areas. Mesic understory shrubs include Menziesia ferruginea, Vaccinium membranaceum, Rhododendron albiflorum, Amelanchier alnifolia, Rubus parviflorus, Ledum glandulosum, Phyllodoce empetriformis, and Salix spp. Herbaceous species include Actaea rubra, Maianthemum stellatum, Cornus canadensis, Erigeron eximius, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, Rubus pedatus, Saxifraga bronchialis, Tiarella spp., Lupinus arcticus ssp. subalpinus, Valeriana sitchensis, and graminoids Luzula glabrata var. hitchcockii or Calamagrostis canadensis. In Alberta, species composition indicates the transition to more boreal floristics, including such species as Ledum groenlandicum and Leymus innovatus, and more abundant mosses such as Hylocomium splendens and Pleurozium schreberi. Disturbances include occasional blowdown, insect outbreaks (30-50 years), mixed-severity fire, and stand-replacing fire (every 150-500 years). The more summer-dry climatic areas also have occasional high-severity fires.

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