Forests in Canada are classified according to three main types of classification: ecozones, forest regions and plant hardiness zones. Together these classifications provide a science-based foundation for forest management decision-making at the national level.
The National Forest Inventory, a collaborative effort between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, compiles detailed information for each of Canada’s forested ecozones. This information includes data on tree ages, volume of wood, dominant species and land use. The provinces and territories collect data using consistent standards and procedures. The Canadian Forest Service maintains the database and leads data analysis and reporting. The provinces and territories have also developed their own ecological and land classification systems to further classify the characteristics of their forest landscapes.
An ecozone is an area of the Earth's surface representing large and very generalized ecological units characterized by interacting abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors.
Canada has 20 ecozones—15 terrestrial and 5 marine. The 15 terrestrial ecozones are subdivided into 53 ecoprovinces, which can be further subdivided into 194 ecoregions.
Ecozones, ecoprovinces and ecoregions are useful for reporting and planning purposes at national, provincial and regional levels. Regardless of its level in the hierarchy, each of these units is distinguished from the others by a unique interplay of geologic, climatic, vegetative, wildlife and human activity factors.
The National Forest Inventory uses 12 of Canada’s 15 terrestrial ecozones as the basis for reporting on the extent, state, and sustainable development of Canada’s forests. The Arctic ecozones—Arctic Cordillera, Northern Arctic, Southern Arctic—and the James Bay islands within the Hudson Plains ecozone are not inventoried because they are not forested.
In Canada, the system that has long been used to classify forest land divides the territory into regions.
Unlike ecozones, forest region classification does not incorporate all of the environmental variables, but relies mainly on the nature of the vegetation or forest composition to classify the regions.
A forest region is a geographic zone with a vegetation cover that is fairly uniform in terms of dominant species and stand types.
Canada has eight forest regions, as shown below by location and predominant tree species:
|Forest region||Location||Predominant tree species|
|Acadian||Maritimes||red spruce, balsam fir, yellow birch|
|Boreal||northern Canada||white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir, jack pine, white birch, trembling aspen, tamarack, willow|
|Carolinian (Deciduous)||southwestern Ontario||beech, maple, black walnut, hickory, oak|
|Coast||British Columbia||western redcedar, western hemlock, Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir|
|Columbia||British Columbia||western redcedar, western hemlock, Douglas-fir|
|Great Lakes–St Lawrence||central Canada||red pine, eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, maple, oak|
|Montane||British Columbia and Alberta||Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, trembling aspen|
|Subalpine||British Columbia and Alberta||Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine|
Canada’s plant hardiness zones are well known to Canadian gardeners. The map of plant hardiness zones outlines where various types of trees, shrubs and flowers will most likely survive across the country, based on the average climatic conditions of each area.
The original hardiness zones were developed in the early 1960s. Since that time, Canada’s climate has changed and climate mapping techniques have improved. Canadian Forest Service scientists have updated the plant hardiness zones using more recent data, and incorporating the effect of elevation into the original variables.
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