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The Foothills Natural Region


The Foothills Natural Region is one of the six Natural Regions in Alberta. It is a transitory region between the Rocky Mountain Region to the southwest and the Boreal and Parkland Regions of Alberta's interior.

Did you know? The Foothills Natural Region comprises 10% of Alberta's total land!


The Foothills Region is divided into two subregions based on elevation and climate


Average elevation: 1300 m

Cooler and wetter conditions

Forests are dominated by lodgepole pine or black spruce; although, lodgepole pine is the main pioneer species. Has a less diverse understory


Average elevation: 950m

Milder montane climate

Most diverse subregion on terms of forest type and tree species

Commonly mixed forests, with either lodgepole pine, white spruce, subalpine fir, or poplar are dominant. Has a more diverse understory


The Foothills have variable topography that can range from sharp ridges of bedrock near the bases of mountains to the rolling hills further eastward.


The Foothills are a moist temperate region and receives a relatively high amount of precipitation.

The two major river systems that run through the Foothills are the Athabasca and North Saskatchewan Rivers, with various tributary streams throughout.


Due to it's transitory location between the Rockies and Boreal forests, the Foothills has a high diversity of mammals and birds. Wapiti, deer, numerous bat and shrew species, great gray owls, and trumpeter swans call this region home.

Aquatic/semi-aquatic species include the enigmatic arctic grayling and long-toed salamander.

Invertebrate species remain largely understudied, but are absolutely essential to the trophic system.


The Foothills are mainly a forested area, comprised of a variety of tree species. Lodgepole pine dominated forests are common near the mountains, whereas mixed forests of aspen and balsam poplar, lodgepole pine, and white spruce are common at lower elevations.

Mixed forests at lower elevations have diverse understory plant communities, with species such as: common snowberry, bearberry, bog cranberry, blueberry, buffalo berry, Saskatoon berry, and various alders.

According to Alberta Parks, there are 80 rare vascular species that are found in the Foothills, highlighting the need for increased conservation.



The foothills are home to Alberta's most productive timber lands. This region is dotted with forestry staging areas that accommodate for timber harvesting.


Both upper and lower foothills are underlain with coal seams, catalyzing the development of open pit coal mines.


Oil and gas exploration projects have left a permanent mark on the ecosystem over the past decades. Conventional seismic clearing causes slow vegetative recovery and therefore long-lasting fragmentation of the ecosystem.


Lawrence, D., Lane, C. T., Willoughby, M. G., Hincz, C., Moisey, D., and Stone, C. 2005. Range Plant Community Types and Carrying Capacity for the Lower Foothills Subregion of Alberta. Government of Alberta.

Dabros, A., Pyper, M., and G. Castilla. 2018. Seismic lines in the boreal and arctic ecosystems of North America: environmental impacts, challenges, and opportunities. Environmental Reviews 26(2): 214-229.

Government of Alberta. 2014. Natural Regions & Subregions of Alberta.


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