Climate, elevation, topography and soils are the key factors that determine the potential plant communities that occur on a site. Within the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River watershed there is a tremendous variation in these factors which accounts for the great diversity of plant communities and habitats. Grasslands and shrub lands can be found at the lower, drier sites but as one moves upwards in elevation or onto north and northeast aspects, sites become wetter and aspen or a mixed conifer stand of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and Juniper dominate the landscape. At the highest elevation of forested areas Englemann spruce and Sub-alpine fir are the dominate plant species.
Stream channels drain the uplands within the different zones and provide an important diversity of habitats. These riparian areas provide water and a diverse array of vegetation that when combined with the adjacent upland habitats allow many wildlife species to flourish. Without these wetter, more productive systems the number of bird and mammal species and their total populations would be fewer.
In addition to the wetland and riparian plant communities of the river and stream corridors, the watershed also contains a diversity of isolated wetland types that occur mostly in the higher elevations, with plant communities that form in association with pond waters, seeps and springs. Of special interest are the iron fens, which are wetlands that form in and near natural seeps and are characterized by high acidity and high metal content.
Rising above the forests is perhaps the most unique zone within the watershed; the alpine or alpine tundra as it is commonly known. At the upper limit of the forest zone the trees become dwarfed by the severe wind and cold, this line of elfin timber or Krummholz marks the boundary between forest and alpine. The vegetation of the alpine is short; the grasses, forbs and willows growing there are only a few inches tall. Most of the plants and many of the animals are unique to the alpine. The summer wildflower displays of the alpine are nothing short of spectacular.
Q: What's An Ecoregion?
A: An ecoregion is similar to an ecosystem, in which an area of land hosts distinct groups of plants and animals. The only difference? ecoregions are bigger.
Q: What's My Ecoregion?
A: Lake City is surrounded by diverse terrain! Eight different ecoregions lie outside your door.
Q: So, WHat Are Our Eight ECOREgions?
A: So glad you asked! Check it out below.
The first four ecological zones correspond with Colorado Ecoregion designations; the last four are the lake, river and wetland zones within these ecoregions.
CO Ecoregion 21a
The alpine zone occurs above tree line beginning at about 10,500 to 11,000 ft and includes alpine
meadows as well as steep, exposed rock and
glaciated peaks. Vegetation includes low shrubs,
cushion plants, wildflowers, sedges and grasses,
with stunted spruce trees (krumholtz) in the
transition zone with sub-alpine forest.
VOLCANIC SUB-ALPINE FORESTS
CO Ecoregion 21g
The sub-alpine zone occurs from about 9000 ft to tree line dominated by Engelmann spruce, with
sub-alpine fir in wetter areas and quaking aspen in lower reaches of the zone.
VOLCANIC MID-ELEVATION FORESTS (montane) CO Ecoregion 21h
This zone is located at elevations of 7000 to 9000 feet, above the sagebrush park zone, although they are commonly intermixed, and both zones include aspen patches. Dominant forest species are
Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and quaking aspen. In much of the lower watershed, soil properties and topographic aspect favor one zone over the other.
CO Ecoregion 21i
The sagebrush park zone occurs in the lower
portion of the Lake Fork watershed and is part of
the large semiarid inter-montane Gunnison Basin,
dominated by sagebrush shrub land and steppe
UPPER LAKE FORK and HENSON CREEK
This riparian zone is associated with the Lake Fork
of the Gunnison River above Lake San Cristobal and
along the entire length of Henson Creek. These
river corridors occur mainly within the alpine and
sub-alpine zones within the montane forest zone in
the lower portion of Henson.
LAKE SAN CRISTOBAL
This unit includes the entire area defined by the high water level of Lake San Cristobal and a 1000 ft. zone around the entire periphery of the lake. The
lake occurs within the transition zone between
montane and sub-alpine forests.
LAKE FORK MAINSTEM
This riparian zone is associated with the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River downstream of Lake San
Cristobal to the river’s confluence with Blue Mesa
Reservoir. This stretch of the river runs primarily
through the montane forest and sagebrush park
Mostly in the higher elevations of the Lake Fork
Watershed, this unit includes isolated wetlands associated with ponded waters, and other areas exhibiting hydric soils, including fens. These
wetland types occur in all four Colorado ecoregions
described above, although the wetlands of prime
interest are within alpine and sub-alpine zones.
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