Grasslands at the Northwest Edge

Imagine for a moment, the grasslands of British Columbia. Chances are, the last place that will come to mind is the Skeena Region of northwest B.C. This, after all, is the land of salmon, totem poles, mist-shrouded forests and mountains. Native grasslands form little or no part of this picture –even for those who live here. But precisely because of their rarity, remoteness, and a general lack of awareness, the Skeena Region includes some of the best-protected and most endangered grasslands in our province.

Northwest B.C. has two significant low elevation grassland landscapes, located in the Stikine River valley and at the western edge of the Nechako Plateau, with small pockets of grassland scattered in the Bulkley and mid-Skeena valleys, and north to the Yukon border (Figure 1).

Two obvious features distinguish these northwestern grasslands from the more familiar grasslands of the southern B.C. interior. First, slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus) replaces bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoregnaria spicata) as the dominant, late seral bunchgrass. Secondly, big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is replaced by smaller sages such as pasture sage (Artemisia frigida), northern wormwood (Artemisia campestris) and Michaux’s mugwort (Artemisia michauxiana).

Other characteristic native plants are stiff needlegrass (Agnatherum occidentalis), spreading needlegrass (Agnatherum richardsonii), glaucus bluegrass (Poa glauca), june grass (Koeleria macrantha), timber oatgrass (Danthonia intermedia), Rocky Mountain fescue (Festuca saximontana), purple reedgrass (Calamagrostis purpurascens), purple peavine (Lathyrus nevadensis), northern bedstraw (Galium boreale) nodding onion (Allium cernuum) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus), prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) and wild cherries (Prunus virginiana, P. pensylvanica) are typical shrubs.

With their high insolation and low snowpacks, these grasslands provide critical habitat for many wildlife species, notably mule deer and western garter snakes, and support xerophytic plants and insects not found elsewhere in the landscape. They are also a magnet for invasive species from warmer and drier climates and agricultural environments. Non-native plants that are widely naturalized include dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and timothy (Phleum pratense). So far, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) are absent.

Data and Resources

Additional Info

Field Value
Source URL
Author(s) S. Haeussler
Funding Agency/Agencies
Affiliated Institution(s) Bulkley Valley Research Centre
Publication Year 2007