The Interior Forests
The lumber industry along the Crowsnest Route was based on extensive stands coniferous forests that covered most of the valleys and the lower slopes of the mountains that dominated the landscapes of the Kootenays.(1)
On the Alberta side of the Crowsnest Pass, in the rainshadow of the Rockies, the forests were not as extensive and were interspersed with clearings and smaller trees. East of the summit of the Rockies, the forests quickly gave way to the grasslands and prairies of southern Alberta. Nonetheless, several large mills operated east of the pass supplying lumber for the mining operations and the market in the farming lands to the east.
On the western slopes of the Rockies, and within the other ranges of the southeastern part of British Columbia the Selkirks, Purcells, and Monashees there were, and still are, extensive forests comprised mainly of coniferous species. In the moister sites of the valleys and lower slopes, western red-cedar (Thuja plicata), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and white pine (Pinus monticola) predominate, together with Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), grand fir (Abies grandis) and western larch (Larix occidentalis). Stands of Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) are common as successional forest following fire or clearing.
In the upland areas, Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) predominate. In the dry valleys of the Rocky Mountain Trench, are open woodlands of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and even unforested grasslands.
Deciduous species trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and alders (Alnus spp.), among others are also common, mixed in with the coniferous trees, and along the edges of clearings. Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa) occurs along the waterways and gullies throughout the region.
As commercial species, western red-cedar, white pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, western larch, and white, lodgepole and ponderosa pines were the most sought after by loggers. The deciduous species were little used.
(1) Parish, Roberta, Ray Coupé, and Dennis Lloyd (eds.) 1996. Plants of the Southern Interior, British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, B.C. and the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Victoria, B.C. This book is an excellent field guide and source of information on the forests of southern British Columbia and neighbouring areas.