The Ponderosa Pine Zone gets its name from the Ponderosa Pine forests that dominate the area. The ponderosa pine can be found in closed and opened forests and savanna. This is a hot, dry zone. It occupies low elevations in the dry valleys of the southern Interior Plateau and East Kootenays and consists of forests, grasslands and wetlands. The zone is home to a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, some of which are relatively rare and threatened by extinction.
The Ponderosa Pine Zone is the driest of the forested zones in British Columbia and in the summer it is also one of the warmest. In July, the mean temperature ranges from 17 to 22 degrees. The low precipitation of 250-450mm per year is a result of the strong rainshadow cast over this area by the Coast and Purcell Mountains. Winters are cool, with a light, intermittent snow cover. The growing season is relatively long with continuous frost-free period of 125-175 days, which makes the area suitable for agricultural purposes, provided there is water for irrigation.
The vegetation consists of a variety of forests and grassland. Ponderosa Pine, which dominates most forests in this zone is best known for its vanilla scented, cinnamon coloured bark made up of jigsaw puzzle like scales. Its thick bark makes it resistant to surface fires. Other dominant species in this zone include bunch wheatgrass, Saskatoon pasture sage, lemonweed, and yarrow. Dense stands of Douglas-fir grow on moist sites such as gullies and streambanks and on steep northerly aspects. Due to cutting and fires suppression, many sites that previously supported open stands now contain dense young grasslands on sites where regeneration of trees has been poor.
Because of short, relatively snow free winters, the Ponderosa Pine Zone is an important environment for many kinds of wildlife. Many species of wildlife including moose, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, and white tailed deer migrate long distances to winter here. Birds are also more prominently visible in big flocks in the winter months.
The large number of wildlife species here is related to the zone’s location between other zones. Species near the border of other zones find their southern and northern limits of their habitats here. The rich assortment of food available in the plethora of land types also draws a wide variety of wildlife. The Ponderosa Pine Zone provides habitat for species such as Clark's Nutcracker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and yellow-pine chipmunk.
In the wetland meadow areas, a variety of reptiles and amphibians such as the common garter snake, tiger salamander and northern leopard frog. Lakes and potholes provide breeding grounds for Canada Goose and various ducks, and year round habitats for painted turtle and tiger salamander. Other species such as coyote, black bear, cougar, badger, beaver and the yellow-bellied marmot also inhabit the forests and wetlands of this zone.
Clark's Nutcracker - two individuals - click to see full pictures
White-tailed Deer - Adult male; two adults in early summer; fawn - click to see full pictures
Moose in the wild - click to activate the movie and view
The productivity of Ponderosa Pine and Douglas-fir is poor on most sites. Because of the prominence of grasslands, a cattle grazing is the primary form of agriculture. In the Okanagan Valley, irrigation makes orchards and vineyards possible in some areas. Much of the Ponderosa Pine Zone is located on steep slopes that makes agricultural process impossible; however, because of their ideal climate and views, these same sites provide excellent locations for housing.