With its diverse mix of coniferous and deciduous species, Colorado’s forested landscape is, perhaps, one of the most complex of any in the Intermountain West.
Forest Types Overview
Forest type, or forest cover, refers to the dominant tree species in the overstory of a given site. The distribution of forest types across the landscape is determined by factors such as climate, soil, elevation, aspect and disturbance history (Rogers, et al, 2001)3. A number of Colorado’s forests are characterized as disturbance driven. The life history of these forest types evolved with a cycle of natural disturbance such as wildfire, insect infestations, flooding, avalanches, windstorms or disease infections. These disturbances served to periodically rejuvenate forests, ensuring a variety of forest types, age classes and densities across the landscape.
Forests and woodlands cover approximately 24 million acres in Colorado. Within these forested landscapes are several different tree species, the majority of which are coniferous or cone-bearing trees rather than deciduous trees that seasonally shed their leaves. Colorado’s primary forest species have been grouped into 10 forest types based on the dominant overstory vegetation (Helms 1998)4: conifer, conifer-hardwood, hardwood (primarily aspen), lodgepole pine, mixed conifer, oak shrublands, piñon-juniper, ponderosa pine, riparian and spruce-fir.
Follow the links for brief descriptions of these forest types.
3Rogers, P., Atkins, D., Frank, M., and Parker, D. 2001. Forest health monitoring in the Interior West. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-75. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.
NatureServe. 2018. International Ecological Classification Standard: Terrestrial Ecological Classifications. NatureServe Central Databases. Arlington, VA. U.S.A. Data current as of 28 August 2018.
2017 Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment, Colorado State Forest Service.