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Ecosystems & Habitats

Tree Dominated Wildlife Habitats

Ponderosa Pine
(PPN) Ponderosa Pine, Jeffrey Pine, Douglas Fir


Structure-- Tree spacing in ponderosa pine stands varies from open patchy to extremely close. On high quality sites, virgin stands may be 46-55 m (150-180 ft) high, with diameters from 0.91.2 m (3-4 ft) (Harlow and Harrar 1950). Typical overstory coverage of all layers may exceed 100% (Vankat 1970). Other conifers, when present, provide denser crowns than do the pine, thus creating habitat diversity. Grasses, shrubs, and deciduous trees may be present or absent. Typical coverage of shrubs is 10-30% and of grasses and forbs is 5-10% (Barbour 1986).

Composition-- The ponderosa pine habitat includes pure stands of ponderosa pine as well as stands of mixed species in which at least 50% of the canopy area is ponderosa pine. Associated species vary depending on location in the state and site conditions. Typical tree associates include white fir, incense-cedar, Coulter pine, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, Douglas-fir, bigcone Douglas-fir, canyon live oak, California black oak, Oregon white oak, Pacific madrone and tanoak.

Associated shrubs include manzanita, ceanothus, mountain-misery, Pacific dogwood, hairy yerba-santa, yellowleaf silktassel, bitter cherry, California buckthorn, poison-oak, Sierra gooseberry. Grasses and forbs include slimleaf brome, Orcutt brome, carex, smallflower melicgrass, bluegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, bedstraw, bracken fern, bush morning-glory, rhomboid clarkia, Child's blue-eyed mary, shrubby eriastrum, splendid gilia, Sierra iris, whisker-brush, Inyo bush lupine, summer lupine, purple nightshade, streptanthus, gooseroot violet, and wild iris.

Other Classifications-- The ponderosa pine habitat, as defined here, forms a part of the yellow pine forest of Munz and Keck (1959) and Thorne (1977), the montane forest of Griffin and Critchfield (1976)(No 1976 Lit Cite. There is a 1972 Lit Cite. 1972 Cite not placed in Lit cite at end.), the ponderosa/Jeffrey pine series of Pays More restrictive types which include only a part of the ponderosa pine habitat are Pacific ponderosa pine (245) (Eyre 1980), ponderosa pine (Parker and Matyas 1979 and Barbour and Major 1977), western Sierra ponderosa pine forest (Barry unpublished, cited in Cheatham and Haller 1975), ponderosa pine series of the Sierra montane conifer forest (Pase 1982a), Coast Range ponderosa pine forest and "westside" ponderosa pine forest (Cheatham and Haller 1975), and Sierran yellow pine forest (Küchler 1977). en, et al. (1980) and the mid-montane conifer forest of Barbour (1986). In addition, on those sites where ponderosa pine is dominant, portions of other montane forests (Küchler 1977), and Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir (Barbour 1986), and mixed conifer (244, 243), (Eyre 1980) are included in ponderosa pine habitat.

Habitat Stages

Vegetation Changes-- 2-5;SD. Most ponderosa pine stands that include other coniferous trees probably are maintained by periodic ground fires. In many of these stands, crown fires result in dense montane chaparral communities (Cheatham and Haller, 1975). Young, dense stands, as in plantations, exclude most undergrowth once trees attain a closed canopy. Prior to that, dense brush is typical, but an herbaceous layer may develop on some sites.

Duration of Stages-- On sites or areas that are dry or of low quality, significant pine regeneration may depend on concurrent disturbance of chaparral and a good pine seed crop with favorable weather. Thus, it may require 50-100 years for significant pine regeneration in the absence of intervention. Clearcuts with minimal brush control develop a dense stand of pole-size trees in 2030 years, twice the time required when brush is completely removed. Dense brush is typical in young stands and an herbaceous layer may develop on some sites. On drier sites, there is less tendency for succession toward shadeadapted species. Sites disturbed by fire or logging sometimes are converted to dense montane chaparral or mixed chaparral. Moist chaparral areas of higher site quality tend to develop directly into mixed conifer stands. As young, dense stands age and attain a closed canopy, they exclude most undergrowth. When other adapted conifers occur in moist ponderosa pine stands of medium to high site quality, they may form a significant understory in about 20 years in the absence of fire. If allowed to continue, such succession may change the structure and composition of the stand within 40 years sufficiently to favor wildlife adapted to mixed conifer habitats. Most ponderosa pine stands that include other coniferous trees probably are maintained by periodic ground fires (Cheatham and Haller 1975).

Biological Setting

Habitat-- In Northern California, ponderosa pine stands occur above coastal oak woodland, valley oak woodland, blue oak woodland, blue oak-digger pine and below mixed conifer. Montane hardwood stands may be below or interspersed with ponderosa pine. Jeffrey pine stands often occur above ponderosa pine, but may be found on serpentine soils or on harsh sites at lower elevations in the ponderosa pine zone. Farther south, coastal scrub, chamise-redshank, mixed chaparral, or woodland oaks are typical at the lower boundary of the ponderosa pine habitat, with bigcone Douglas-fir or true firs at the upper edge. Dry, rocky sites within the habitat may support montane chaparral, mixed hard wood-conifer or closed-cone pine-cypress. Isolated, small patches of bigcone Douglas-fir may occur in mesic canyons or on north-facing slopes within ponderosa pine stands.

Wildlife Considerations-- Ponderosa pine sometimes is a transitional or migratory habitat for deer and can be extremely important to deer nutrition in migration holding areas. A mixture of early and late successional stages closely interspersed probably will provide good general wildlife habitat but riparian zones, deer migratory routes and holding areas require special consideration during management planning. The California condor uses the ponderosa pine habitat from Madera and Santa Clara Counties southward. Moreover, the Sierra Nevada red fox, Siskiyou mountain salamander and Shasta salamander also are found in the habitat.

Physical Setting

The lower elevational limit of the habitat may correspond to a mean annual temperature less than 13 C (55 F) and precipitation greater than 350 mm (33 in) except in southern California (Barbour 1986). Brown (1982) reported a minimum precipitation level of 635 mm (25 in) annually in the Peninsular Ranges. Ponderosa pine is found on all aspects, depending on soils and location within the local elevational range. Less than one-third of the precipitation is snowfall (Barbour 1986).


Ponderosa pine habitat is found on suitable mountain and foothill sites throughout California except in the immediate area of San Francisco Bay, in the north coast area, south of Kern County in the Sierra Nevada and east of the Sierra Nevada Crest. Elevational ranges include 240-180 m (800-5000 ft) in the northern Sierra Nevada and Cascades, 1200-2100 m (3937-6890 ft) in the central and southern Sierra Nevada and 1300-2140 m (4265-7021 ft) in the Transverse and Peninsular Ranges, although it may be found as low as 105 m (3445 ft) in moist south-coastal sites (Rundel et al. 1977, Thorne 1977, Brown 1982 and Cheatham and l Haller 1975). The ponderosa pine habitat is replaced by Jeffrey pine on the Mojave Desert slopes of the Transverse Range and often on the eastern side of the Peninsular and Coast Ranges.

Literature Cited

Barbour, M. G. 1986. Upland forests and woodlands of California and Baja California. Chapter 5 In M. G. Barbour and W. D. Billings, eds. Terrestrial vegetation of North America. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.

Barbour, M. G., and J. Major eds. 1977. Terrestrial vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Brown, D. E., ed.1982. Biotic communities of the American Southwest – United States and Mexico. Desert Plants 4.

Cheatham, N. H., and J. R. Haller. 1975. An annotated list of California habitat types. Univ. of California Natural Land and Water Reserve System, unpubl. manuscript

Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the Unites States and Canada. Soc. Amer. Foresters, Washington D.C.

Harlow, W. M., and E. S. Harrar. 1950. Textbook of dendrology, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Kuchler, A. W. 1977. Appendix: the map of the natural vegetation of California. Pages 909-938 In M. G. Barbour and J. Major, eds, Terrestrial vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Munz, P. A., and D. D. Keck. 1959. A California flora. Univ of California Press, Berkeley.

Parker, I., and W. J. Matyas. 1979. CALVEG: A classification of Californian vegetation. U.S. Dep. Agric., For. Serv., Reg. Ecol. Group. San Francisco.

Pase C. P. 1982a. Sierran montane conifer forest. Pages 49-51 In D. E. Brown, ed. Biotic communities of the American Southwest-United States and Mexico. Desert Plants 4.

Paysen, T. E., J. A. Derby, H. Black, Jr., V. C. Bleich, and J. W. Mincks. 1980. A vegetation classification system applied to southern California. U.S. Dep. Agric., For. Serv., (Berkeley, Calif.) Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-45.

Rundel, P. W., D. T. Gordon, and D. J. Parsons. 1977. Montane and subalpine vegetation of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges. Pages 559-599 In M. G. Barbour and J. Major, eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Thorne, R.F. 1977. Montane and subalpine forests of the Transverse and Peninsular Ranges. Pages 537-557 In M. G. Barbour and J. Major, eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. John Wiley and Sons, New York.

VanKat, J. L. 1970. Vegetation change in Sequoia National Park, California. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of California, Davis.

Grand Canyon Plants
Ponderosa pine forests grow at elevations between 6500 feet and 8200 feet, on both North and South rims. Additional species such as Gambel oak, ...

Upper San Gorgonio Mountains:
...The predominant natural plant community is Ponderosa pine series. There are small areas of Coulter pine series, Mixed chaparral shrublands, Jeffrey pine ...

Grand Canyon natural environments
A pinyon pine and juniper forest grows above the desert scrub up to 6200 feet, while between 6200 feet and 8200 feet ponderosa pine is abundant. ...

San Gabriel Mountains:
...Ponderosa pine series with some Bigcone Douglas-fir series and Bigcone Douglas-fir - canyon live oak series occurs on north-facing slopes, Jeffrey pine ...

San Rafael - Topatopa Mountains:
...Mixed conifer series and Ponderosa pine series occur at higher elevations. Characteristic series by lifeform include: Grasslands: Beaked sedge series, ...

San Gorgonio Mountains:
...... on south-facing slopes; Ponderosa pine series and Mixed conifer series at higher elevations; and Jeffrey pine series on the north side of the mountains. ...

San Jacinto Mountains:
...The predominant natural plant communities are Ponderosa pine series and Mixed conifer series on the southwest side of the San Jacinto Mountains, ...

Red Rock Canyon Desert Plant Communities
These canyons, especially Pine Creek, Oak Creek and First Creek, provide a microclimate which supports small communities of ponderosa pine and several other ...

Vegetation of Yosemite National Park
The lower montane forests are found along the western boundary of the park and include trees such as California black oak, ponderosa pine, incense-cedar, ...

Southern California Mountains and Valleys Ecological Subsections
Predominant potential natural communities includes Mixed chaparral shrublands, Chamise series, Canyon live oak series, Coast live oak series, Ponderosa pine ...

Route Guides
In the Eastern Sierra, Lower Rock Creek is the dividing line between Jeffreys to the north and the closely-related ponderosa pine to the south. ...

Grand Canyon Wildlife
Reptiles... but one species of reptile, the mountain short-horned lizard, is a particularly abundant inhabitant of the piñon-juniper and ponderosa pine forests. ...

Upper San Gabriel Mountains:
...The predominant natural plant communities are Coulter pine series, Mixed conifer ... Mountain juniper series, Ponderosa pine series, White fir series. ...

Sierra Nevada Ecological Subsections
Predominant potential natural communities include the Mixed conifer series, Ponderosa pine series, Jeffrey pine series, White fir series, Red fir series, ...

Palomar - Cuyamaca Peak:
... Canyon live oak series, Coulter pine series, Coulter pine - canyon live oak series ... Jeffrey pine series, Mixed conifer series, Ponderosa pine series, ...

San Rafael - Topatopa Mountains:
... of the San Andreas fault, both northwest and southeast of the Big Pine fault. ... Ponderosa pine series, Singleleaf pinyon series, White fir series. ...

Grand Canyon Wildlife Coniferous Forest Habitat
... but one species of reptile, the mountain short-horned lizard, is a particularly abundant inhabitant of the piñon-juniper and ponderosa pine forests. ...

Wildlife of Yosemite National Park
Along much of Yosemite's western boundary, habitats are dominated by mixed coniferous forests of ponderosa pine, sugar pine, incense cedar, white fir, ...

Winter Wonderland: Big Bear Adventures
The 2-mile round trip gains 700 feet in elevation through forests of Ponderosa Pine, White Fir, Incense Cedar, and jumbo granite boulders. ...

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