The name “Montane Forest” is a very broad designation that applies to several different forest types that grow between about 6,000 and 9,000 feet in Colorado. Most of these are coniferous or mixed forest types.
Ponderosa Pine is typically the dominant tree from about 6000-8000 feet. It can be recognized at a great distance by its reddish bark, its long needles forming large ball-like clumps, its broad but sparse crown, and its tendency to form open forests in which the trees grow widely spaced. A few species of birds, such as Pygmy Nuthatch and Grace’s Warbler, are so strongly associated with Ponderosa that they are rarely found away from it. Many other typical species include Band-tailed Pigeon, Flammulated Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Bluebird, and Western Tanager. Mammals using Ponderosa include the uncommon and beautiful Abert’s or Tassel-eared Squirrel. Common understory plants include kinnikinnick, Oregon grape, lupine, and yarrow. The striking Western Pine Elfin is one of the most common butterflies.
Quaking Aspen is one of Colorado’s most unmistakable trees, especially considering that white birches do not occur in the state. Scattered individual aspens may grow in the ponderosa and lodgpole belts, or entire hillsides may be covered by pure stands, some of which may be the result of the vegetative spread of a single individual. Some of these huge interconnected aspen stands are considered the largest organisms in the world. Many species rely on cavities in aspens for nesting purposes, and therefore the wildlife watching tends to be best in the most mature groves–the ones where the trees have the largest diameter.
Many coniferous forests in the state contain a mix of several conifer species, especially Douglas-Fir, Blue Spruce, Limber Pine and Bristlecone Pine. Various montane birds may inhabit mixed-conifer forest, such as Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Dusky Grouse, and Brown Creeper. Elk, deer, bear, weasels, bobcats, and mountain lions may inhabit these forests, and flowers may include the calypso orchid, Jacob’s ladder, and the state flower, Colorado blue columbine.