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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Wyoming Basin Cliff and Canyon

Provisional State Rank: S3
(see reason below)

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State Rank Reason
If the areas mapped as Inter-Mountain Basin Cliff and Canyon within Montana are indeed different in their abiotic and biotic components from the Rocky Mountain Cliff, Canyon and Massive Bedrock system, then the Montana occurrences will be the northern extent of the system’s range. Because it is not mapped as widespread, it can be considered to be uncommon, and has therefore been tentatively ranked as an S3.

General Description
This ecological system has been mapped in Montana in the Wyoming Basin from satellite image classification. However, none of its component associations or alliances have been documented, and the existence of this system needs to be verified in 2010. Elsewhere it has been described from Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon, where it can be found from foothill to subalpine elevations on landforms that contain steep cliff faces, canyon walls and rocky outcrops derived from a variety of parent materials. It includes talus and scree fields immediately below cliff and outcrop faces. Vegetation inhabiting this ecological system is typically sparse and may include conifers and woody shrubs adapted to limited soil moisture and soil development. Herbaceous cover is typically very sparse and limited to species adapted to inhabiting cliff faces and unstable talus slides. In Montana, this system may be more appropriately considered to be Rocky Mountain Cliff, Canyon and Bedrock.

Similar Systems

This ecological system has been documented from Wyoming, Utah, California, Nevada, and eastern Washington and Oregon. It has been mapped in Montana, but its occurrence needs to be verified.

Ecological System Distribution
Approximately 7 square kilometers are classified as Wyoming Basin Cliff and Canyon in the 2017 Montana Land Cover layers.  Grid on map is based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle map boundaries.

Montana Counties of Occurrence
Carbon, Lewis and Clark

Spatial Pattern
Large patch

Environmental attributes of this system need to be defined. Refer to the Rocky Mountain Cliff, Canyon and Massive Bedrock system for more information.

Vegetation has not been described in Montana.

Dynamic Processes
Information incomplete

Species Associated with this Ecological System
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Original Concept Authors
NatureServe Western Ecology Team, mod. M.S. Reid

Montana Version Authors
E. Luther, L.K. Vance

Version Date

  • Classification and Map Identifiers

    Cowardin Wetland Classification: Not applicable

    NatureServe Identifiers:
    Element Global ID 28617
    System Code CES304.779, Inter-Mountain Basins Cliff and Canyon

    National Land Cover Dataset:
    31: Barren Land

    3173: Inter-Mountain Basins Cliff and Canyon

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Citation for data on this website:
Wyoming Basin Cliff and Canyon — Inter-Mountain Basins Cliff and Canyon.  Montana Field Guide.  Retrieved on , from