Cottonwoods in the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area


The Region

Columbia River Basin

The Biodiversity Atlas project focuses on the native species and ecosystems that exist in the B.C. Columbia River Basin regions most affected by dams and reservoirs on the Columbia River and its tributaries. This is essentially the part of south-eastern B.C. that drains into the Columbia River before it flows across the border to the U.S.A. The Okanagan, Similkameen and Kettle River watersheds are not included in this project since these rivers flow into the Columbia south of the border and below some major dam barriers; these areas are also free of the large reservoirs found elsewhere in the Columbia system. See our map page for maps of the entire Columbia Basin, the Basin within B.C., and our area of interest.

This page provides background information about the Basin and introduces you to the biodiversity in this area. The Basin is incredibly rich in terms of the multitude of species living here. The coexistence of these species, as well as the unique landscapes and climates, make it a fascinating and important study in biodiversity.

Columbia River Basin Facts

The Columbia River Basin is the fourth largest watershed in North America.

The Columbia River drains a 67 million hectare (ha) basin that includes territory in seven states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah) and British Columbia.

The Canadian portion of the Columbia River is about 10 million ha and includes the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys, most of the Kootenay River, part of the Flathead River, and the headwaters of the Columbia River itself. It is dominated by a series of mountain ranges: the Rocky Mountains to the east, the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains, and the Monashee Mountains to the west.

Although humans have lived along the Columbia River for more than 10,000 years, modern engineering in the 19th and 20th centuries has dramatically altered the Columbia River.

The Columbia River Basin in Canada is a very biologically diverse ecosystem.

  • 67% of vertebrate species in British Columbia and 48% of total vertebrate species in Canada live in the region.
  • Most of the animal species and many of the broad ecosystems found throughout the Canada-U.S. Columbia Basin are found in the British Columbia portion of the Basin - several are found only in British Columbia.
  • Species diversity is high for all known groups of organisms.

The Columbia Basin does not correspond to a coherent geologic region, but is crossed by a fundamental geologic boundary that separates Laurentia, ancient North America, from exotic terrane that collided with Laurentia during the Mesozoic period.

This geologic collision ultimately formed a unique and widely diverse land mass characterized by:

  • cool, moist, mountainous, forested ecoregions;
  • extensive plateaus, plains and basins as well as Mediterranean-type, semi-arid, subarctic and alpine climates;
  • forest dominating the vegetation; and areas of grasslands, wetlands, scrub and tundra are extensive.

The middle and lower reaches of the Columbia River in British Columbia and the United States portion have been extensively modified by human activity including the construction of an estimated 400 dams. These dams are barriers to the movement of fish and their reservoirs have flooded vast amounts of productive low elevation wildlife habitat.

The valley bottoms have also been heavily modified by industrial development, rural settlement, farms, transportation routes, communication systems and communities.

Drainage systems are complex and many community watersheds are connected to the Columbia system.

The Columbia River is the dominant river system in south-eastern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest United States encompassing Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.


The Project

Biodiversity Atlas

The Biodiversity Atlas helps improve conservation planning and decision-making by providing science-based information in an easy to understand format. The web-based Atlas uses the latest in Geographical Information System (GIS) technology to link biodiversity information to specific locations within the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin.

Depending on a user's interest, these "layers" (as they are called) of information can be observed overlapping on a specific location—all as determined by the user. If you are new to this technology, take a look at the maps section and see all you can do with a click or two of your mouse. If you want a little help before digging in, take a look at our tutorial.

The Biodiversity Atlas Mission

To positively influence decision making through education and awareness - in both the public and private sectors - regarding native biodiversity in the Columbia Basin by providing high-quality, relevant integrated geospatial information that is comprehensive and easy to access.

The first iteration of the Atlas was focused on the East Kootenay region. The scope has since been increased—the Atlas now covers the entire Canadian side of the Columbia River Basin (with the notable exception of the Similkameen, Okanagan and Boundary regions) and features information on a growing number of biodiversity elements (fish, wildlife, vegetation, ecosystems, etc.). By focusing on the Basin, and continually adding new layers of information on biodiversity, the Atlas team is striving to provide a dynamic, relevant and helpful source of regional information.

Related documents: Biodiversity User Needs Assessment

The Partners

The Columbia River Basin Biodiversity Atlas was initially funded and developed by the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP) in 2001. In 2007, FWCP collaborated with Selkirk College's Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC) to continue development and provide interactive map hosting. Today the Atlas is managed by the SGRC in partnership with major funders including the FWCP, Columbia Basin Trust, The Nature Trust of BC, FortisBC and a multi-stakeholder steering committee.

Many other people and organizations throughout the Basin have also contributed to the Atlas over the several years since the project began. The project team is always interested in working with more partners. If you have content, or any other resources to share—including ideas—please contact us at [email protected].

Original Website Design: Brian Chard Design

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