In 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with the Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world's first International Peace Park. Situated on the border between the two countries and offering outstanding scenery, the park is exceptionally rich in plant and mammal species as well as prairie, forest, and alpine and glacial features.
The park is situated in the extreme south-west of the Province of Alberta, along the eastern slopes of the Continental Divide and at the western margin of the Canadian Great Plains region; it includes prairie, lakes and mountains.Local relief is dominated by the 2,500 m peaks of the Border and Clark Ranges, which are generally less rugged than their Glacier National Park counterparts. The park is centred on a long, narrow 'glacier trough' lake.
The most immediately obvious feature of the park is the sudden transition from prairie to mountain landscape; a contrast which is emphasized by the virtual absence of intervening foothills.
The dominant landforms of the park are of glacial origin; typical of both mountain and continental glaciations. The mountain valleys and rock basins were shaped by glacial erosion, whereas the rolling grasslands are a result of glacial deposition.
The joint Waterton-Glacier properties contain a stratigraphic record spanning more than 1,250 million years of sedimentary and tectonic evolution.
The Waterton-Glacier area is at the centre of what has been described as a major floristic discontinuity which occurs at about 50° N latitude and which divides the southern ranges of the Rocky Mountains from the more northerly ranges. The prevalence of a maritime climate results in many species occurring which are closely related to the flora of the far west.Five large ecoregions are found within Waterton-Glacier National Parks; these are alpine tundra, subalpine forest, montane forest, aspen parkland and fescue grassland.
The alpine tundra ecoregion is found above 2,100 m on the west slope and 1,800 m on the east. Arctic-alpine tundra vegetation covers much of the terrain, typical species including drays tundra and dwarf alpine poppy.
The subalpine forest ecoregion is the single-most vegetation cover in the park. A strong boreal element is typical of this ecoregion, characterized by such species as dwarf birch and fireweed.
The montane ecoregion (Canadian zone) occurs at low to mid elevations, but is largely restricted to the dry foothills and major river valleys of the eastern slopes.
The aspen parkland ecoregion serves as a transition belt between the prairie grasslands and the coniferous forest zone, with dominant tree species being trembling aspen and balsam poplar. Commonly known as 'bunchgrass prairie', the fescue grasslands ecoregion is typified by the festuca/danthonia grass association. The park is noted for an abundance of wildlife and a wide diversity of habitats. Investigations have listed 61 species of mammals, 241 species of bird, and 20 species of fish; reptiles and amphibians have not been extensively studied. Carnivores include grey wolf, coyote, cougar, American black bear and mink. There is also a self-sustaining population of more than 200 grizzly bear in the Waterton-Glacier complex. Other ungulates include mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, bison, mountain goat and bighorn sheep, the last two being indigenous to the region. Rodents include beaver and muskrat.
Waterton is located on the margin of two major avian migratory routes; the Central and Pacific flyways overlap here, and the marsh and lake areas of the park are used extensively as staging areas. Both the bald eagle and peregrine falcon pass through the area.
Fish fauna includes lake whitefish, cut-throat trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, bull trout Salvelinus and Arctic grayling.