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Piemonte - The Natural Environment

Piedmont includes almost the entire upper section of the Po River catchment basin, ie., the plain above the Ticino, Sesia and Scrivia rivers and the surrounding Apennines and Alps; the upper Dora Baltea basin, part of the Valle d'Aosta, is excluded. Piedmont, however, also claims the Po Valley flanks of the Maritime and Cottian Alps, part of the Graian, Pennine and Lepontine Alps, together with a great part of the Ligurian Apennines of which Langhe and Monferrato hills are a natural continuation.

The Piedmontese Alps rise as mighty massifs which, at some points, soar to over 4,000 m. (Mount Rosa, 4,633 m.; Gran Paradiso, 4,061 m.). The transition from this mountainous region to the plain is marked by a discontinuous belt of morainic high ground (Rivoli and Ivrea amphitheatres, the Vercelli and Novara hills) which does not detract from the impression of clear contrast between the encircling mountains and the plain which in fact lies `at the foot of the mountain'. This plain can be divided into two areas: the upper plain close to the mountain slopes (Cuneo, Mondov and Saluzzo) and the lower round Novara and Vercelli.

The climate is prevalently continental, with high seasonal and daily ranges of temperature; the winters are long and cold, and foggy on low ground; the summers are hot and sultry in the flat areas, cooler in the hills and mountains. Rainfall is highest in autumn and spring: the wettest areas are western Verbano, Cusio, the Biella area, Upper Valsesia and Ossola (1,500-2,000 mm./year).

Apart from the Po and Ticino, the waters of the Piedmontese rivers vary in volume and are mainly torrential. The Pellice, Chisone, Sangone, Dora Riparia, Stura di Lanzo, Orco, Dora Baltea, Sesia, Agogna and Ticino rivers flow into the Po from the left, the Varaita, Maira, Tanaro, Bormida and Scrivia rivers from the right.

The largest lake basin is Lake Maggiore with most of its western banks in Piedmont, fed by the Toce draining the waters of the Ossola and Lake Orta. Natural basins of minor importance are Mergozzo, Viverone, Candia and Avigliana.

Forests cover a total of 590 thousand hectares and there are a great many protected areas. In the alpine zone, the larch and chamois can be considered the symbols of this region. The larch is the only tree which can flourish well above 2,000 m. and the only conifer that sheds its leaves in winter. There are numerous chamois (several thousand) in the Piedmontese Alps: slender and graceful, this animal can be seen with relative ease even in unprotected areas.

Some areas where typically Piedmontese flora and fauna are to be found include: the Bosco di Salbertrand, in Val di Susa, rich in ash, birch, Scots pine, juniper, rhododendrons, Norway spruce and larch, and inhabited by hares, marmots, squirrels, woodpeckers, nutcrackers and jays; the area around Mount Orsiera (beech, birch and alpine flowers); Upper Valsesia, with edelweiss, gentians and dwarf rhododendrons; the Veglia Alps and the wild Valgrande.

Outstanding hills are the Langhe with their orderly rows of vines (famous red wines), the small ridge villages, and the oak, chestnut and beech woods; from which two other precious products of the Langhe, mushrooms and truffles, draw vital nutriment. In the Langhe lie the sources of the Belbo, one of Pied mont's few wetlands, where typical marshland fauna thrives. A few strips of the plains have yet to be transformed by man: examples of this are the `baragge' of Candelo and Rovasenda in the Biella area. These are moors with low vegetation dotted with woods where beech martens, hares, wild rabbits, weasels and foxes can be seen.

Besides the Gran Paradiso National Park (the first Italian Park, instituted in 1922), Piedmont has two National Nature Reserves (Valgrande and Mount Mottac) together with thirty regional parks and reserves.

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