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Ecological Framework of Canada
Boreal Plains Ecozone

Human Activities

  1. Exploration
  2. Potential Oil Development
  3. Farming/Ranching
  4. Forestry

The Boreal Plains entered the history books as a gateway to the great northwest interior of North America. Trading companies established posts along the major rivers at such sites as The Pas and Cumberland House. But the most significant impact on the ecozone was the fur trade. Bison was hunted, first for its meat, which was consumed by fur traders in the 1780s, and then for its hides, which were sold to the North American fashion industry. Thousands of bison were killed each year, leading to the virtual elimination of free-roaming bison by the 1880s.

Development accelerated greatly after 1870, when the Hudson's Bay Company surrendered its charter and sold Rupert's Land, which included the entire Boreal Plains Ecozone, to Canada. As a means of securing the area from potential expansion of the United States, Canada encouraged land development. Much of the arable land was occupied in the years following the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1885, which also introduced coal mining. With the settlement of the prairies came demand for lumber. Nearly half the ecozone is occupied by productive forests. Logging was concentrated in the southern fringes and, by 1900, large sawmills were in operation.

Demand for petroleum products early in the 20th century led to the discovery of the substantial oil and gas reserves in Alberta, where they have been a focal point of the economy for the last 50 years. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, meanwhile, several hydro-electric power plants were built.

Today, only about 700 000 people, many of them relatively young, live in the ecozone. Despite rapid urban development over the past two decades, just 40% live in major cities. Most municipalities are relatively small compared with those of the Prairie Ecozone.

The most recent major development is the increased use of forests. Between 1951 and 1991, forest harvests increased by 82%. Agriculture has also become a more visible influence. Farmland has increased by 8% over the last 20 years, but still occupies less than 10% of the Boreal Plains. Agricultural activities are dominated by wheat, pasture and rangeland.

The economic structure of the ecozone reflects a relatively high dependence on the service sector, which employs 65% of the labour force, and the primary industries. Over the past century, much of the ecozone has been put to use harvesting natural resources. Forestry predominates, along with agriculture, oil and gas development, hydro-electric power generation, fisheries and mining. The First Nations of the ecozone are tied tightly to traditional places of spiritual significance and ancient burial grounds. They use the ecozone's forests as both their home and workplace. Wildlife is particularly valuable to those who rely on hunting, trapping, and fishing as a primary source of food.