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Ecological Framework of Canada
Montane Cordillera Ecozone

Human Activities

  1. Industry
  2. Mining exploration
  3. Recreation
  4. Orchards
  5. Transportation
  6. Ranching

As the dry Ponderosa Pine is of limited commercial value for forestry, the dominant land use is cattle grazing. Grasslands, although chronically overgrazed in the past, are now better managed. Flat areas, especially on ancient riverbeds and lakebeds, are irrigated for hay production. Overall, the arable land in B.C. accounts for less than 5% of its total land base. The Montane Cordillera encompasses two of the few significant agricultural areas of the province: the Creston Valley and the Okanagan Valley. In the latter, favourable soils, when irrigated, are used for orchards and vineyards as well as cash crops.

The forested lower slopes often provide summer range for cattle. Forestry is the main industry of the lower and middle slopes with the interior wet belt being the most productive area for fibre production of all of the inland areas of B.C. Nine pulp and paper mills are located throughout the ecozone. The Fraser-Thompson River systems have seven such operations: three near Prince George, two at Quesnel, one at Williams Lake and one at Kamloops. The others are at Castlegar and Skookumchuk on the Columbia River. In addition, many small and large sawmills are found throughout the ecozone. Canada is the largest exporter of forest products in the world and B.C. produces 45% of the Canadian total. Although no specific figures are available by ecozone, the Montane Cordillera is a substantial contributor to the B.C. forest sector.

Mining is another important activity within the ecozone. Five of B.C's eight coal mines and three of Alberta's 11 occur within its boundaries. A major lead-zinc refinery is located at Trail. Copper, gold, silver, molybdenum and other precious metals are also mined within the ecozone and two areas are seeing active diamond exploration.

This ecozone contains six national parks, including the oldest in Canada, Banff National Park. As well, there is an extensive network of provincial parks. The largest provincially protected area is Ts'yl-os, a 2 332-square-kilometre park that is home to California Bighorn Sheep and B.C.'s third largest salmon run. A major concern is that many parks, most notably those of the Rocky Mountains, are becoming islands in a sea of development, their ecological integrity threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Within these parks, roads and railways remove habitat, form barriers to the movement of wildlife, and are a direct cause of wildlife mortality. Townsites and other developments further fragment the landscape. Outside the parks, adjacent lands that once formed extended blocks of wilderness are now subject to a variety of pressures, including new roads and industrial activities.

The dry valleys and lower slopes have intense recreational use, including hiking, cycling, horseback riding and some hunting and fishing. Most of the major lakes are lucrative tourist attractions, thanks to the many beaches and hot summers of this ecozone. Land-use conflicts are common in the valleys as a result of the pressure from the agricultural, recreational, transportation and industrial sectors, as well as urban development and the needs of wildlife.

Many of the interior cities have grown substantially over the past 20 years. For example, from 1971 to 1991 Kamloops grew 55% to 68 000 and Prince George by 42% to 70 000. With urbanization has come extensive transportation and communication networks, and major population centres in Alberta and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia have increased recreational pressure on the ecozone. With a growing population base of over four million to draw from, these pressures are not insignificant.

The labour force within the ecozone is becoming increasingly service-oriented. Of the total labour force, 32% are employed in the service sector, 15% in commerce, 11% in forestry, 7% in construction, 5% in agriculture, 5% in transportation, and 4% in mining.

Urbanization and industrialization have placed increased pressures on both the quantity and quality of water supplies. Shortages are now common in parts of the Okanagan and Thompson basins, particularly in summer when demand is high but runoff low. The impact of pulp mill effluent on the Fraser and Thompson rivers is also cause for concern. However, great strides have been made recently toward the elimination of organochlorine compounds and suspended solids as companies work to meet regulations that require reductions of dioxins and furans to below detectable levels.