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The Fescue Grassland ecoregion covers 14,926 km2 and lies in the Chinook climatic belt of southwestern Alberta along the Rocky Mountain foothills. Fescue Grassland was the sixth most densely populated ecoregion in Canada in 2006, with 50 persons per km2 and a population of 746,000—a 133% increase from 320,000 in 1971. The population centres include Cardston, High River and part of Calgary.
Smaller than the average Canadian ecoregion (45,000 km2), this region has a cool, dry climate. It also boasts deep, black soil rich in organic matter; in 2006, 64% was classified as dependable agricultural land—representing 2.1% of the total 454,630 km2 in Canada. Cropland and pasture dominated the landscape (69.1% of the area); the rest was covered by grasses (22.4%), developed land (2.6%), herbaceous cover (2.5%) and water (1.3%).
Agriculture in the ecoregion—animal grazing, grain and oilseed production—contributed $1.1 billion, or 2.5%, to Canada's $42.2 billion of farm sales in 2005. From 1971 to 2006, the farmland area of the Fescue Grassland ecoregion—cropland, summer fallow and pasture lands—increased 4.1% to 1.32 million hectares; by contrast, total farmland in Canada shrank 1.6%.
The labour force for the ecoregion was more than 434,800 people in 2006, a 13.7% rise over 2001. Nationally, the labour force grew 8.0% over that period. The primary industries employment category—mining, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting—increased 32.2%, whereas manufacturing declined 5.4%.
The largest employment category in the ecoregion was retail and wholesale trade (15.4% of the 2006 labour force with 66,985 people), followed by finance, scientific and real estate services (15.2% and 65,900), educational and health care services (12.4% and 53,950), and primary industries (7.0% and 30,575).
Map 15.4 Fescue Grassland eco-region, Alberta
Source: Statistics Canada, Geography Division.