Ecoregion profile: Fescue Grassland

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Michelle-Anne Auger, Hugo Larocque and Doug Trant, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division


The Fescue Grassland ecoregion is located in Alberta and covers an area of more than 14,900 km2. This is smaller than the average Canadian ecoregion of 45,000 km2. The Fescue Grassland ecoregion is part of the Prairie ecozone and it extends from Calgary in the north and across the U.S border in southern Alberta (Map 2).

The Fescue Grassland ecoregion was the sixth most densely populated ecoregion in Canada in 2006, with 50 persons per km2. The population was 746,000 people in 2006, representing a 133.2% increase over 1971 (Table 3). The main population centres in the ecoregion include Cardston, High River and a portion of Calgary.

The Fescue Grassland ecoregion lies in the Chinook 26  climatic belt of southwestern Alberta along the face of the Rocky Mountain foothills. This grassland community is dominated by rough fescue with lesser quantities of Parry oat grass, June grass, and wheat grass. Grazing and tillage have disturbed most of the native land cover in this region. Soils that have formed in the region are deep black with high organic matter due to the combination of favourable climate over thousands of years, grassland vegetation and geology. Sixty-four percent of the region is classified as dependable agricultural land, representing 2.1% of Canada's total stock of dependable agricultural land (Table 3).

The dominant land cover in the ecoregion is crops and pasture, making up 69.1% of the surface area (Chart 10, Map 3, Table 3). Grasses cover 22.4% of the ecoregion, followed by developed land (2.6%), herbaceous cover (2.5%) and water (1.3%).

More than 434,800 people were employed in the ecoregion in 2006, representing a 13.7% rise over 2001. The national labour force growth rate over the same period was 8.0 % (Table 3). The fastest growing employment category was primary industries (which includes mining and oil and gas extraction industries and agriculture) with a 32.2% rise over 2001. Over the same period employment in manufacturing declined by 5.4% (Table 3). Retail and wholesale trade was the largest employment category in 2006, employing 15.4% of the total labour force, followed by finance, scientific and real estate services at 15.2% and educational and health care services at 12.4% (Chart 11). 27 

The deep organic soils and cool, dry climate of the ecoregion are ideal for animal grazing as well as for the production of grain and oilseed crops. Agriculture in the ecoregion contributed $1.1 billion, or 2.5%, to Canada's total farm sales of $42.2 billion in 2005 (Table 3).

Total farmland area—which includes cropland, summerfallow and pasture lands—increased in the ecoregion from 1.27 million hectares in 1971, to 1.32 million hectares in 2006. In contrast, total farmland area in Canada saw a 1.6% decline over the same period. Between 1971 and 2006, the area of cropland increased by 38.8% in the ecoregion. During the same period the number of cattle rose by 63.3% to 622,384. The area of land irrigated increased by 223.7% to over 32,400 hectares in 2005 (Table 3).

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