Science Focus Topic 2 Notes: Human Impacts on Ecosystems | Print |

Natural Resources are the materials and products that are found in nature, that people use to meet their basic needs.

The impact that people have on the use of resources can be very small, or can be huge, and can lead to positive or negative consequences. The needs of all living things now have to be met with the available natural resources. How we are able to satisfy these needs with minimal conflict will determine how resourceful we can be.

People and Nature - A Changing Relationship

The ways people interact with the environment has changed over time. Machines and advanced technologies have caused a higher impact than in the past. All of the needs people had in the past were satisfied by the natural resources they were able to find in the environment around them. Nowadays, resources are transported throughout the world, as the demand gets higher. Lifestyle changes over time have increased the pressure on different environments and the ecosystems we live in.

Gathering Food in Alberta: Then and Now

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Prairie Settlers

Cattle Feedlots

Buffalo were hunted by driving them to run off a cliff. The carcasses were then dragged to camps where they were processed into meat, hides, tools, and other necessary items. All parts of the buffalo were used, with minimal impact on the environment.

Early settlers kept mixed farms (livestock and crops). Improvements in technology allowed them to stay in one place (instead of following the food supply around). This lifestyle had a larger impact on the environment because farmland and ranchland had to be modified, to support the crops and livestock.

A large area that has been fenced in to feed cattle for food is called a feedlot. Once the beef is slaughtered and processed, the products are transported all over the world. The impact of this activity is significant, because cattle waste can pollute the water system nearby, and the soil conditions can be negatively affected.

When Is a Need a Want?

Needs are basic to survival, whereas,
' wants ' are things that just make survival more comfortable or enjoyable. Each time a need or a want is satisfied, natural resources or energy are used up. This impacts the environment we live in. Transporting food from all around the world, just so we can have the luxury of choice impacts other regions as well, because those regions had to clear land, use fuel (energy) and through the industrial processes caused pollutants to enter the air. When our 'want' demands conflict with the health of our ecosystems, we need to begin making some more responsible choices. The needs of wildlife can be negatively impacted by the wants of people. When this happens we need to decide whether our want is more important than their need.

No Simple Answers

Setting a forest on fire (
a controlled burn) is often necessary to maintain a balance in the ecosystem. These fires get rid of small trees, leaves, needles and other debris that settles on the forest floor. The new growth after a fire becomes food for elk, deer and other animals that need these nutrients from the forest floor.

[ Find out more ] Peregrine Falcon

[ Find out more ] Swift Foxes

Knowing what effects you are having on the environment (or will likely have) will help you make decisions. The use of DDT (a chemical pesticide) was found to have a negative effect on Peregrine Falcons. It wasn't until the species was almost lost completely that something was done. DDT was banned and recovery programs were put in place to restore the numbers of peregrine falcons.Swift foxes were accidentally poisoned because certain predators were seen as 'pests' or 'unnecessary' animals.
When the Swift foxes used the poison instead, the species almost became extinct. Natural control is necessary in any ecosystem. If this natural control is upset, the impact can have ripple effects, which were never anticipated.