The prairies shaped an important time in the Metis
story. They fill the centre of the continent, starting where the Canada
Shield ends and the tall-grass prairie begins, west and south of the
Great Lakes. From there, they spread west to the soaring
Rocky Mountains, rising in gradual steps to the short grass prairie
below the mountains.
The ecology of the prairies has been transformed by human settlement.
Before the arrival of people on the land, the prairies were roamed by
enormous herds of bison, and their predators, the plains wolf and
grizzly bear. Today, these animal species still exist, but because of
settlement, they have come close to extinction in the past.
Prong-horn antelope, coyotes, kit foxes, gophers and ferrets fill other
niches in the zone. The waterways share some species with the taiga
zone, and the area’s more moderate seasonal temperatures allow more
reptiles and amphibians.
The natural ecology of the prairies offered a
higher carrying capacity than that of the taiga. As a result, it acted
as an important reservoir of resources during the fur trade. The
carrying capacity was increased by the seasonal migratory pattern of the
dominant species, the bison, which allowed areas to rebound after
intensive use. The First
Nations who lived in the prairies adapted their culture to the migratory
habits of the bison.