Economic growth is frequently touted as a cure for environmental ills, particularly for those in Third World countries. Here we examine that paradigm in a case study of Alberta, Canada, a wealthy, resource-rich province within a wealthy nation. Through provincial-scale datasets, we examine the increasing pressures of the forest, petroleum, and agricultural industries upon the ecosystems of Alberta within management, economic, and political contexts. We advance the thesis that economic activity leads to environmental degradation unless ecosystem-based management is integrated into economic decision making. Agricultural lands cover 31.7%, and forest management areas leased to industry cover 33.4% of Alberta; both continue to increase in extent. The rate of logging (focused on old-growth by government policy) continues a decades-long exponential rise. Current Alberta annual petroleum production is 52.5 million m3crude oil and 117 billion m3of gas. As of early 1999, there were ~199 025 oil and gas wells and a conservative total of ~1.5-1.8 million km of seismic lines in Alberta. Fire occurrence data indicate no downward trends in annual area burned by wildfire, which may be characterized as driven by climate and inherently variable. When logging and wildfire are combined, the annual allowable cut in Alberta is unsustainable, even when only timber supply is considered and the effects of expanding agriculture and oil and gas activities are ignored. Ecosystem degradation in Alberta is pervasive and contrasts prominently with a high standard of living. A wealth of ecological data exists that indicates current resource-based economic activities are non-sustainable and destructive of ecosystem health yet these data are not considered within the economic decision making process. Given the complex, compounded, and increasing ecosystem perturbations, a future of unpleasant ecological surprises is likely. We conclude with tentative predictions as to where current trends in Alberta may lead if decisions biased against ecosystems continue. © 2001 Academic Press.