Except in the polar and northern sections, the mountains are forested, and lumbering is an important industry. The great mineral resources of Russia are in the Urals. Iron ore is mined in the south, and there are rich deposits of coal, copper, manganese, gold, aluminum, and potash. Oil fields and refineries along the Kama and Belaya rivers in the W Urals produce oil. Emeralds, chrysoberyl, topaz, and amethyst are mined, as are deposits of bauxite, asbestos, zinc, lead, silver, platinum, nickel, chrome, and tungsten.
The Urals industrial area (c.290,000 sq mi/751,100 sq km), a major Russia metallurgical region, is in the central and S Urals and the adjacent lowlands. Huge industrial centers are found at Yekaterinburg, Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk, Perm, Berezniki, Nizhni Tagil, Orsk, Orenburg, Ufa, and Zlatoust. The concentration of industry in the Urals has led to the severe environmental degradation of many of the region's mountain habitats.
Known to medieval Russia as the Stone Belt, the Urals were reached in the early 12th cent. by colonists and fur traders from Novgorod. Colonization developed rapidly in the late 16th cent. The first ironworks were established in the 1630s, and metallurgy was encouraged by Peter the Great. In the late 18th and early 19th cent., the Urals area was a major iron producer, but its relative importance declined in the late 19th cent.
Under the first two Five-Year Plans (1929-39), the tremendous industrial development of the Urals was based on Ural iron ore and coking coal shipped by rail from the Kuznetsk Basin. During World War II, industries were transplanted from European USSR to the Urals, strategically situated in the heart of the USSR. Since the war, coking coal from the Qaraghandy Basin, Kuznetsk coal, and hydroelectric power have supported the metallurgical industry, which has been enormously expanded.