Discussion of the principal cause of the loss of natural areas to development in the U.S.
“The natural landscape of the American West is gradually disappearing under a relentless march of new subdivisions, roads, oil and gas production, agricultural operations and other human development.”
Rogers is citing a new report at http://www.disappearingwest.org posted by Conservation Science Partners, a nongovernmental research group with offices in Truckee, California; Seattle, Washington; Flagstaff, Arizona; Fort Collins, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana. According to Disappearing West, an area of natural habitat the size of a football field is lost to concrete, asphalt, subdivisions, strip malls and drilling pads every two and a half minutes.
In the decade between 2001 and 2011, a combined area of 2.8 million acres (4,321 square miles) – 15 times the combined size of San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco – was developed in the 11 Western states. By far, California lost the most open space of all of them.
Yet there is a gaping hole large enough to drive a bulldozer through in both the Disappearing West website and Rogers’ article about it: the role of human population growth in driving all this development and loss of open space. Various wildlife population sizes are mentioned in the Disappearing West report, but there is not one mention of human population size and growth. Why this glaring omission?
Every 2.5 minutes, the American West loses a football field worth of natural area to human development. This project maps a rapidly changing landscape, explores what is being lost, and profiles a new movement for conservation that is gaining ground.
Natural areas in the West are going fast. With each flight home, we get a bird’s eye view of sprawling new roads, oil wells, and pipelines. The Oregon woods we explored as kids are now stumps without songbirds. We see fewer stars through Santa Fe’s brightening lights.
Yet, from governors’ mansions to the halls of Congress, questions about land and wildlife conservation command relatively little attention today. The conventional wisdom seems to hold that the most consequential battles over America’s wild places are already settled. President Theodore Roosevelt, Sierra Club founder John Muir, and the environmental activists of the 1960s won protections for national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas. In the eyes of some politicians, the West’s open spaces are not only well protected, but too well protected. An anti-parks caucus in the U.S. Congress, for example, wants to block new national parks and sell off the West’s national forests to private owners.
Natural area loss, by state
Total area modified by human development, in square miles
Natural area lost, in square miles
Percent change in area modified by human development
Source: Conservation Science Partners, “Description of the approach, data, and analytical methods used to estimate natural land loss in the western U.S.” (2016), unpublished technical report, available here. Source: Disappearing West
GR: Go to the Source for more facts on the loss of natural areas to construction in the U.S.