By Alexandra Patel and Monica Medina
A recent report published by the Center for American Progress and the Conservation Science Project reveals the massive degree to which the United States has slowly but surely losing its natural landscapes — forests, grasslands, deserts — to roads, houses, pipelines, and other development. According to the report, from 2001 to 2017, an entire football field worth of nature was destroyed every 30 seconds – this is equivalent to almost nine Grand Canyon National Parks. Over this period of just 16 years, 24 million acres of natural land have been eradicated from the United States.
Why This Matters: During the Trump administration, nearly 13.5 million acres of land have had their protection revoked. America is not alone in its attitude and policies towards environmental conservation, as recently elected President Bolsonaro of Brazil has also been scrutinized at the international level for his policies that favor the development of the Amazon and its rising deforestation rates since his election. As the Campaign for Nature which aims to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 demonstrates, protection of land is not only a national concern but also a global issue. It impacts the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon emissions, for which trees and forests are crucial, and in turn holds major implications for climate change – an issue that cannot be delegated or ignored, but must be fought collectively. The IPCC Report on Climate Change and Land from last week makes this point abundantly clear — now we just need to make it happen in the U.S. by electing leaders that agree. Senator Booker’s new bill that we wrote about on Monday would be a good start.
Where Are We Losing The Most?
- The South lost the most land between 2001 and 2017, but it was a smaller percentage of its overall land.
- The Midwest lost less overall, but as a percentage of its total land, it lost nearly 60% during that time period.
- North Dakota and Oklahoma saw the biggest losses in the Lower 48 states, while Nevada and Maine saw the least change.
Through utilizing satellite data and public databases, researchers were able to identify instances of land change, where they were occurring and also measure their impact on the surrounding landscape. Based on this, the report was able to predict that by 2050, the United States may lose an area of forests, wetlands, and wilderness equivalent to the state of South Dakota.
What Can Be Done? The Center for American Progress recommends that over the next decade, a total of 30 percent of America’s lands and oceans should be protected. This would put the U.S. at the forefront of the #30×30 Campaign. Failure to do so will ensure the speeding up of mass extinction rates already being seen, and the irreversibility of human-caused environmental degradation and destruction. A 2018 CAP study found that only 12 percent of the country’s land area has been conserved as national parks, wilderness areas, permanent conservation easements, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, or other protected areas, so we have a long way to go.