Categories: Spatial Analysis

New Project Maps the Loss of Natural Spaces in American West

At DisappearingWest.org, you can actively monitor the loss of natural land as the American West continues to be developed. Though it may sound demoralizing to an environmentalist, the site offers maps, statistics, and explanations for this trend as well as a conclusion that calls for far stronger protections on the natural areas of the West. Make sure to read to the end of the webpage, or you’ll merely get the message that each year the American West loses an area of natural land that nearly matches the footprint of Los Angeles (as the acres of land lost counter ticks higher and higher at the top of your screen).

The project, conducted under the liberal think­tank Center for American Progress, explains that although forestry and agriculture account for the greatest area of land use, these activities are not expanding very quickly. The development of both residential and commercial buildings was responsible for the most natural area lost between 2001 and 2011. The popular mythos of the American West is that the frontier is long closed, the debates of Hetch Hetchy, perservationist views versus conservationist views, and even the Sagebrush Rebellion are closed chapters and the battle has been fought and decided. Recently, discussions of federal land in the West are headlined by the Bundy Ranch of 2014 and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation earlier this year. Although these events are commonly punchlines to jokes, a discussion of public lands and protecting natural areas must occur. And according to the Disappearing West project, this discussion needs to happen now ­ with “the same urgency that moved earlier generations” ­ and ought to lead to a determination that far, f ar more land in the West needs to be protected than the 12% under protection from development and resource extraction now.

The website has only recently gone live, and new features will be added in the near future. Check out DisappearingWest.org to explore the maps and download GIS data in shapefile format.

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