California has lots of famous wilderness—Yosemite, Sequoia, Big Sur—but it’s rapidly losing its unfamous wildlands, says a new report out from the nonprofit research organization Conservation Science Partners, where scientists spent over a year looking at satellite images and more than 30 databases of the West (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming).
What they found, reports the East Bay Times, is that California is losing the most land of any of those states to “careless development” in the form of urban sprawl, transportation infrastructure, and energy uses. These kinds of additions to the landscape are “blocking corridors for wildlife, polluting water and changing the West’s singular sense of place,” says the EBT.
In California, San Bernardino and Riverside counties lost the most land; Los Angeles came in fourth place, right ahead of San Diego County. San Bernardino County, home to the mountain resort town of Big Bear and relatively cheap housing, “lost 60,013 acres of natural land from 2001-2011.” (For what it’s worth, the study, which looked at lands lost from 2001 to 2011, didn’t take into account new parkland that had been created in the same time period.)
The study asserts that “every 2.5 minutes the West loses an area of natural land the size of a football field to human development.”
The study was funded by the Center for American Progress, “a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.” The CAP’s public lands director tells the EBT that the takeaway from the study is that zoning laws need to be passed at the city and state level to keep development away from important, untouched areas. He also suggests the federal government step up with more money to create national parks and similar protected areas. Other conservationists are more inclined to see public-private partnerships as the way to preserve natural lands.
The report also produced an interactive map, allowing users to filter results according to the types of development that’s affected a region, like the construction of residential and commercial structures or the creation of an oil or gas field. LA’s map looks pretty much as most might imagine, a sea of the dark, dramatic colors.
- America’s vanishing West: California losing most land to development [East Bay Times]
- The Disappearing West [Official site]