DALLAS, April 24, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In conjunction with the nation's largest Earth Day exposition this weekend at the Texas State Fairgrounds, the NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation is presenting a new report on how the nation and its cities are doing in conserving land resources. The answer is: Not very well, and Texas cities are among the worst.
In the last decade, an area larger than the entire state of Maryland -- more than 13,000 square miles of farmland, woodlands and other natural habitat beyond the edges of the nation's cities -- was cleared, scraped, filled, paved and built over to handle the expanding populations and growing individual appetites for more developed land, the report states.
In Texas, 1,572 square miles of natural habitat and farmland were eliminated. That was almost double what happened in Florida, the state with the second highest level of destruction.
Texas had 4 of the worst 10 sprawling cities out of 497 Urbanized Areas: Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, Charlotte, Austin, Raleigh, San Antonio, Philadelphia.
The findings of the study and the poll of Texas voters will be on display at NumbersUSA's interactive booth at the Earth Day Texas festival April 26-27 in Dallas. The report's authors will give special presentations at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day.
Detailed sprawl data and analysis on all 497 of the nation's Urbanized Areas are contained in NumbersUSA's 160-page report titled, "VANISHING OPEN SPACES: How an Exploding U.S. Population Is Devouring the Land that Feeds and Nourishes Us." The report is on-line at: https://www.numbersusa.com/resource-download/vanishing-open-spaces. As with previous studies, it relies primarily on data from the U.S. Bureau of Census and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"The vast new expanses of woodlands, wetlands, fields and pastures that have been eliminated in the last decade are the open spaces on which the country's human residents depend for food, fiber and the nourishment of their spirits, and to which the non-human inhabitants often tenuously cling for life itself," the report warns.
Roy Beck, one of the authors, observes: "While the country obviously can survive the recent losses, the report questions how long these trends of destruction can continue. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted that more than one-third of all the open spaces that have ever been converted to development in this country's history were eliminated from natural use and agriculture in just the last quarter century."
The report spotlights cropland as a particularly frightening example of unsustainable rates of loss. In the early 1980s when the NRCS began its massive land surveys, the country had 1.9 acres of cropland for every American. By 2010, that had declined to 1.2 acres. If the 30-year trends of high population growth and extra open space required to be developed for each new resident continue, there would be only 0.7 acre of cropland per American in 2050 and only 0.3 acre in 2100, the report states.
Some key overall findings of the study:
- "The good news during the last decade was that the galloping hyper-sprawl of the 1990s calmed significantly. The primary reason was that the rate of per capita land consumption stopped increasing as rapidly as it had over much of the post-World War II era. Indeed, by one measure, the average urban resident increased his or her amount of urbanized land by a relatively modest 3%. Nonetheless, that lower growth rate still combined with a continuation of the largest numerical population growth in U.S. history to drive open-space destruction at a higher volume than any time other than the 1990s."
- "This study finds that around 70% of those losses around Urbanized Areas over the last decade were related to the nation's continuing trend of high population growth. Yet, there is little sign that the nation is ready to substantially change this population trend – or even to much discuss it – although the open-space destruction it is driving is not sustainable over the long term."
But a Texas poll conducted in April by Pulse Opinion Research for the study found that most Texas voters are well ahead of government officials in their concern about vanishing open spaces and their interest in reducing the national population growth that drives most of the loss. (The full poll is in the document.) Among the results:
- 90% of Texans say it is important (70% "very important") to protect farmland from development to ensure the ability to feed the U.S. population in the future.
- 71% say this loss of farmland and natural habitat is a problem.
- By a 5-1 margin, Texans think it is unethical to pave over good cropland rather than being legitimate to provide housing for a growing population.
- Most Texans feel a spiritual or emotional uplift from time spent in natural areas, and 79% say it is important (42% say "very important") to be able to get to natural areas fairly quickly from where they live.
- Most say current population growth will make their local area worse, and 71% of likely voters said the government should "reduce immigration to slow down population growth."
Find the results of the national poll of likely voters in the Vanishing Open Spaces study.