The United States has lost 24 million acres of natural land between 2001 and 2017 due to agriculture, energy development, housing and other human factors, according to a new report. That is the equivalent of nine Grand Canyon national parks and could make the country more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The study by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress said the biggest loss of natural area was in the southern and midwestern U.S. as the land area of cities, farms, roads, power plants, and other developments there increased from 47% to 59%.
“The United States is entering an era in which it will rely more than ever on the integrity and stability of the natural world to provide economic prosperity, safeguard the health of communities, and weather the effects of a changing climate,” the report said.
As of 2015, 14% of U.S. land area has been conserved as national parks and other types of protected areas while 41% of U.S. marine areas is safeguarded to some degree. However, only 26% of those waters are protected from the most extreme activities such as oil and gas drilling.
The study said the U.S. needs to set a goal to protect more land and water by 2030 to stem the rapid decline of natural areas and protect the country from the worst impacts of climate change and wildlife extinction.