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ND Ranks First Among Lower 48 States for Loss of Natural Landscapes

North Dakota is the number two crude oil producer in the nation, which new analysis says contributed to the loss of 2.4 million acres of natural landscapes in the state from 2011 to 2017. (porchlife/Flickr)
North Dakota is the number two crude oil producer in the nation, which new analysis says contributed to the loss of 2.4 million acres of natural landscapes in the state from 2011 to 2017. (porchlife/Flickr)
August 9, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – The U.S. is losing its wild landscape to energy, transportation, agriculture and urbanization at a rate of two football fields per minute – and North Dakota's rate of loss is the highest in the nation.

New research is sounding alarms about what it means for future generations, especially in light of climate change.

The first comprehensive study of the lower 48 states shows how human modification is causing the loss and fragmentation of natural lands, according to biologist and study author Brett Dickson, president of Conservation Science Partners.

He says satellite data shows that from 2011 to 2017, North Dakota lost the most land – a total of 2.4 million acres.

"It's energy infrastructure and the expansion of the oil and gas fields in North Dakota that is just incredible to see,” he states. “And the visual is compelling, but troubling."

Dickson says neighboring Minnesota lost nearly 700,000 acres of natural lands from 2001 to 2017 – about 400,000 to urbanization.

In addition to oil and gas extraction and the installation of pipelines, Dickson says the main forms of development that are modifying landscapes include housing and commercial construction, road building, agriculture and logging.

"This eating away of some of the last wild places in the U.S. – I mean the places that offer our recreation and hunting opportunities, provide us with clean drinking water, space for wildlife to roam and to persist – there is a loss that we can't replace," he states.

Dickson worries that America is losing part of its soul with the loss of natural landscapes, especially in the West. He maintains people need to be more engaged to prevent even greater land losses.

"We can be smarter about where change happens, and maybe even when it happens,” he stresses. “And these kinds of data are one of the best vehicles we have for making better decisions about urbanization, about transportation, about agriculture."

The Center for American Progress, which commissioned the study, advocates for protecting 30% of all U.S. lands and oceans by 2030 to maintain ecological stability.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - ND