The human footprint in the American West

In this slide deck, we examine land-use patterns in the American West and explain how humans are impacting the landscape through population growth, energy development, and other activities.

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Key points

  • Lay of the land
    • The West is dominated by federal land, with national forests common in mountainous terrain and BLM land prevalent in lower-elevation areas, but some of the most biologically diverse areas are privately owned.
  • Human footprint
    • Although much of the West is publicly owned, the human footprint is evident almost everywhere in the region. Relatively pristine areas are often protected as wilderness or national parks, but many undeveloped areas remain vulnerable.
  • Growth and housing
    • The West accounts for a rising share of the nation’s population, with most growth occurring in and around big cities in an increasingly urbanized region.
  • Land trusts
    • The number of land trusts and the acres they protect continues to increase, as does accreditation of these nonprofits, but the level of activity varies widely from state to state.
  • Extractive industries
    • Some traditional economic sectors, such as logging on public lands, are in decline, but the West is still home to important mines, farms, rangeland, and other working landscapes.
  • Energy
    • The West is playing an increasingly important role in the nation’s fossil and renewable energy supply, but development of natural gas, solar, wind, and other sources often comes into conflict with protections for wildlife and other natural resources.

Visualizing environmental trends