Wednesday, August 1, 2018

On how America uses its land, from Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News posted this cool interactive map yesterday, depicting the ways in which land is used in the United States.  Among the findings of greatest interest to ruralists are these:
  • "Cropland takes up more than a fifth of the 48 contiguous states. Pasture and rangeland would cover most of the Western U.S."  This data point reminded me of this sign, which I photographed recently near the Butte-Tehama county line in far northern California.
Hwy 36, Butte County, California, July 2018
  • "Yet the actual land area used to grow the food Americans eat is much smaller—only about the size of Indiana, Illinois and half of Iowa combined. More than a third of the entire corn crop is devoted to ethanol production. Most cropland is used for livestock feed, exports or is left idle to let the land recover."  
    • Of 391.5 million acres of "agricultural land," 77.3 million acres are dedicated to the "food that we eat" while 127.4 million acres are dedicated to growing livestock feed and another 38.1 million acres are dedicated to biofuel/ethanol. 52 million acres are fallow at any given time.  
    • That reminded me of all the hay (alfalfa?) production I saw during my recent trip through (far) northern California.  Vast parts of Siskiyou, Shasta, Lassen and Modoc counties appear to be used for this purpose, which seems to use a great deal of water for irrigation.
      Hay production, Shasta-Lassen-Modoc region of California, July 2018
  • "The USDA categorizes national parks, wildlife areas, highways, railroads and military bases as special-use areas. And another USDA land classification—miscellaneous—includes cemeteries, golf courses, marshes, deserts and other areas of 'low economic value.'"
  • "More than 100 million acres of special-use areas are park and wilderness areas, where most commercial activities, such as logging, mining and grazing, are excluded."
  • "All of the country’s cities and towns would fit neatly in the Northeast." This reminds me of that 1962 Supreme Court decision, Baker v. Carr, where the Court wrote that legislators representing people, not trees or cows or acres.  
Regarding urban dominance in particular, note these findings:
  • "Although urban areas make up just 3.6 percent of the total size of the 48 contiguous states, four in five Americans live, work, and play there." 
  • "The 10 most productive metropolitan areas alone contributed to about 40 percent of U.S. GDP in 2016." 
  • "The pace of urbanization in the United States is staggering. An average of becoming more urban—at an average rate of about 1 million additional acres a year. That’s the equivalent of adding new urban area the size of Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix combined."

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