The first formal study of erosion took place under the Soil Conservation Act of 1935. Through the years, it has been updated by many Acts. The Rural Development of Act of 1972 implemented a land inventory and monitoring program, which generally follows a complex sampling of five-year increments. For 35 years, the NRCS (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service) has been collecting information on the status and condition of land, soil, water, and related resources on the nation’s non-federal lands. It covers erosion, agricultural, rangeland, forestry, wetlands, and other lands. It covers 49 states (Alaska is excluded), Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands to assess resource quantity and quality.
The National Resources Inventory (NRI) is a statistical survey of natural-resource conditions and trends in the United States. Non-federal land includes privately owned lands, tribal and trust lands, and lands controlled by state and local governments. The 2020 report shows that about 44 million acres of land were developed between 1982 and 2017, bringing the total to about 116 million acres. This represents a 61 percent increase during the last 35 years. However, the developed land has been increased less and less proportional to population change. This results in less land available for agricultural, rangeland, and forests. Loss of rural land will have an impact on wildlife and native landscaping.
Taken from “What’s Happening on America’s Lands, Soils, and Waters?” by Bob Sowers, NRCS.
“The 2017 report shows trends from 2012 to 2017,…Conclusions from the report will take years to evolve as people study the data, but we can already see that cropland acreage increased, erosion rates stabilized, and the expansion of developed land decreased. Some highlights include:
- Cropland acreage increased by 5.6 million acres between 2012 and 2017, continuing a trend since 2007. Eighty percent of that increase came from land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program, which decreased during that time.
- Forest land continued to steadily increase over the last 35 years, with an increase of 1.1 million acres between 2012 and 2017. The increase was mostly from conversion from pastureland, counterbalancing losses to developed land.
- Rangeland continued to steadily decline over the last 35 years with a reduction of 1.2 million acres between 2012 and 2017. Most of that reduction was due to losses to cropland and developed land.
- Palustrine* and estuarian** wetlands saw no change overall between 2012 and 2017.
- Cropland erosion rates remained stable despite the increase in overall cropland, indicating that new cropland does not have a higher likelihood of erosion.
The report also gives a statistical perspective on natural resource and environmental conditions for these lands, with the specific goal of supporting agricultural and environmental policy development and program implementation. It serves as the foundation for critical analytical efforts for USDA and other agencies and groups.”
*Palustrine wetlands include all non-tidal wetlands dominated by trees, shrubs, persistent emergent plants, or emergent mosses or lichens, as well as small, shallow open water ponds or potholes (called swamps, marshes, potholes, bogs or fens.)
**Estuarine wetlands are tidal wetlands that are usually semi-enclosed by land but have open, partly obstructed or sporadic access to the open ocean, and in which ocean water is at least occasionally diluted by freshwater runoff from the land (where a river flows into the ocean).
For the complete report, see the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s What’s Happening on America’s Lands, Soils, and Waters?
The net change of rural land into developed land has averaged 1.6 million acres per year over the last 25 years. This results in reduced agricultural land, rangeland, and forests. This loss of rural land — compounded by climate change — leads me to think that our environment and the extreme weather caused by climate change will result in a loss of wildlife and native landscaping.