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Open Space in the American West Is Shrinking, Study Says

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When a bear takes a walk in the woods, it’s only an average of 3.5 miles from significant human development. That’s one conclusion of an interactive online report prepared by the nonprofit Conservation Science Partners for the Center for American Progress, a conservation group.

Analyzing satellite imagery and data from 11 states, the researchers found that 4,300 square miles of open space in the West, an area larger than Yellowstone National Park, was developed between 2001 and 2011. In Colorado, 525 square miles was transformed during that same time. Three-fourths of the development happened on private land. The main type of activity was residential or commercial, with energy and mineral extraction second. Transportation impacts, including roads and transmission lines, are also spreading fast. The report says the resulting fragmentation endangers wildlife as well as water quality. But the pace of development varies widely. The portion of land developed each year in Montezuma County is 80 percent lower than the rate in Colorado and 75 percent lower than across the West. Dolores County’s numbers are similar. In contrast, development in La Plata County is 34 percent higher than the state rate.

Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal. She is currently a freelance writer as well as the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.
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