Earth Caretakers of the Land


Where are we living? | The obligation | duties | protected areas | comparing sizes | population growth | land-use | comparative sizes | graphic


New Mexico

Riparian woodland in New Mexico.

Where Americans lived in the last two decades is shown on the map below.

USA globe

Earth Policy Institute alerts

". . . the U.S. area devoted to roads and parking lots covers an estimated 16 million hectares (61,000 square miles), an expanse approaching the size of the 21 million hectares that U.S. farmers planted in wheat last year. But this paving of land in industrial countries is slowing as countries approach automobile saturation. In the United States, there are three vehicles for every four people.

In Western Europe and Japan, there is typically one acre for every two people."

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan.

Lester Brown


What is worth protecting for the nation's future?


Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, California: suggested as a park by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1861, President Lincoln protected the valley in 1862; only to have the state fail and return it to the national government in 1891. Commons

Yellowstone Park The Great Falls of the Yellowstone River In 1872, on the recommendations of two explorers and their supporters, Congress created Yellowstone National Park.

The North American landscape is characterized by a variety of ecological systems grouped together in geographically similar vegetation types called biomes.

Oak-Savannah woodlandOak-Savannah woodlandBiomesOak-Savannah woodland

Oak Savannah woodland, the Salinas River floodplain in central California's watershed, transect of biomes, & Chesapeake Bay mouth.


America's landscape conservation heritage.

Hopper Edward Hopper's street scene: Early Sunday Morning, 1930.

Hopper had settled in Greenwich Village, which was to be his base for the rest of his life, in 1923.

What avail are forty freedom's without a blank spot on the map?
Aldo Leopold

Protected Areas:     Agency       extent (square miles)
National Parks 
jewels in the crown"  
Interior Department
National Forests
  (Gifford Pinchot) 
Agriculture Department
National Wildlife Refuges
(Fish & Wildlife Service)
Interior Department
Bureau of Land Management 
Interior Department 
Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge 
(Aleutian Is.)  
Interior Department
Other federal lands:
Defense & Interior 
Total protected area    



Asphalt covers:  
square miles *


Where are we? | The obligation | duties | protected areas | comparing sizes | population growth | land-use | graphic


The legacy of our landscape heritage.

eopold's shack        

Aldo Leopold's shack in Baraboo, Wisconsin.         



The comparative size, in area, of the USA:

USA mapview

One hundredth meridian

This is the arbitrary boundary on the continent between the arid west and the more humid east. The land west of the hundredth meridian is the region where there is routinely insufficient rainfall to promote intensive agriculture.

The size of the United States:

                                                 3,696,117     square miles    miles2

                                                                     2,365,515,481         acres

                                                                                     957,311,000     hectares


Where are we? | The obligation | duties | protected areas | comparing sizes | population growth | land-use | graphic



How much, in comparison to population growth is that area?

A nation of migrants
population Two contrasting measures of land
acreage hectares
2011 growth percentage >
Nevada 35.0 %
Arizona 24.6 %
Texas 20.6 %
Florida 17.6 %
The USA grew by 9 %

46% of the US is arable, meaning that it can be grazed, farmed or turned into orchards and vineyards

3 % of the land area in the U.S. is home to 75 percent of the population .                         

45% of the country is domesticated land (modification by agricultural or industrial agricultural uses).

1.8% of the land area in the lower 48 states is set-aside as wilderness; another 2.3% is in Alaska.


White areas are sparsely populated, tan densely populated, & red densest populations.



Land use & land use change are principal contributors to and means of ameliorating abrupt climate change because of the physical properties of land, air and water.

 the Jeffersonian Dream

Where the grid pattern ends in the dry river beds of the high, arid plains.

Overview of Land use in the United States

The U.S. has 2.3 billion acres of land. However, 375 million acres are in Alaska and not suitable for agricultural production. The land area of the lower 48 states is approximately 1.9 billion acres.

To put things in perspective, keep in mind that California is 103 million acres, Montana 94 million acres, Oregon 60 million acres and Maine 20 million acres.

Developed Land- Despite all the hand wringing over sprawl and urbanization, only 66 million acres are considered developed lands. This amounts to 3 percent of the land area in the U.S., yet this small land base is home to 75 percent of the population. In general, urban lands are nearly useless for biodiversity preservation. Furthermore, urbanized lands, once converted, usually do not shift to another use.

Rural Residential Land-This category comprises nearly all sprawl and subdivisions along with farmhouses scattered across the country The total acreage for rural residential is 73 million acres. Of this total, 44 million acres are lots of 10 or more acres.

No land area in the nation could be developed without water and electricity; Hoover dam in Boulder Canyon, Nevada is a perfect symbol of this reality as it provides water and power to California's 37,300,000 and Arizona's 6,595,778 thirsty residents.

 Boulder Canyon's Hoover Dam

Boulder Canyon where Hoover Dam was built in 1922 creating Lake Meade on the Colorado River.


Where are we? | The obligation | duties | protected areas | comparing sizes | population growth | land-use | graphic


Watershed: that area of the terrain that drains into a common river, stream, and tributary system, a landscape basin.

Rural Britain

American River, California's central valley, at flood stage winter 2005-2006.

"A river is a unit from its source to its mouth."
Gifford Pinchot, 1910


Where are we? | The obligation | duties | protected areas | comparing sizes | population growth | land-use | graphic

Below are a list of authors who have divergent and often contrasting views about land, landscape, land use and landscape education, but they agree on the importance of protecting our natural heritage.

Norman Myer's on the ecological importance of forests.

Lewis Mumford on our national landscape heritage.

Roderick Nash on America's wilderness heritage.

Michael Pollan on food as the litmus test for land use.

Nash versus Pollan on the importance of wild versus agrarian visions.

Paul Colinvaux Niche and stature of organisms

Ian McHarg on Design with Nature.

Bill McKibben on altering nature.

Carolyn Merchant on partnership as an ethical choice.

Sym Van der Ryn on ecological design.

Jared Diamond on caring for common property resources.

Leo Marx about literature and landscape in American writing.

Marc Reisner on what national policies for water conservation created.

How are our land use policies racist?


Watersheds Messenger Summer 2002 Vol. IX, No. 2: The Truth About Land Use in the United States
By George Wuerthner


"Corn Hill," 1930 [oil on canvas] The dunes at Truro, Cape Cod, Ma. by Edward Hopper

Blog about landscape size.


Where are we? | The obligation | duties | protected areas | comparing sizes | population growth | land-use | graphic

Aldo Leopold on Thinking Like a Mountain | Round River | Country & landscape | planetary concerns

Austin | Bateson | Carson | Diamond | Ehrlich | Greider | Hardin | Jackson | Lovelock | Odum | Siry | Williams | Wilson | Worster

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