The Other Soil Erosion: Long-Term Erosion of Our Productive Farmland Base from U.S. Population Growth

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The Other Soil Erosion: Long-Term Erosion of Our Productive Farmland Base from U.S. Population Growth

 Introduction – Appreciating the Land That Feeds Us

Figure 1. Livestock  in TexasIn the new century, sustainable agriculture has become a buzzword of sorts, and fresh, healthy (preferably organic), locally-grown food is an ideal if not a mantra. In the Mid-Atlantic States, for example, the popular retro restaurant chain Silver Diner (with 15 restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey) reoriented itself several years ago to emphasize “fresh & local ingredients,” mirroring a nation-wide trend that is especially evident among younger consumers.

Tangible (not just rhetorical) support for local agriculture is a welcome development, along with vegetarianism and veganism. All of these bespeak a greater awareness of our fundamental dependence on land, soil, water, and energy for food production and healthy eating, and all reduce our per capita and collective demands on crucial natural resources. The movement to “buy local” reduces energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from transporting bulk foodstuffs long (frequently intercontinental) distances, while lessening or eliminating meat consumption cuts down enormously on the amount of land, water, fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil fuels needed to grow the grain fed to billions of cattle, pigs, and chickens. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or feedlots are notorious polluters of water. And incredibly, on a global scale, raising livestock to feed humans generates even more greenhouse gas emissions than driving cars.

However, in the United States, none of these positive trends has yet to occur at scale, and even if they did, the long-term productive potential of American farmland would continue to erode, and with it, our food security. Ongoing and projected U.S. population growth, driven almost entirely by high immigration rates, and the sprawl these forces engender, are a major reason why. […]

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Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon Kolankiewicz is an “all-around ecologist” whose professional career spans three decades, three countries, and more than 30 states. He received a B.S. in forestry & wildlife management from Virginia Tech and an M.S. in environmental planning from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada). His career includes stints with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service, University of Washington, University of New Mexico, Orange County Environmental Management Agency, Carrying Capacity Network, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. As an environmental consultant, Leon has written, edited and managed many environmental impact statements on a variety of projects for multiple federal agencies and prepared more than 40 comprehensive conservation plans for national wildlife refuges from Alaska to the Caribbean. He has also authored reports examining the role of population growth in aggravating pressures on natural resources and the environment.
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