Is the American West disappearing?

Published: Aug. 17, 2016 at 5:37 PM CDT
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The Wild West is getting a lot less wild, that's according to one report that found human activity is responsible for the disappearance of a football field's worth of natural land every two and a half minutes.

From the wide open plains of Wyoming to the breathtaking forests in Colorado, when most people think of the American West, they imagine an open space untouched by human activity. But, a new report says that pristine country is being eroded at an alarming rate.

"Really what we are seeing right now in the West is that urban sprawl and energy development are driving natural area loss fastest in the West," said Matt Lee-Ashley with the Center for American Progress.

Lee-Ashley helped lead the study, which found that from 2001 to 2012, an area totaling over 4,3000 miles was modified by development in 11 western states.

"We're seeing a lot of habitat fragmentation in the West, wildlife corridors are being cut by transmission lines, by roads," Lee-Ashley explained.

Of all the states studied, Wyoming lost the highest percentage of its land to human development. From 2001 to 2011 it lost 496 square miles, 4.8 percent of its natural land.

"There's really I think a need for Congress to take a look again at wilderness in the west," Lee-Ashley said. "Congress traditionally has worked in a bipartisan way to pass conservation legislation."

Wyoming Representative, Cynthia Lummis doesn't see the Federal Government as part of the solution.

"These we see as encroachments, as ill conceived and not respectful of our own efforts to voluntarily protect the land we love," Rep. Lummis explained (R-WY).

She says conservation should be left to each individual state.

"Our commitment to our land is one where we have skin in the game. They think they know better how to manage our lands than we do. I just believe they are completely wrong," Lummis said.

There are several bills stuck in both the Senate and the House that are aiming to protect areas in the west. Activists are hoping for a renewed conversation about conservation after the general election.