Map Documents America’s Vanishing West

Elizabeth Borneman


The Wild West has taken on a mythological air and while some of the stories are grossly exaggerated, others truly depict the tough life of the early American West. This desert landscape was scarcely populated, full of resources, and was the source of much inspiration for artists and explorers.

The American West as we know it, as we envision it in our minds, is slowly vanishing. The deserts are being swallowed up by housing developments and the expansion of roads while the previous lonely and wild places are seeing increased numbers of people coming through them. Isolation is harder to find, for people and animals.

A new mapping study, called the “Disappearing West”, is documenting the vanishing West, beginning in 2001 and ending in 2011. An area of 4,321 square miles in the American West was altered in some way by human hands. California has lost the most natural land, but land in Wyoming and Utah are changing the fastest.

Agriculture, mining, and oil drilling are three other factors that are dramatically influencing the West in the present day.

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The study was conducted by a non-profit organization that used satellite data to track changes in the Western United States. They analyzed the data and realized that the West is losing an area the size of a football field every 2.5 seconds to new human development.

Screenshot from a web map showing the disappearance of natural land in western United States.

Preserving natural land in the American West

Organizations like the National Park Service  are attempting to find ways to decrease the amount of natural land that is being lost to human development.

One way to do this is to improve zoning laws and to increase the amount of natural protected space in the American West. Keeping this land for conservation purposes helps plan for the future; it also helps slow down reckless development in fragile landscapes.

The map itself will be used to research and analyze the environmental impacts humans have on natural spaces, and to provide answers to necessary conservation questions about protecting this space.


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.