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November 1999 Planet Main
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Solving Sprawl
Open Space
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The Planet

Open Space Protection

Americans want to live close to nature. But poorly planned development is gobbling up our beloved parks and open spaces at an alarming rate. A recent report by the American Farmland Trust revealed that every year in the United States, 1 million acres of productive farm land and open space get bulldozed by sprawling development.

Sprawl threatens wildlife by chopping up habitat. Some of America's premier ecosystems - spectacular places like the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades, the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and the Sonoran desert - are directly threatened by sprawl. Even animals like grizzly bears and salmon, already pushed to the brink, are losing habitat to encroaching homes and highways.

Sprawl also threatens our wetlands. Each year, we destroy more than 110,000 acres of these natural filters. Because wetlands act as flood-absorbing sponges, there are serious consequences for allowing sprawling development in wetlands - especially in disaster-prone floodplain areas. In the past eight years, floods in the United States killed more than 850 people and caused more than $89 billion in property damage. Much of this damage happened in states and counties where weak zoning laws allowed developers to drain wetlands and build in floodplains.

Sprawl is carving up our farm land, too. Development is replacing farmers' fields, disrupting small-town agriculture and a way of life. An astounding 70 percent of prime or unique farm land is now in the path of rapid development, according to the American Farmland Trust.

While it may sound like parks and open space in America are going, going, gone, some states are attempting to stop the loss of our natural heritage. In fact, voters in many states are insisting on it. Last November, voters from California to Cape Cod, Democrats and Republicans alike, approved the vast majority of some 240 anti-sprawl ballot initiatives, many of them dealing with land preservation. In New Jersey, even in the state's tax-adverse counties, voters overwhelmingly approved the use of $1 billion in tax revenue to conserve open space and farm land.

In this category, we used three main criteria to determine our rankings: (1) which states are preventing the loss of open space by purchasing parks and open space or using other methods to protect the land; (2) how well states are keeping their farm lands in farmers' hands; and (3) how well they are managing floodplain sprawl.

State Ranking:

  1. Maryland
  2. New Jersey
  3. Illinois
  4. Oregon
  5. Colorado
  6. Michigan
  7. Montana
  8. Ohio
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. California
  11. Minnesota
  12. Massachusetts
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Florida
  15. Maine
  16. Vermont
  17. New York
  18. Utah
  19. Rhode Island
  20. Delaware
  21. Kentucky
  22. Kansas
  23. Wyoming
  24. Connecticut
  25. Georgia
  26. Oklahoma
  27. Nevada
  28. North Carolina
  29. Washington
  30. Nebraska
  31. Idaho
  32. Virginia
  33. Iowa
  34. Tennessee
  35. Indiana
  36. Mississippi
  37. Alabama
  38. New Mexico
  39. North Dakota
  40. Hawaii
  41. Arkansas
  42. Arizona
  43. New Hampshire
  44. Missouri
  45. South Dakota
  46. Texas
  47. Louisiana
  48. South Carolina
  49. Alaska
  50. West Virginia

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