Wildlife Online Study Guide - Current Issue
Wildlife Online Study Guide
This page contains links that deal specifically with this year’s Current Issue and wildlife habitat. Check the National Envirothon Page for more information on the Current Issue.
The 2003 Canon National Envirothon will be held in Maryland. The 2003 theme is based on Maryland's Agricultural Land Conservation and Farmland Preservation. The background for the theme is below.
Agricultural lands – cropland, pasture, and rangeland – form the economic, social, and cultural backbone of much of North America. Agriculture plays an important role economically, contributing hundreds of billions of dollars in gross domestic product annually. Millions of people are employed – directly and indirectly – in agricultural production. Farmland – including row crops, pasture, and range – covers hundreds of millions of acres.
Yet, productive arable agricultural lands – areas with fertile soils, adequate water, and a climate capable of producing food and fiber – are a finite resource.
For much of human history, soil erosion has posed a significant threat to agricultural lands and has had a significant impact on water quality. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 1997 Natural Resources Inventory, erosion carries away more than 2 billion tons of soil annually in the U.S. Considerable erosion also occurs on Canadian crop- and rangeland. In 1986, almost 15 percent of cultivated lands were affected by moderate and severe wind erosion. At a soil-loss rate of 10 tonnes per hectare, this means that at least 63 million tonnes of prairie topsoil were lost, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. During the past 20 years North America has experienced rapid commercial, economic, and residential growth, which continues today.
According to the USDA’s National Resources Inventory, an average of more than 1 million acres of agricultural land were developed in the U.S. each year between 1992 and 1997. As agricultural lands – including cropland, pasture, rangeland – are developed for other uses, we lose not only its food and fiber production and associated jobs, but also scenic viewscapes, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and open space.
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, between 1901 and 1996 Canada's cultivated land area expanded five-fold. In contrast, the supply of dependable agricultural land dropped by an estimated 16% over this period because of conversion to urban and other non-agricultural uses. In the 1980s, the area of land under cultivation in Canada surpassed the supply of dependable land. This situation indicates that agricultural production is becoming more reliant on marginal land, with possible effects on productivity, soil quality, wildlife habitat, and other environmental aspects.
Soil erosion and siltation has always been a part of a natural environmental process. The actions of man have accelerated this process through the use and misuse of land. During the 1930's, the culmination of several factors caused the development of a severe erosion problem in the United States. These factors including overworking of the soil, poor land use practices and an extended period of drought, were the cause of the "Dust Bowl", a term used to describe the huge storms that carried sediment from the Great Plains all the way to the east coast. One particular storm was so severe, dust was scattered on the decks of ships 200 miles out to sea and drove grit into the teeth of people in New York City! It also blotted out the sun in Washington, DC! During the 1930's over 100 million acres of farmland were destroyed.
Soil conservation efforts began in earnest in the United States in the 1930’s with the establishment of the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). In doing so, approved legislation lead to the formation of 3,000 soil and water conservation districts in the United States. Through years of dedication and commitment to farming, these local soil and water conservation districts have been key partners to the success of farmland conservation and preservation efforts. Several Canadian programs – the Canada National Soil Conservation Program and National Soil and Water Conservation Program (1997-1999) – have also dealt with soil erosion and conservation. Resource professionals from federal, state, provincial, and local agencies provide farmers the necessary assistance for the installation of best management practices to conserve and protect the farmland utilizing a land preservation program.
Federal, state, and provincial governments, and non-profit land trusts and land preservation organizations are working in various ways to facilitate the preservation of farmland. Farmland is continually being developed for other land uses that may destroy prime farmland, scenic viewscapes, or wildlife habitat.
We will provide opportunities for students to experience and gain knowledge about the management and stewardship of our natural resources through hands-on activities, authentic assessment, and personal contacts. The students will take home with them an understanding of how the quality of life is affected by the quality of our natural resources and will understand the need to conserve and preserve agricultural farmland.
Programs, Agencies and Organizations
Farmland Protection Program (FPP)
This national program works with State and Local Farmland Protection and Preservation Programs to save farmland from being converted to Urban Land. In NJ, the counties and local townships work to buy development easements from farmland owners. The farmer still owns the land but the land can no longer be converted to urban use.
The National Agricultural Land Study of 1980-81 found that millions of acres of farmland were being converted in the United States each year. The 1981 Congressional report, Compact Cities: Energy-Saving Strategies for the Eighties, identified the need for Congress to implement programs and policies to protect farmland and combat urban sprawl and the waste of energy and resources that accompanies sprawling development.
Other Agencies and Organizations
Best Management Practices that Benefit Wildlife
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Wildlife Habitat Improvement: Farmlands and Wildlife