August 26, 2005

Land Use - Part I




This issue of KnowledgeFarm is devoted to Land Use. Land use is the co-dependent parent of ecosystem sustainability. Scientific discussions of land use have grown from studies of sustainability and accumulated world knowledge about causes of global warming. It is a complex subject driven by economics, politics and planning.

Land use issues range from local to global. The following quotations and links are some of both. The first is from the August 24, New York Times and reflecting multiple benfits of using locally produced foods.

The excerpts following the NYT article derive from the archives of the weekly Journal Science, published by AAAS. They address global scale issues of sustainability and land use.

Web Link - Subscription information about AAAS and Science Online
AAAS = American Association for the Advacement of Science

Farmer's Market - Boulder, CO - August 2005
Fresh Gets Invited to the Cool Table - New York Times, 8/24/05

"YOU don't usually find a college tour guide showing off the school cafeteria to prospective applicants. But at Middlebury College in Vermont this summer, that was where a student guide made her four-star sales pitch. "The food here is amazing," she said. "When I went home for spring break, I actually missed it."

"At a time when many school cafeterias are still serving traditional, mass-produced food, Middlebury has replaced "mystery meat," canned vegetables and other institutional menu staples - the butt of freshman-year jokes for generations - with locally raised chicken and lamb, and heirloom tomatoes, emerald green broccoli and plump ripe strawberries grown within a few miles of the campus.

"The movement among administrators to support local and regional sustainable agriculture, while helping their students eat better-tasting and better quality food, started on the East and West coasts and expanded across the country.

"Those who have embraced the concept cite the advantages, from fighting obesity among the young to helping the local economy. And while the Department of Agriculture has provided very little money for farm to cafeteria programs, individual administrators are using sustainable agriculture as part of the new federal wellness initiative, which requires school districts, in consultation with parents, students and schools, to create a comprehensive wellness program, especially nutrition guidelines."

Web Link - read the entire New York Times article

Suggestion:- Copy and e-mail this link to the NYT article to your local school board.

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Confronting the Effects of Land Use

"Current trends in land use allow humans to appropriate an ever-larger fraction of the biosphere's goods and services while simultaneously diminishing the capacity of global ecosystems to sustain food production, maintain freshwater and forest resources, regulate climate and air quality, and mediate infectious diseases. This assertion is supported across a broad range of environmental conditions worldwide, although some (e.g., alpine and marine areas) were not considered here. Nevertheless, the conclusion is clear: Modern land-use practices, while increasing the short-term supplies of material goods, may undermine many ecosystem services in the long run, even on regional and global scales.

"Confronting the global environmental challenges of land use will require assessing and managing inherent trade-offs between meeting immediate human needs and maintaining the capacity of ecosystems to provide goods and services in the future. Assessments of trade-offs must recognize that land use provides crucial social and economic benefits, even while leading to possible long-term declines in human welfare through altered ecosystem functioning.

[Here is a] Conceptual framework for comparing land use and trade-offs of ecosystem services.
For purposes of illustration, we compare three hypothetical landscapes: a natural ecosystem (left), an intensively managed cropland (middle), and a cropland with restored ecosystem services (right). The natural ecosystems are able to support many ecosystem services at high levels, but not food production. The intensively managed cropland, however, is able to produce food in abundance (at least in the short run), at the cost of diminishing other ecosystem services. However, a middle ground - a cropland that is explicitly managed to maintain other ecosystem services - may be able to support a broader portfolio of ecosystem services.

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Global Consequences of Land Use

"Human alteration of Earth is substantial and growing. Between one-third and one-half of the land surface has been transformed by human action; the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has increased by nearly 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution; more atmospheric nitrogen is fixed by humanity than by all natural terrestrial sources combined; more than half of all accessible surface fresh water is put to use by humanity; and about one-quarter of the bird species on Earth have been driven to extinction. By these and other standards, it is clear that we live on a human-dominated planet.

"All organisms modify their environment, and humans are no exception. As the human population has grown and the power of technology has expanded, the scope and nature of this modification has changed drastically. Until recently, the term "human-dominated ecosystems" would have elicited images of agricultural fields, pastures, or urban landscapes; now it applies with greater or lesser force to all of Earth. Many ecosystems are dominated directly by humanity, and no ecosystem on Earth's surface is free of pervasive human influence.

"The global consequences of human activity are not something to face in the future, they are with us now. All of these changes are ongoing, and in many cases accelerating; many of them were entrained long before their importance was recognized. Moreover, all of these seemingly disparate phenomena trace to a single cause--the growing scale of the human enterprise. The rates, scales, kinds, and combinations of changes occurring now are fundamentally different from those at any other time in history; we are changing Earth more rapidly than we are understanding it. We live on a human-dominated planet--and the momentum of human population growth, together with the imperative for further economic development in most of the world, ensures that our dominance will increase.

"Finally, humanity's dominance of Earth means that we cannot escape responsibility for managing the planet. Our activities are causing rapid, novel, and substantial changes to Earth's ecosystems. Maintaining populations, species, and ecosystems in the face of those changes, and maintaining the flow of goods and services they provide humanity (55), will require active management for the foreseeable future. There is no clearer illustration of the extent of human dominance of Earth than the fact that maintaining the diversity of "wild" species and the functioning of "wild" ecosystems will require increasing human involvement.

Peter M. Vitousek, Harold A. Mooney, Jane Lubchenco, Jerry M. Melillo
Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems, Science, Vol 277, Issue 5325, 494-499 , 25 July 1997

Web Link - View the Abstract of the article and links to 51 related articles

The Future of Farming and Conservation

Excerpts from a letter - Science, Vol 308, Issue 5726, 1257-1258 , 27 May 2005

"Most conservation biologists have gone beyond the simplistic idea that there is "wild habitat" and "agricultural land." Most land is subjected to some sort of human interference, and the goal for conservation is to preserve as much biodiversity as possible in landscapes that include mosaics of different types of land use.

"Almost all landscapes are currently fragmented, with patches of more or less native vegetation interspersed among a matrix of different land-use systems, including agriculture. Metapopulation and metacommunity structures are likely to exist among those patches and organisms need to migrate from patch to patch to maintain these structures. If the so-called high-productivity agriculture includes monoculture and/or the use of biocides, this may result in the death of many organisms attempting that interpatch migration, which is necessary to avoid what almost all agree will be the inevitable extinctions from the patches that, on their own, are almost certainly too small to sustain most populations."

Web Link - web link to this letter

George Beggs 8/2005 - Feedback is welcome

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