Report on the Environment
The land within the boundaries of the U.S., covering nearly 2.3 billion acres, provides food, fiber, and shelter for all Americans, as well as terrestrial habitat for many other species. Land is the source of most extractable resources, such as minerals and petroleum. Land produces renewable resources and commodities including livestock, vegetables, fruit, grain, and timber; it also supports residential, industrial, commercial, transportation, and other uses. Additionally, land and the ecosystems that it is part of provide services such as trapping chemicals as they move through soil, storing and breaking down chemicals and wastes, and filtering and storing water. The use of land, what is applied to or released on it, and its condition change constantly: there are changes in the types and amounts of resources that are extracted, the distribution and nature of cover types, the amounts and types of chemicals used and wastes managed, and perceptions of the land’s value.
Numerous agencies and individuals have responsibilities for managing and protecting land in the U.S., in terms of resources associated with land (e.g., timber, minerals) and land uses (e.g., wilderness designations, regulatory controls). Between 30 and 40 percent of the nation is owned or managed by public agencies.1 The other 60 to 70 percent is managed by private owners, under a variety of federal, state, and local laws. Local governments have primary responsibilities for regulating land use, while state and federal agencies regulate chemicals and waste that are frequently used on, stored on, or released to land. EPA is interested in land because human activities on land such as food and fiber production, land development, manufacturing, or resource extraction can involve the creation, use, or release of chemicals and pollutants that can affect the environment and human health.
EPA works with other federal agencies, states, and partners to protect land resources, ecosystems, environmental processes, and uses of land through regulation of chemicals, waste, and pollutants, and through cleanup and restoration of contaminated lands. The complexities of responsibilities underscore the challenges of collecting data and assessing trends on the state of land.
- What are the trends in land cover and their effects on human health and the environment? “Land cover” refers to the actual or physical presence of vegetation or other materials (e.g., rock, snow, buildings) on the surface of the land.
- What are the trends in land use and their effects on human health and the environment? “Land use” refers to the economic and cultural activities practiced by humans on land. Land use can have effects on both human health and the environment, particularly as land is urbanized or used for agricultural purposes.
- What are the trends in wastes and their effects on human health and the environment? Numerous types of waste are generated as part of most human activities. Trends in wastes include trends in types and quantities of, and mechanisms for, managing wastes. Waste trends reflect the efficiency of use and reuse of materials and resources and potential for land contamination.
- What are the trends in chemicals used on the land and their effects on human health and the environment? Various chemicals are produced or used on land for many purposes. The quantity and diversity of chemicals and the potential for interactions among them have created challenges in understanding the full effects of their use. Pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic chemicals are examples of chemicals applied or released on land.
- What are the trends in contaminated land and their effects on human health and the environment? Contaminated lands are those lands that have been affected by human activities or natural events such as manufacturing, mining, waste disposal, volcanoes, or floods that pose a concern to human health or the environment.