Humans have dramatically altered wildlands in the western United States over the past 100 years by using these lands and the resources they provide. Anthropogenic changes to the landscape, such as urban expansion and development of rural areas, influence the number and kinds of plants and wildlife that remain. In addition, western ecosystems are also affected by roads, powerlines, and other networks and land uses necessary to maintain human populations.
The cumulative impacts of human presence and actions on a landscape are called the "human footprint." These impacts may affect plants and wildlife by increasing the number of synanthropic (species that benefit from human activities) bird and mammal predators and facilitating their movements through the landscape or by creating unsuitable habitats. These actions can impact plants and wildlife to such an extent that the persistence of populations or entire species is questionable. For example, greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) once were widespread throughout the Great Basin, but now are a focus of conservation concern because populations have declined for the past three decades across most of their range. At the USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, we are developing spatial models to better understand potential influences of the human footprint on shrubland ecosystems and associated wildlife in the western United States.
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USGS Numbered Series
The human footprint in the west: a large-scale analysis of human impacts