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What causes habitat loss?

Did you know habitat loss is the leading cause of extinction in animal species? It is a main issue for 85 percent of all threatened animal species.

What causes habitat loss? There are many causes of habitat loss, including land conversion for development from growing populations, mining for materials, harvesting lumber for paper products and, of course, agriculture.

Let’s break it down the issue. There are 7 billion people on Earth sharing 7.68 billion acres of arable land, leaving space for one acre per person, with places left over for wildlife and their homes. However, agriculture for livestock takes up to three times more than that, requiring land to be used for raising cattle, pork, chicken, etc., and growing their food. In fact, 40 percent of all terrestrial land is used for livestock. An example of this can be found in the Amazon rainforest. One of the most important ecosystems on the planet is being cut down at a rapid rate to grow feed for livestock. Brazil is one of the largest beef producers in the world, affecting the habitats of species such as the golden lion tamarin.

Global meat production has tripled just in the last 30 years and is projected to double by 2050. This “livestock revolution” is having significant impacts on habitat loss, not just from housing the animals but for their feed. Feed production, especially for cows, requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, etc. Of all the different forms of meat, beef can have the biggest impact on our environment and our resources. Did you know that producing 2.2 pounds of beef takes enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for 20 days? Or that it takes 660 gallons of water to produce one hamburger?

Habitat loss from agriculture affects numerous animals all over the world. The U.S. is actually the largest beef producer, and therefore our local plant and wildlife is greatly affected. In fact, 20 million acres of land are used to grow alfalfa in America, about 1 million in California alone. U.S. animals affected by the beef industry include, but are not limited to black bears, wolves, hellbenders and bison.

In addition to the resources like land and water needed to produce meat, beef is labeled “the new SUV” because of cows’ methane production. Of the total 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas pollution that can be attributed to livestock, 65 percent of that comes from raising beef and dairy cattle. In America, the average cow releases an average of 117 pounds of methane per year.

Now that we know about how habitat loss happens, we can come up with some solutions. One simple solution is to try Meatless Mondays. You don’t have to completely give up meat to help save animals and their homes – just consider going meatless just one day a week. Even that can have a huge impact! Spread the word to your family and friends – imagine the impact that can be made if we all gave up meat for just one day a week.
Carissa Bishop
Conservation Education Initiatives Supervisor

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