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Land in Balance

How can land meet the needs of both humans and other living things?

Land use can seem to be an “either-or” proposition: meet human needs or the needs of nature. As population and consumption grow, Ensia looks at how we can produce food and other goods while protecting natural systems.

Ensia Collections44 Stories
image of Dragon’s blood trees and other flora on Socotra with mountains in the background.

Amidst ongoing conflict, efforts to save this endemic tree are threatened

On Yemen’s Socotra island, poverty and political disruption hinder efforts to give its prized dragon’s blood tree a future

The Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite captured this true-colour image on 5 February 2019, just three days after heavy rainfall in Rome and the surrounding area of Lazio, Italy. It shows sediment gushing into the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea. The downpour on 2 February led to flooded streets, the closing of the banks of the Tiber River and several roads. The Tiber River can be seen snaking its way southwards in the image. The third longest river in Italy, it rises in the Apennine Mountains and flows around 400 km before flowing through the city of Rome and draining into the sea near the town of Ostia. The Tiber River plays an important role in sediment transport, so coastal waters here are often discoloured. However, the recent rains resulted in a large amount of sediment pouring into the Tyrrhenian Sea, as this image shows. The sediment plume can be seen stretching 28 km from the coast, carried northwest by currents.

Why it’s important to let sediment reach the shore

Sediment built up behind dams has negative affects downstream, so experts argue we need to reconnect rivers to floodplains.

Amidst County Clare's rolling hills, the remaining stands of a Sitka Spruce plantation form a quilted landscape.

Can forest expansion balance climate change, economic growth and ecological health?

When it comes to managing woodlands to meet multiple needs, Irish activists underscore the importance of considering the forest as well as the trees.

Water drop that looks sort of like a crystal ball sitting on top of a log with a forest visible through it.

If you care about conservation, read this

From printable DNA to bird-bashing buildings these 15 issues are likely to have a big impact on biodiversity in 2024.

Photo shows three people working on a prescribed burn in the forest. One person is actively lighting a fire. The other two are watching.

What happens when U.S. insurers stop covering prescribed burns?

Prescribed fires are a positive land management method, but when the flames occasionally escape control, the resulting damage to land and private property also hurts this conservation tool’s reputation.

Illustration of the infinity symbol with a map of Earth on it and part of it is broken to symbolize that nothing is limitless.

Opinion: Why understanding limits is the key to humanity’s future

We need to view limits not as restrictions to be fought against, but as boundaries that enable systems to work.

An aerial view of Ogechie Lake in Kathio Township, Minnesota, shows wild rice and trees in the background.

In northern Minnesota, wild rice is being threatened by climate change and increased rainfall

STORY FROM SAHAN JOURNAL | Tribal, state and federal governments are working to adapt to the changing environment to ensure wild rice, or manoomin as wild rice is called in the Ojibwe language, lives on in Minnesota

Flooding in Albany Park (Chicago), April 18, 2013

Inundation and Injustice: Flooding presents a formidable threat to the Great Lakes region

Throughout the Great Lakes region, archaic wastewater systems, crumbling infrastructure and segregated housing create a perfect storm of flooding vulnerability.

Illustration of a hand "pulling back a curtain" to show non-tech solutions to food system issues in bright yellow. On the left side are tech-related solutions in dark green.

Opinion: Climate-friendly food systems start with different values, not technologies

If we want to transform our relationship with food, we need to think about more than just productivity and carbon.

Illustration for an op-ed about conservation organizations helping community-led conservation efforts. The images shows hands holding up people who are holding up an ecosystem.

Opinion: Evolving toward community-led conservation

To achieve biodiversity goals, conservation organizations need to ensure local residents play a lead role in designing and implementing initiatives.

Restoration site near Rincón de la Vieja National Park, Costa Rica. At this site, invasive grasses (Brachiaria grasses.) were removed and native species were reestablished. This is an example showing assisted natural regeneration. In the photo someone is holding up another photo of the landscape at a degraded state years before. Photo by Luciana Gallardo Lomeli, World Resources Institute

Resource-rich countries find it pays to pay landholders to protect their land

By compensating landholders for land restoration, government programs support services worth more than the cost

The sun shines on the solar array at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, Colo.

A solar solution to the West’s changing climate?

Growing crops beneath solar panels can shrink agriculture’s thirst for irrigation while providing food and electricity, too

A close up of a lion's eye

Top conservation issues to watch out for in 2023

15 emerging issues that anyone who cares about biodiversity ought to keep an eye on

What does forest restoration in the U.S. Southwest look like in the age of climate change?

After megafires in the region, some forest systems may never return to their pre-fire conditions. Now, ecologists are redefining how forest ecosystems might be restored in a way that increases resiliency.

Double-track construction of the Kunming to Guangtong section of the Chengdu–Kunming railway at Anning in 2012.

Are China’s pledges to green its Belt and Road Initiative the real deal?

Some are skeptical of claims the country’s massive global infrastructure program can be sustainable

Photo of publications from Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle on table and bookshelf

Language barriers in conservation research could be hurting biodiversity efforts. What can be done about it?

Some researchers say that ignoring non-English papers could have disastrous consequences for conservation

Members of the Chico Traditional Ecological Stewardship Program and others light fire to deergrass for a cultural burn. Mounds of grass burn with smoke rising from them. A line of trees is at the back of the photo.

Can traditional knowledge keep California from going up in flames?

This “indigenous revolution” aims to prevent catastrophic blazes, protect biodiversity, and enhance cultural and economic well-being at the same time

Illustration of water tumbling out chaotically from a storm water pipe into a calm pond or wetland area. Green trees and orange sky in the background,

To minimize harm from floods and droughts, we need to understand what water wants

As climate change alters the movement of water on land and in the air, a call for Slow Water

illustration of trees in a rainforest

Opinion: This pillar of the rainforest needs support

Enforcement, policy and funding are critical if Indigenous people are to continue to sustainably manage mahogany

Worker neghborhood beside the Amazon forest. In Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas

Nine things we can do now to protect the environment and reduce the risk of another pandemic

Important ways we can help minimize the risk of future disease by rethinking how we farm, eat, trade and interact with other species

Opinion: We need Nature-POSITIVE Solutions to address the climate crisis

“Nature-Based Solutions” and “Natural Climate Solutions” leave too much room for greenwashing

hoeing farm fields

Opinion: When it comes to food production, “Does it scale?” is often the wrong question

Evaluating radical new solutions based on whether they scale can be directly at odds with the very nature of these solutions.

close up of great owl eyes

Look what’s on the conservation horizon

15 things biodiversity protectors are watching out for in 2022

Woman in rice paddy with sarus crane

The global coronavirus pandemic has revealed cracks in the foundation of conventional conservation funding. What should we do instead?

With Covid-19 upending conventional sources of conservation funding, conservationists are rethinking how to fund their work.

Opinion: Seven strategies that offer hope for rainforests

Company policies, new technologies, innovative financing and more are brightening prospects for the tropical rainforests — but time is short.

In semi-arid Africa, farmers are transforming the “underground forest” into life-giving trees

Revitalization of a traditional agricultural practice known as farmer managed natural regeneration is bringing new life to millions of acres of degraded land while boosting food, fuel, habitat and carbon storage.

What a project in Wisconsin can teach others about working with farmers to reduce phosphorus runoff

Adoption of best management practices on farms near Green Bay, Wisconsin, could help answer nagging questions about how well these strategies work to reduce nutrient pollution.

Can we meet a growing need for food without destroying our environment?

An evolving concept called “sustainable intensification” aims to bridge the gap between conventional agriculture and organic farming

Garbage mining at Cedar Hills Regional Landfill

Why aren’t we mining landfills for valuable materials like metals and soil?

Many old dumps contain useful materials. Whether they’re worth extracting depends on how we value other benefits such as preventing pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As hundreds of golf courses close, nature gets a chance to make a comeback

Bogeys may be gone, but birdies and eagles thrive as former greens and fairways are transformed into wild spaces.

How grizzlies, monarchs and even fish can benefit from U.S. highways

Roads often present peril for wildlife - but with good planning, they can benefit animals instead.

How a new way of thinking about soil sparked a national movement in agriculture

As word gets around that soil is alive, farmers have adopted a whole new attitude toward their land

Hand grasping an earth wrist watch

OPINION: We only have one Earth, so we better start taking care of it.

Clocks are ticking, and the only planet we have to live on is changing right before our eyes. What are we going to do about it?

OPINION: If Our Planet Had a Say, Here’s Where Future Roads Would Go

A new global ‘roadmap’ shows where to put roads for maximum benefit and least cost to the Earth.

Futuristic cafeteria tray with meat printer, crickets, chicken-free strips, mealworms and test tube burger

From insect larvae to vat burgers, alternatives to conventional meats are emerging around the world

Sensitized to the environmental costs of livestock, a new generation eyes options for changing our carnivorous ways.

Mature millet in field

Getting beyond wheat, corn and rice

Some uncommon grains have environmental advantages that could be beneficial in a changing world. But making the uncommon common can be difficult.

Farmland with conceptual electrical plug blooms

OPINION: Food + Energy = Crisis?

Bringing intensive farming practices to the developing world could help meet escalating food demand. But such practices need lots of energy — creating new challenges.

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