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Media Release

Change happens: new maps reveal land cover change over five years across North America

Latest maps from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s (CEC) North American Land Change Monitoring System show impact of natural and human-caused events

Montreal, 11 March 2014—A new set of maps featured in the CEC’s North American Environmental Atlas depicts land cover changes in North America’s forests, prairies, deserts and cities, using satellite images from 2005 and 2010. These changes can be attributed to forest fires, insect infestation, urban sprawl and other natural or human-caused events. Produced by the North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS), a trinational collaborative effort facilitated by the CEC, these maps and accompanying data can be used to address issues such as climate change, carbon sequestration, biodiversity loss, and changes in ecosystem structure and function.

This project, which seeks to address land cover change at a North American scale, was initiated at the 2006 Land Cover Summit, in Washington, DC. Since then, specialists from government agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States have worked together to harmonize their land cover classification systems into 19 classes that provide a uniform view of the continent at a consistent 250-meter scale.

To view examples of significant land cover changes in British Colombia, California, and Cancun, slide the green bars on the maps, found at: www.cec.org/nalcms.

To view the full 2005–2010 land cover change map, visit www.cec.org/atlas and click on “Terrestrial Ecosystems” on the left. Under “Land Cover,” click on the plus sign next to “2005–2010 land cover change” to add the map layer to North America. Then zoom in and take a look at all the purple patches—these are the areas of North America where land cover has changed over the five-year period.

North American Land Change Monitoring System

NALCMS is a joint project between Natural Resources Canada/Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation (NRCan/CCMEO), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and three Mexican organizations: the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía—Inegi), the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad—Conabio), and the National Forestry Commission of Mexico (Comisión Nacional Forestal—Conafor), supported by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The North American Environmental Atlas

The North American Environmental Atlas brings together maps, data and interactive map layers that can be used to identify priority areas to conserve biodiversity, track cross-border transfers of pollutants, monitor CO2 emissions across major transportation routes and predict the spread of invasive species. Land Cover 2010 and Land Cover Change 2005–2010 are the latest in a series of maps that harmonize geographic information across North America’s political boundaries to depict significant environmental issues at a continental scale.

  • Learn more about the North American Environmental Atlas and map North America’s shared environment using our interactive map viewer at: www.cec.org/naatlas.
  • Download the Land Cover 2010 and Land Cover Change 2005–2010 data at no cost from: www.cec.org/naatlas.
  • Learn more about the North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS) at: www.cec.org/nalcms.

About the CEC

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established in 1994 by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States through the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, a parallel environmental agreement to NAFTA. As of 2020, the CEC is recognized and maintained by the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, in parallel with the new Free Trade Agreement of North America. The CEC brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public, Indigenous people, youth, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the business sector, to seek solutions to protect North America’s shared environment while supporting sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations

The CEC is governed and funded equally by the Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Government of the United States of Mexico through the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, and the Government of the United States of America through the Environmental Protection Agency.

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