Last month, the U.S. Forest Service released a comprehensive report on how increased population and land use development may threaten woodlands and their numerous benefits in the next 50 years.
According to the report, where regions choose to locate new residential and commercial development in the coming decades could have a big impact on the health of privately-owned forests, which we rely on to help provide clean drinking water, wildlife habit and outdoor recreation, among other benefits.
Forested land also helps remove pollutants from the air and sequester the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
While the amount of land currently under development or with the potential to be developed remains very small as a percentage of total U.S. land, many of the areas slated for building are both close to existing urban areas and likely to intersect with forests.
The report does not include policy recommendations, but it does point to areas where elected leaders may want to pursue a different course that betters conserves finite resources.
Most decisions about where to build rest with local governments, but their choices are heavily influenced by federal transportation, energy and housing policy. For example, a transition to more renewable fuels would reduce harmful emissions that put a strain on forests. More transportation options would ease traffic congestion and reduce the need for new highway construction. And, practical and affordable housing in more centralized locations would reduce the need for some new development in the outskirts of urban areas.
Local leaders may also begin to transition priorities themselves as their constituents advocate for woodlands and recreation for quality-of-life purposes.
How we allocate our land resources means a lot for America’s forests. With this report, policymakers and citizens can continue the discussion on how to best balance growth and conservation.