Feature

New Report Compares Gains in Forest Land Use with Losses in Forest Cover

Claire O’Dea
Research and Development, USDA Forest Service
June 24th, 2020 at 2:30PM
Tracking the ways in which the U.S. land base changes over time is an important objective of the RPA Assessment.  One example is the Bridger Teton National Forest, where land cover has changed over the last few decades.
Tracking the ways in which the U.S. land base changes over time is an important objective of the RPA Assessment. One example is the Bridger Teton National Forest, where land cover has changed over the last few decades. Photo/Forest Service

Every 10 years, the USDA Forest Service publishes the Resources Planning Act Assessment, exploring the status and trends of renewable resources on forests and rangelands in the U.S.

The 2020 RPA Assessment is currently under development. A supporting report published in advance of the assessment shows that since the beginning of this century slight gains in forest land use have occurred at the same time as forest land cover has shrunk.

According to the report, gains in forest land use between 1982 and 2012 came from cropland, pastureland and other rural land, while a smaller amount of forests were converted to developed land and pastureland. Forest land cover was lost to grasslands and shrub lands over this same time period, however some of these differences were results of harvesting, fire and other natural disturbances, and not expected to be permanent changes.

The report also noted a steady decline for rangelands on lands not being managed by federal agencies. Land in this category lost 13.5 million acres to agricultural use and other development. At the same time, urban areas expanded from 47 million acres in 1990 to 68 million acres in 2010. 

The Forest Service has conducted natural resource analyses for more than a century. Beginning in 1974, legislation required the Forest Service to produce an assessment of renewable resource conditions every ten years. The Forest Service examines forests, rangelands, forest products, carbon, wildlife and fish, recreation, wilderness, and water.

The RPA Assessment is also much more than a look at historical trends, it is an important planning tool.  It identifies what is driving change and projects what conditions will look like in 50 years.

The RPA Assessment will continue to use both land use and land cover separately and in combination because each source offers unique and complementary perspectives on land base trends.

To learn more, view the complete report.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/features/new-report-compares-gains-forest-land-use-losses-forest-cover