Planning for the future of America’s forests and rangelands

Claire O’Dea
Research and Development, U.S. Forest Service
August 9th, 2017 at 1:45PM

A photo of a map that shows Percent change in census–defined urban land by county, 1990–2010
Percent change in census–defined urban land by county, 1990–2010. (Credit: Forest Service.)

Wildfire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks are increasing the vulnerability of forests and rangelands in the U.S.  At the same time, a growing population is increasing demands for goods and services from these ecosystems.

Seeking to identify and address these concerns, the U.S. Forest Service report, Update to the 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment, examines how land development, climate change, natural disturbances and socioeconomic trends continue to influence forest and rangeland ecosystems.

Land development threatens the integrity of natural ecosystems with urban areas increasing 45 percent between 1990 and 2010. This leads to increasing forest fragmentation, driven by human activities in the East and disturbances in the West. The intensification of land use associated with land development is associated with increased threats to sensitive species, even within protected areas located near developments. 

The impacts of climate change and natural disturbances also will alter U.S. forests and rangelands. Climate effects are projected to increase productivity in northern rangelands, while decreasing productivity in southern rangelands. Climate change is also expected to impact participation in outdoor recreation, with negative impacts predicted for snowmobiling, hunting, undeveloped skiing, and floating. 

The assessment also notes that increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation lead to decreases in water yield and increases in water demand, resulting in water shortages. Adaptation options may reduce vulnerability to water shortage, but no single option eliminates the likelihood of shortages. 

These impacts will also affect the future of forest product markets in the U.S. because growth in overseas paper manufacturing output, shrinkage in U.S. manufacturing, and substitution by electronic media continue to put downward pressure on paper and paperboard production.

Mandated by Congress this assessment seeks to improve the nation’s understanding of the factors affecting renewable natural resources in the future.