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Resources Planning Act Assessment

Did You Know? The Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment reports on the status and trends of the Nation's renewable resources on all forests and rangelands, as required by the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974.

Resources Planning Act Assessment


Resources Planning Assessment Logo

The Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment reports on the status and trends of the Nation's renewable resources on all forests and rangelands, as required by the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974. The USDA Forest Service has conducted natural resource analyses for over a century. The 1974 RPA legislation established a periodic reporting requirement and broadened the coverage to all renewable resources on U.S. forests and rangelands. The RPA Assessment includes analyses of forests, rangelands, wildlife and fish, biodiversity, water, outdoor recreation, wilderness, urban forests, and the effects of climate change on these resources.

About the RPA Assessment

Congress called for an assessment of the nation's renewable resources in 1974, because it believed reliable information was necessary to properly manage these resources and make informed policy decisions. The need for reliable information on the status and trends of the nation's resources continues today. However, the emphasis has broadened from a solely economic concern with supply and demand to concerns about resource conditions, ecosystem health, and sustainability.


Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA)

The RPA legislation (P.L. 93-378, 88 Stat 475, as amended; 16 U.S.C. 1601(a), Section 3a) requires the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct an assessment of the nation's renewable resources every 10 years. The original Act had four requirements for the Assessment:

  • An analysis of present and anticipated uses, demand for and supply of the renewable resources with consideration of international resources, and an emphasis upon pertinent supply, demand, and price relationship trends;
  • An inventory of present and potential renewable resources, and an evaluation of opportunities for improving their yield of tangible and intangible services;
  • A description of Forest Service programs and responsibilities; and
  • A discussion of important policy considerations, laws, regulations, and other factors expected to influence and significantly affect the use, ownership, and management of forest, range, and other associated lands.

Subsequent amendments to the RPA added two requirements (Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, S. 2830, 101st Cong. (1990). Title XXIV-Global Climate Change, Section 2408a3):

  • An analysis of the potential effects of global climate change on the condition of renewable resources on the forests and rangelands of the U.S.; and
  • An analysis of rural and urban forestry opportunities to mitigate the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide and reduce the risk of global climate change.

The Assessment-related language of the RPA is primarily focused on resource availability. However, "resource condition" is mentioned in the original legislation and in the amendment on global change. Further, the Act specifically states that the Assessment is not limited to the requirements in the Act, which allows for flexibility in developing the Assessment framework.


Forest Service Regions Map

Past Assessments

The 1979 RPA Assessment

The first Assessment report was due in 1975, with an update in 1979 and every 10 years afterward. The 1975 RPA Assessment compiled existing information on renewable resources. Individual chapters described the basic assumptions; the forest and rangeland resource base; the current and projected supply of and demand for outdoor recreation and wilderness, wildlife and fish, range forage, timber, and water; and additional needs for scientific information.

The Forest Service developed a research agenda for completing the 1979 Assessment, which resulted in a more rigorous analytical approach. The basic format for 1979 was similar to the 1975 Assessment. However, it included more original analysis, as well as a new section on resource interactions, which addressed the feasibility of meeting all resource demands simultaneously. A supporting document on the timber portion of the Assessment was also published.

The Forest Service chose to publish a five-year update of the 1979 Assessment. The 1984 RPA Assessment Update highlighted changes in the renewable resource trends that had occurred since the 1979 Assessment and included a chapter on Assessment implications to inform Agency strategic planning and provide broad context for land management planning. See the 1984 RPA Assessment.

The 1989 RPA Assessment

A major research effort was undertaken to increase the Forest Service's analysis capabilities in all resource areas for the 1989 RPA Assessment. A resource specialist was assigned for each resource area and charged with producing a technical document that provided supporting information and analysis to the Assessment summary document. These specialists were primarily field research scientists.

The 1989 RPA Assessment summarized the findings from each resource area. The document was designed to appeal to a wide audience by shortening the length and minimizing technical jargon. The detailed supporting technical information was published in a series of documents. Seven documents reported on the findings in each resource area (wildlife and fish, range forage, outdoor recreation and wilderness, water, timber, minerals, and land base). Five additional documents were published on multiple resource interactions, global climate change, programs and responsibilities of the Forest Service, evolving uses of the Nation's resources, and basic assumptions. See the 1989 RPA Assessment.

The Forest Service opted to produce an update to the 1989 Assessment. Although the update included new information on supply and demand trends, the focus was on domestic and international resource issues. Based on the 1989 Assessment findings, a number of resource issues were identified that had the potential to impact resource availability and use. Studies were commissioned to further study a subset of those issues. The results of these studies are highlighted throughout the 1993 Assessment update, and a technical document was published to support each issue analysis. Issues included biological diversity, recycling, threatened and endangered species, customer diversity and the demand for recreation, forest productivity and climate change, private forest investment, and water quality on forest and rangelands. See the 1993 RPA Assessment.

The 2000 RPA Assessment

The original language of the RPA emphasizes resource availability in an economic context. However, it is clear that the ability of the resource base to produce both tangible and intangible outputs for society is dependent on the condition of the resource base. As a result, more attention was directed to assessing resource conditions for the 2000 RPA Assessment. International linkages continued to be important. National policies and international agreements on global warming and biological diversity had increased the visibility of international resource issues. U.S. demands affect resource conditions and supplies outside national boundaries.

In 1993, the President established a goal of achieving sustainable forest management (SFM) of all U.S. forests by the year 2000. In 1995, through the Montreal Process and the Santiago Declaration, the United States committed to a process of developing and evaluating national indicators of SFM. A set of seven criteria and 67 indicators were initially endorsed for use.

The seven criteria provided the organizing framework for the 2000 RPA Assessment. The Assessment served as a synthesis and reporting mechanism for the SFM criteria and indicators at the national level. The SFM indicators focus on historic and current conditions. Additional information is provided on rangeland resources, mineral resources, and the projected outlook for forest and rangeland resources. Supporting documents were published for the individual resource areas, climate change, and various other topics. The first urban forest assessment was published as part of the 2000 RPA Assessment. See the 2000 RPA Assessment.

As with previous Assessments, an update was produced that was published in June 2007. The interim update continued to use the seven criteria of sustainable forest management as an organizing framework. Projected increases in population and income suggested continued increases in demands for renewable resources. The update summarizes numerous current resource issues, including globalization, climate change, urbanization, and the availability of processing capacity for small diameter timber in the west. A short publication on the 15 key findings from the interim update was also created. Supporting documents were published that provide more detail on these topics. See the Interim Update of the 2000 RPA Assessment.

The 2010 RPA Assessment

The 2010 RPA Assessment outlook for U.S. resources is largely influenced by a set of RPA scenarios with varying assumptions about global population and economic growth, global wood energy consumption, U.S. population and economic growth, U.S. land use change, and global climate change from 2010 to 2060. This scenario framework continued to improve our ability to use an integrated modeling and analysis framework by imbedding our domestic analyses within an international context. We also expanded our analyses of climate effects by directly incorporating climate variables into several resource analyses, including forest inventory projections, rangeland productivity projections, wildlife habitat stress projections, outdoor recreation participation, and water.

Four key themes emerged from the findings: 1) land development will continue to threaten the integrity of natural ecosystems; 2) climate change will alter natural ecosystems and affect their ability to provide goods and services; 3) competition for goods and services from natural ecosystems will increase; and 4) geographic variation in resource response to drivers of change will require regional and local strategies to sustain natural resources. As with previous assessments, a series of supporting documents were published. See the 2010 RPA Assessment web page.

The Update to the 2010 RPA Assessment was published in 2016. The Update analyses built on the 2010 RPA analyses. In addition to updating trends and projections, we analyzed the effect of adaption options on water scarcity, wood pellet export markets and their effects on southern forests, and applied RPA information to two National Forest System regions to compare and contrast how different patterns in natural resource, human, and economic development affect natural resource outlooks. See the Update to the 2010 RPA Assessment web page for the Update, supporting documents, and a webinar series supporting the release.

The 2020 RPA Assessment

The 2020 RPA Assessment continues using a scenarios approach to frame the RPA resource analyses. The 2020 RPA Assessment outlook for U.S. resources is largely influenced by a set of RPA scenarios with varying assumptions about global population and economic growth, U.S. population and economic growth, U.S. land use change, and global climate change from 2020 to 2070, and again imbeds our domestic analyses within an international context. Socioeconomic and climate data for the 2020 RPA scenarios are available on the 2020 RPA web page under Basic Assumptions.

2020 RPA Assessment


The 2020 RPA Assessment will provide a snapshot of current U.S. forest and rangeland conditions (all ownerships), identify drivers of change for natural resource conditions, and project the effects of those drivers on resource conditions 50 years into the future. This assessment uses a set of future scenarios that influence the resource projections, allowing us to explore a range of possible futures for U.S. renewable natural resources. Alternative future scenarios are being used to analyze the effects of human and environmental influences on our forests and rangelands, including population growth, domestic and global economic growth, land use change, and climate change.

Read about the 2020 Assessment


RPA Scenarios

Cover of the PDF future scenariosThe Future Scenarios report describes the RPA Assessment scenarios selection process. The four chosen scenarios depict a coherent interdependent future for global and U.S. population dynamics, socioeconomic factors, and climate change, providing a means of qualitatively and quantitatively understanding how a range of socioeconomic and climate conditions interact through time to create different natural resource futures.

The Climate Scenarios and Projections report specifically describes in more detail the selection process that was used to identify and select climate scenarios, climate models, and climate projections for the RPA Assessment. While the scenarios, models, and projections were selected to be applied at the scale of the conterminous United States, 50 years into the future, they were also evaluated as to their utility at the scale of a national forest region, at a timeframe extended to 2100.

Both of these documents are precursors to the release of the 2020 RPA Assessment.


U.S. Land Base

US Land Base - cover of a PDF documentThe most recent report on the U.S. Land Base is now available. This document provides trends in U.S. land use and land cover, and summarizes how the RPA Assessment uses these different data sources to support analyses of forest trends. This document is a precursor to the release of the 2020 RPA assessment.


Forest Resources of the United States

Forest resources of the usa, cover of a PDF image.

The most recent report on the Forest Resources of the United States is now available. Data tables, data visualizations, and past reports are available on the FIA/RPA webpage. This document summarizes the state of the forests in the United States, and is a precursor to the release of the 2020 RPA Assessment.