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Loss of Open Space

What is open space?

Open space includes all unbuilt areas, whether publicly or privately owned, protected or unprotected. Open space lands include forests and grasslands, farms and ranches, streams and rivers, and parks. They provide ecosystem services, support agricultural and forest production, and offer opportunities for recreation. However, open space is being lost to other land uses at an alarming rate.

What is the Forest Service doing to save open space?

The Forest Service works to sustain the environmental, social, and economic benefits of open spaces by:

  • Convening partners to identify and protect priority open space
  • Conducting research to understand societal patterns and drivers of land use conversion
  • Promoting national tools, policies and markets to help private landowners conserve open space
  • Providing resources and tools to help communities expand and connect open spaces
  • Participating in community growth planning to reduce ecological impacts and wildfire risks

The Forests on the Edge project aims to help conserve private forests and lands around national forests and grasslands, identifying areas across the country where forest benefits may be affected by factors such as development, fire, and insect pests.

Why are we losing open space and how will this affect me?

Each day, an estimated 6,000 acres of open space are converted to other uses. Expanding urban and suburban areas often result in a loss of forests, grasslands, and other natural areas. This loss is significant, as open spaces provide many benefits and ecosystem services. From clean water and natural flood control to wildlife habitat and biodiversity to recreation opportunities, there are many diverse benefits derived from open space that we must consider and manage sustainably.

Learn more about ecosystem services

Quick facts

  • In 2007, forests covered 751 million acres of land in the United States. This is more than four times the size of Texas!
  • More than half of the forests in the U.S. are privately owned. Federal, State, and local governments have stewardship responsibilities for the other 44 percent.
  • More than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Between 2010 and 2060, total urban and developed land area is projected to increase by 39 to 69 million acres.