Housing Development on America's Private Forests
Forests on the Edge results indicate that many private forests — particularly in the East, where most private forests occur — are likely to see substantial increases in housing development in the next three decades. More than 44 million acres of private forest are projected to experience increased housing development by 2030.
Local jurisdictions and States can plan and target efforts to prevent or reduce conversion of some of their most valuable forest lands to keep our private working forests resilient and productive long into the future.
Some 44.2 million acres (over 11 percent) of private forest across the conterminous United States could experience substantial increases in housing density by 2030.
Although most watersheds meeting our selection criteria are projected to undergo significant housing density shifts on less than 5 percent of their surface area, these shifts could have significant impacts at the local level. Twenty-six watersheds were projected to experience increased housing development on more than 20 percent of the watershed's area. On a national level this may not be considerable; however, such a level of change could have tremendous impacts on many ecological values in these watersheds, including water quality.
More than 15 watersheds of the 1,026 that met the selection criteria are projected to experience housing density increases on more than 200,000 acres of their surface area. The following tabulation depicts the number of acres of forest expected to shift either (a) from rural to exurban or (b) from rural or exurban to urban in each of the top 15 watersheds (all these watersheds are located in the Eastern United States):
Private forest—Includes tribal, forest industry, and non-industrial private ownerships; excluded public lands and private lands protected through conservation easements.
Rural—Private forest lands with 16 or fewer housing units per square mile. Forest lands with this housing density can generally support a diversity of economic and ecological functions commonly associated with private forests, such as management for timber, most wildlife species, and water quality.
Exurban—Private forest lands with 16 to 64 housing units per square mile. Lands with these higher housing densities can still support many wildlife species and other ecological functions, although perhaps at a reduced level. However, management for commercial timber may be less likely.
Urban—Private forest lands with 64 or more housing units per square
mile. Such lands are less likely to be used for timber production or to
contribute to wildlife habitat and water quality because of increased road
density, infrastructure, and human population levels. Such forest patches,
however, are often highly valued for their aesthetics, noise abatement
properties, and positive effect on property values.