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National Forests on the Edge:
Development Pressures on America's National Forests and Grasslands

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America’s National Forest System is composed of 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Many of these forests and grasslands are facing increased risks and impacts from escalating housing development on private rural lands along their boundaries. Encompassing about 192 million acres across 43 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, national forests and grasslands account for 8.5 percent of the total U.S. land area and 20 percent of its forestland. Nearly a quarter of the US population lives in a county that contains National Forest System land.

Key Points Covered

  • 21.7 million acres (about 8 percent) of rural lands located within 10 miles of national forests and grasslands across the conterminous United States are projected to undergo increases in housing development by 2030.
  • Thirteen national forests and grasslands are projected to have more than a half-million acres of adjacent private rural lands experience increased housing density.
  • Development and landscape fragmentation can pose substantial challenges for the management and conservation of the ecosystem services and amenity resources of national forests and grasslands, including access by the public.

The nine national forests most affected will see increased housing development on at least 25 percent of the private lands within one or more of the three distances studied. Three of these national forests are in the West. The Bitterroot National Forest in Idaho and Montana ranks highest in the nation, with projected housing density increases occurring on 42 percent of the private lands within 10 miles of the forest boundary. Click here to see the table.

National Forests on the Edge Maps.

Data on Individual Forests and Grasslands

Development is based on private lands development within 10 miles of forest and grassland boundaries.

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Stein, Susan M.; Alig, Ralph J.; White, Eric M.; Comas, Sara J.; Carr, Mary; Eley, Mike; Elverum, Kelly; O’Donnell, Mike; Theobald, David M.; Cordell, Ken; Haber, Jonathan; Beauvais, Theodore W. 2007. National forests on the edge: development pressures on America’s national forests and grasslands. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNWGTR-728. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 26 p.