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Four Threats - Key Messages

You are here: Four Threats > Key Messages > Loss of Open Space

Loss of Open Space

The loss of open space poses a threat to the health and sustainability of ecosystems, and reduces the ability of forests and grasslands to provide a multitude of public benefits, ecosystem services, and products.

  • Open space includes public land, private forests, ranches, farms, and other undeveloped lands. Open space is found across the landscape in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

  • Open space, both publicly and privately owned, provides many public benefits – including scenic beauty, clean water, places to recreate, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration. Open space also provides essential products like food, timber, and fiber, and supports land-based livelihoods.

  • Loss of open space has three aspects: (1) conversion – replacement of natural areas with houses, buildings, lawns, and pavement, (2) fragmentation – the division of forests and grasslands into small isolated patches, and (3) parcelization – the subdivision of large acreages into smaller ownership parcels.

  • Water quality and quantity are affected as development and fragmentation contribute to siltation, runoff, pollution, and reduced filtration.

  • The loss and fragmentation of open space affects wildlife because of diminished habitat size, reduced forest interior habitat, isolation of existing populations, and elimination of connecting corridors linking relatively undisturbed forest areas. Fragmented areas can be too small to maintain viable breeding populations of some species, such as some migratory songbirds.

  • Subdivision of land into small parcels can cut off traditional access points to public land and reduce the amount of private land available for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreation uses.

  • Conversion of forests and grasslands reduces the land area available for production of food, wood, and fiber. Loss of agricultural and forestry enterprises reduces contributions to local economies, increases reliance on imports, and limits the availability of natural resource-based jobs in rural areas.

  • Loss of open space reduces sequestration of airborne carbon by trees and plants, contributing to changes in climate.

  • Loss of open space affects adjacent national forestland.

  • Development next to the national forests and grasslands creates growth of the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Growth of the WUI increases costs of providing social and community services, including fire protection, to those areas.

  • As low-density subdivisions spread through rural areas, national forests become more vulnerable to fuel buildup, introduction of invasive species, fire, and unmanaged recreation.

  • Many Americans want to live near open spaces. Growth in rural areas is driven largely by retirees, second home owners, telecommuters, and long-distance commuters who want to live in beautiful places with open space amenities.

  • Property values are often higher when adjacent to open space lands, especially if the open space is permanently protected.

  • Landowners have many reasons for selling, subdividing, and developing their land including, but not limited to: (1) lack of estate planning; (2) federal and state tax bills; (3) gentrification of rural areas and corresponding rises in property values; and (4) family emergencies that require liquidation of assets to cover costs.

  • An individual decision to sell or build can seem insignificant, but the cumulative effect over time and across the landscape can be very significant for the health and sustainability of forests and grasslands, and for the viability and identity of rural communities.

  • The Forest Service is interested in partnering with others to conserve open spaces. We have expertise, resources, and programs that can help.

Last Update: 30 October 2006

US Forest Service
Last modified March 28, 2013

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