When the words to the classic folk song “Home on the Range” were written in 1872, U.S. rangelands were much more extensive than they are today. Over the past three centuries in the coterminous United States, one-third of rangelands — once covering a billion acres — have been modified or converted to other land uses. This shift is projected to continue because privately owned rangelands, which are the most likely to be converted to other uses, represent more than 60 percent of America’s rangelands.
Residential development has had a particularly significant impact on rangeland ecosystems, including wildlife habitat reduction and fragmentation, altered hydrology and water quality, and decreased availability of natural and recreational goods and services. It’s a growing issue, as an additional 5.6 million acres of U.S. rangelands are expected to make way for residential development in the next two decades or so, with more than 1 million of those acres in California and Texas alone.
To better understand where and how residential development is likely to affect U.S. rangelands, a team of scientists are collaborating on an ongoing project known as Rangelands on the Edge, which estimates past and projected rangeland conversion while evaluating landscape-level rangeland threats. It’s similar to another Forest Service project called Forests on the Edge, which also has the key goals of increasing awareness of ecosystem values and challenges while creating tools for strategic planning.