By Linda Kor
If a projection by the U.S. Forest Service is correct, the U.S. could lose up to 34 million acres of forest-land by 2060. This is the finding of the recently unveiled 2010 Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment. While that is the worst-case scenario, the report notes how the expanding residential and industrial outlook, along with the projected climate change, can have a tremendous impact on forested land throughout the coun-try.
According to the report, forest losses are projected to range from 16 million to 34 million acres across the U.S. by 2060, with the greatest loss in the southern region of the country, where anywhere from nine million to 21 million acres will be lost. With the loss of forest comes a reduction in forest carbon stocks, affecting animal habitats and ecosystems.
Population is increasing throughout the U.S., with Arizona listed in the top 10 for growth in the last census with a 10 percent increase from 2000 to 2010. Growth in this region of the country is expected to con-tinue, and with that growth comes an increase in demand for recreational areas, new housing and land development. The report indicates land development is expected to increase between 41 percent and 77 percent by 2060.
At the moment, the forest inventory is good, but that’s expected to change by 2030, after which carbon stocks are projected to decrease and changes will take place in carbon store per acre.
As if those factors weren’t a big enough concern, water shortage in the Southwest will also become a problem, as climate change will increase water usage for irrigation and landscaping, resulting in an increase of water withdrawal from natural sources from two percent in 2005 to 42 percent by 2060.
While the report, prepared by a team of Forest Service scientists from a variety of fields throughout the nation, offers a sobering perspective on the future of the nation’s forests, it also notes that the outcome is not a foregone conclusion. The outcomes cited in the report are based on a continuation of current policies, and it’s noted that changes in markets, technology, trade flows, government policies and public values will all play key roles in shaping responses to changing resource conditions.
Several suggestions to decrease the likelihood of these outcomes include increased use of payments for ecosystem services that could provide incentives to landowners to maintain a wide array of services. Other types of programs, such as land retirement programs, conservation easements and tradable development permits, were also listed as options that can contribute to sustaining forest and rangelands.
The report can be viewed in its entirety online at http://www.fs.fed.us/research/rpa/.
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By Linda Kor