Northeastern Area Association of State Foresters

Land Use Change

America is growing. Between 1980 and 1990, the Northeastern U.S. population increased by 2.8 million; the following decade, it grew by 7.7 million more. Along with more people come more houses, more shopping malls, more roads, and more pressure to develop open space.
In recent years, the way we have grown has changed, too. Expansive lots and strip developments are favored over the dense neighborhoods and downtowns of years gone by. In other words, we’re sprawling across the landscape.
Development is slicing, dicing, and nibbling away at forest lands. From 1982 to 1997, 8.2 million acres of open space in the northeast were lost to development. Of these, 3.7 million acres were once forested. Less forest means less of all of the benefits forests provide.

As demand  for land grows, land prices and taxes rise, prompting landowners to cash in their equity. The USDA Forest Service predicts that over the next 30 years, a dramatic increase in housing development is likely on more than 11 percent of private forests nationwide. Much of this loss is expected to occur in northeastern  forests as developers stitch new neighborhoods to the edges of old ones, and individuals in search of their own piece of paradise carve sprawling homesites out of tracts of trees.
Along with loss of acreage,  development is also causing parcelization of forest land. Parcelization occurs when large tracts of forest land are divided up and sold to multiple owners. The forest itself may not change when it is broken into smaller tracts, but sustaining that forest can become problematic. Parcelization makes it harder to manage across the landscape and for the long term.  It can decrease feasibility and profitability of timber harvests and make it more difficult to get messages promoting good stewardship to all the landowners involved.
In addition to being parcelized, forest land is also being fragmented— broken into pieces surrounded by altered or disturbed land, such as residential neighborhoods, roads, and shopping centers. Fragmentation reduces the overall amount  of forest land. It also reduces the ecological value of what remains. Fragmented landscapes may not contain the optimal variety of food and shelter wildlife need to survive. Many experts believe that fragmentation is a primary cause of the loss of biodiversity in forested areas today
Like parcelization, fragmentation can decrease  the profitability and feasibility of timber production  due to higher per-acre costs of managing smaller tracts of land.

Source: A Snapshot of  the Northeastern Forests, USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry, NA-IN-01-06, October 2005