The U.S. Forest Service has released a report this week which outlines how a growing population and increased urbanization in the next 50 years will drain the nation's natural resources including water supplies, open space, and forests. A recent study from the Center for Immigration Studies found that if current immigration levels remain steady, the population of the United States will increase by 127 million by the year 2050.

The same CIS study determined that population would increase by 78.9 million by the year 2050 should immigration levels be cut in half.

The U.S. Forest Service study shows the potential for a significant loss of privately-owned forestland, which could dramatically reduce the benefits Americans receive from the land such as clean water, wildlife habitat, and forest products. 

Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman had this to say about the report:  "We should all be concerned by the projected decline in our nation’s forests and the corresponding loss of the many critical services they provide such as clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wood products and outdoor recreation."  

The report projects that urban and developed land in the U.S. will increase by 41 percent by 2060.  Forested areas will see the most impact from this growth, with losses ranging from 16 to 34 million acres in the lower 48 states.  Additionally, total urban and developed land area is projected to increase between 39 and 69 million acres between 2010 and 2060, an increase of 41 to 77 percent.

Population growth in arid regions presents yet another problem in our country's future.  These dry, western states have taken on the fastest population growth and will require significantly more drinking water as a result - something that our land will not be able to produce, according to the assessment.

The report's projections are influenced by a set of scenarios with assumptions about U.S. population and economic growth, global population and economic growth, global wood energy consumption and U.S. land use change from 2010 to 2060.  Using those variables, the assessment forecasts these key trends:  

  • Forest areas will decline as a result of development, particularly in the South, where population is projected to grow the most.
  • The combination of increasing water demand and declining water yields leads to an increase in vulnerability of the water supply to shortage in large portions of the United States, especially in the larger Southwest and Great Plains.
  • Rangeland area is expected to continue its slow decline.
  • Biodiversity may continue to erode because projected loss of forestland will impact the variety of forest species.

Under Secretary Sherman concluded his thoughts on the report: "Today’s report offers a sobering perspective on what is at stake and the need to maintain our commitment to conserve these critical assets."

For more information on the U.S. Forest Service's Report: 


Updated: Fri, Dec 21st 2012 @ 12:13pm EST