Land Use Change

The Direct and Indirect Effects of Land Use Change on Wilderness in America

In the next half century America’s population will grow by 50 percent, and so too will the demand for agricultural output. This will make preserving essential ecosystem processes, such as carbon storage, water filtration, and habitat provision, even more challenging. Long-term agricultural production and human well-being both depend on these processes; however the growing demand for food, feed, fuel, and fiber has already led to conversion of natural grasslands and forests to farmlands and reduced the flows of these important non-market ecosystem services. Urbanization of many areas will have even more impacts: spreading cities and towns will lead to more roads, more pollution, and more noise. These large scale land use changes will impact wilderness in ways we are only beginning to understand. Specifically, the impacts will be most acute on wilderness areas that are small in size or adjacent to non-federal lands. In order to protect wilderness areas it is important that we identify where land use change will have the greatest impacts and define what those impacts are, such as degradation of air and water quality, introduction of nonnative species, rise in visitor use pressures, and impacts to species habitat and migration.