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Wednesday, 02 January 2013 03:59

Forests and water could be doomed in 2060

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A comprehensive U.S. Forest Service report released last month examines how expanding populations, increased urbanization, and changing land-use patterns could impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years.

The study shows the potential for significant loss of privately-owned forests to development and fragmentation, which could affect clean water, wildlife habitat, forest products and more. 

“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,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman.

U.S Forest Service scientists and partners at universities, non-profits and other agencies found urban and developed land areas in the U.S. will increase 41 percent by 2060. Forested areas will be most impacted by this growth, with losses ranging from 16 to 34 mil­lion acres in the lower 48 states.

Forest areas and tree canopy cover will decline as a result of development, particularly in the South, where population is projected to grow the most.

The study also examines the effect of climate change on forests. Over the long-term, climate change could have significant effects on water availability, making the U.S. more vulnerable to water shortages.

The assessment’s projections are based on scenarios of 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 scenarios, the report forecasts the following trends: 

• Biodiversity may continue to erode because the future loss of forestland will impact the variety of forest species.

• Recreation use is expected to trend upward, putting pressure on public lands by outdoor recreationists.

• Projected land use changes are expected to reduce the variety of forest bird species.

• Some commercially and recreationally important fish populations are in decline.

• Climate change will increase future water demands and the vulnerability of the U.S. water supply will increase. 

• Climate change will alter natural ecosystems and impact species.

• Land development will continue to threaten the integrity of natural ecosystems.

• Regional and local strategies to address resource management issues will be needed to address the root cause of the changes and develop a response.

To view the whole report, go to www.fs.fed.us/research/publications/gtr/gtr_wo87.pdf.

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