RESERCH TO IMPROVE ANALYSES FOR RISK OF FOREST LAND CONVERSION: EXPECTED BENEFITS AND COSTS

Forests account for a little over one-third (38%) of habitable land area. This is around one-quarter (26%) of total (both habitable and uninhabitable) land area which range from wild land forests to urban forests. These diverse ecosystems provide a variety of habitats for wildlife; help

to cleanse the air and water; supply timber, fuelwood, and other harvested products; serve as places for recreation; help to mitigate the effects of global climate change; and provide other essential goods and environmental services.

Forests are vulnerable to conversion to other land uses. An increasing number of houses and other buildings in and near forests portend growing costs and complications in fire suppression and potential loss of many values derived from forests. Long-term assessment of the condition of forests and of the relationships between forest conditions and socio- economic factors is the key to defining policy questions and actions needed to sustain forest-based services.

Forest land conversion is a persistent issue for policy- makers. For example, a position statement concerning loss of forest land had lists ecological effects (e.g., effects on water quality and wildlife habitat) and socioeconomic effects (e.g., expansion of the urban-forest interface, reduction of forest recreation opportunities, reduction of long-term timber production possibilities, and loss of open space) as important implications of forest loss. We must examine how socioeconomic drivers of land-use change, such as population totals and personal income levels, have increased substantially since the Second World War and led to changes in forest ecosystem attributes. We must summarize determinants of land-use changes, focusing on the societal and private tradeoffs of retaining land in forests. The researchers found that the projections reflect the population growth that spurs demand for land for developed uses at the same time that demands for some forest products and other forest benefits are increasing. Risk and policy considerations necessitate that creating effective policy in this area will require careful deliberation concerning private and social viewpoints. For example, some forest benefits (such as wildlife habitat and other ecosystem services) can most effectively be produced at scales greater than the individual private parcel scale and because market imperfections can cause some social forest benefits to be undersupplied when this is the case. Five categories of significant changes affecting forest area are:

• Afforestation

• Deforestation

• Forest fragmentation

• Forest parcelization

• Increased numbers of structures, such as houses, on forest land.

Improved analyses of threats from conversions of forest land require additional data and research pertaining to:

1. Expected benefits and costs regarding likelihood of land use conversion for a particular unit of land. 2. Environmental impacts, losses in commodity production, and other costs that may arise if a unit of land is developed, such as increased costs for fire suppression with houses in the wild land-urban interface. 3. Estimates of opportunity costs of retaining forest land, such as land values, to provide a sense of what it may cost to transfer development rights, implement a conservation easement, or undertake some other policy action.

Forest conditions have received increasing attention in recent years, with bioregional assessments implemented to examine conditions at an eco regional rather than a jurisdictional level. One part of improving such resource-centric studies is better tracking of ecological structures that are changing in response to human population growth and economic developments at broad scales across a region in the world. The identification of specific conservation targets within these broad areas would require additional work at a finer scale. Nevertheless, the methods described by Environmentalist/ecologist could provide a mechanism for defining conservation priorities for the region at a broad scale. Forecasts of interior forest change can be viewed as a risk measure indicating where human activities are more likely to change ecosystem structure, similar to the risk indicators developed at a much finer scale. This forecast provides a first step in setting priorities: defining where the structure is likely to change and where it is likely to be relatively stable. Areas that are found to be essentially stable could be excluded from further detailed analysis, allowing analysts to focus their efforts on that portion of the landscape that is more likely to change without some intervention.

A second step in defining conservation priorities involves examining the ecological condition of the broad areas with relatively high threat levels. Indicators such as numbers of imperilled species highlight where ongoing change may have the most impact on biodiversity. Although a detailed assessment of ecological scarcity. 

Different types of land base changes can result in different forest ecosystem conditions because acres exiting or entering the forest land base can represent quite different forest conditions. 

With a projected increase of more than millions people in the countries over the next 50 years, the different projections of additional developed land area and housing growth all point to significant increases that represent threats of forest conversion. Demand for wood products is expected to keep growing, driven by the same population increases and economic development that affect demands for other major land uses. Given dynamics of the changing population and social values, some forest conversion can adversely impact provision of public goods by forests, such as the environmental service of storing terrestrial carbon

to mitigate climate change, which falls outside private decision making. Measuring and evaluating multiple forest benefits associated with public goods can be difficult owing to a general lack of information describing forest outputs and their values. This lack of information is especially true when it comes to valuing benefits accruing from ecosystem services, a set of values clearly needed to fully value open space and other ecosystems services provided by private forests. Efforts to better align commercial uses of forests with conservation objectives have led to increased interest in what is being called sustainable forestry, although there are similar efforts tied to other major competing interests in the land, such as sustainable agriculture or sustainable communities. Land use will continue to change as private decision makers and society examine options to adjust to changing demands for and supplies of renewable resources (e.g., biofuels for energy security and to address climate change) and ecosystem services from

the Nation’s forest and aquatic ecosystems. Sustainability analyses will be enhanced if both land use and land investment options are examined. Analyses should be explicit as to timing of tradeoffs and market-level impacts, to help promote enhanced integrated macro analyses of land base changes using a balanced mixture of spatially explicit data and other information.

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