A comprehensive U.S. Forest Service report released this week examines the ways expanding populations, increased urbanization and changing land-use patterns could profoundly 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 substantially reduce benefits from forests that the public now enjoys.
"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 Undersecretary Harris Sherman.
Urban and developed land areas in the United States will increase 41 percent by 2060, according to the report. Forested areas will be most impacted by this growth, with losses ranging from 16 million to 34 million acres in the lower 48 states. Over the long-term, climate change could have significant effects on water availability, making the United States potentially more vulnerable to water shortages, especially in the Southwest and Great Plains. Population growth in more arid regions will require more drinking water. Recent trends in agricultural irrigation and landscaping techniques also will boost water demands.
The report is available at http://treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/41976.