A new study has found a sharp decline in forest and farmland development from 2000 to 2015 compared to the previous two decades, leading to a general shift toward denser development patterns across the United States. The main culprit was rising gas prices.
Researchers from Oregon State University, Montana State University and the US Forest Service have found that falling gas prices and, to a lesser extent, rising income levels, have driven land development from 1982 to 2000.
Since 2000, income growth has stagnated and gasoline prices have risen sharply. The researchers concluded that increases in gas prices, more than changes in income and population, the other two factors they analyzed, shaped the recent shift to denser development the most.
“Rising petrol prices increase travel costs in areas with longer journeys, making land less attractive for housing development in those areas,” said resource economist David Lewis. Natural Resources at Oregon State and co-author of the article.
Changing land development patterns have avoided the development of 7 million acres of forest and agricultural land, which researchers described as “a remarkable decline” with significant implications for the natural environment in a paper published today. today in Environmental Research Letters.
“I think it was surprising that it happened partly because it didn’t get much attention,” Lewis said. “It seems to have really flown under the radar that this rate of land development has declined since the year 2000.”
The researchers found that the pace of land development increased steadily in the 1980s and peaked in the mid to late 1990s before beginning a steady decline from around the year 2000. A plateau occurred around 2010 at a level that is equivalent to less than a quarter of the peak development rate of the 1990s. 2000s.
Other studies have documented or suggested this trend, but the potential causes and consequences of the change have not been explored in depth. In the new paper, the researchers took a more comprehensive look, analyzing many facets of land use planning, with a particular focus on population growth, income changes and travel costs.
In 2015, the rate of development (0.47 million acres per year) of the four land types surveyed (forest, crop, pasture, and rangeland) was less than a quarter of the peak development rate that occurred from 1992 to 1997 (2.04 million hectares per year).
The shift to denser development patterns has occurred across the United States, with 83% of the 2015 US population being in areas that became denser between 2000 and 2015 compared to 1982-2000.
Overall, 90% of counties with developed land area during the study period and all but one state (Nevada) had developed areas that became more densely populated during the 2000-2015 period.
Avoided deforestation amounted to 3.56 million acres from 2000 to 2015, with most concentrated east of the Mississippi River or the Pacific Coast.
Cropland losses averted amounted to 2.06 million acres, mostly concentrated in the Northeast/Midwest and Southeast regions.
Researchers used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Inventory from 1982 through 2015, the latest year for which data was available, to create a county-level dataset on development patterns land for the 48 contiguous US states. Hawaii and Alaska were not included in the study.
The findings highlight a potentially significant link between land development patterns and carbon emissions pricing efforts aimed at mitigating climate change, the researchers said. Given that gas prices would rise if carbon emissions were priced, the new research findings show how carbon pricing would indirectly conserve forest and agricultural land by reducing land development.
The researchers note some limitations of the analysis, in particular that it did not explicitly model the impact of land use regulations. They also note that the results are not necessarily representative of a similar global trend in land use planning.
Perhaps, more importantly, they say the downward trend in land use planning should not be seen as a permanent change. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and speculation that it may cause people’s preferred places to live to shift from high-density areas to low-density areas, which would add further pressure to develop new land in areas already characterized by less dense development patterns. .
They believe this research lays the foundation to help study land development after the pandemic and other future major economic shocks.
“Land development is irreversible, so once land is developed, it usually does not revert to the forest or agricultural use it was before,” said Daniel Bigelow, co-author of the paper. and Economist of Natural Resources and Agriculture at the State of Montana. University. “That’s why this is such an important issue for so many people and groups, because it’s not something that can be undone.”
Christopher Mihiar of the US Forest Service is also a co-author of the article. The United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and State Forest Service Southern Research Station United States helped fund the research.