Economic Research totals for U.S. land use released
Forest-Use Land. Forest-use land in 2007 includes 127 million acres of grazed forests, but excludes an estimated 80 million forest acres in parks, wildlife areas, and other special uses. Forest-use land increased 20 million acres (3 percent) from 2002 to 2007, continuing a trend that became evident in 2002 and reversing an almost 50-year downward trend. The 14-percent decline in forest-use land between 1949 and 2002 was largely due to forest-use land reclassified to special-use areas.
Urban and Rural Residential Areas. Urban land acreage quadrupled from 1945 to 2007, increasing at about twice the rate of population growth over this period. Land in urban areas was estimated at 61 million acres in 2007, up almost 2 percent since 2002 and 17 percent since 1990 (after adjusting the 1990 estimate for the new criteria used in the 2000 Census). The Census Bureau estimates that urban area increased almost 8 million acres (13 percent) during the 1990s. Census estimates based on the previous criteria indicate that urban area increased 9 million acres (18 percent) over the 1980s, 13 million acres (37 percent) over the 1970s, and 9 million acres (36 percent) over the 1960s.
Estimated rural residential acreage outside urban areas increased to 103 million acres between 2002 and 2007. In percentage terms, this 9-million-acre (10-percent) increase is about a third of the 21-million-acre (29-percent) increase over the previous 5-year period (1997-2002) and reflects the downturn in the residential housing market that occurred during the mid 2000s. Despite continuing large percentage increases in urban and rural residential areas, declines in the remaining rural area are small given the size of the available land base.
Special-Use Areas. Special-use areas include rural transportation, national/state parks, wilderness and wildlife areas, national defense and industrial areas, and farmsteads and farm roads. Over all 50 states, special-use areas have increased nearly threefold since 1959, including a fourfold increase in rural parks and fish and wildlife areas. Over 2002-07, special-use areas increased more than 16 million acres (6 percent). Some of the estimated rise in special-use areas from 2002 to 2007 was driven by improved data, leading to a reclassification of miscellaneous and other land, which declined by 31 million acres (14 percent) over the same period.
Regional Patterns. Regional land-use patterns vary with differences in soil, climate, topography, and population. Relatively stable patterns of land use at the national level obscure larger land-use changes at regional and state levels. For example, while cropland used for crops remained constant nationally between 1964 and 2007, cropland used for crops increased by 12 million acres in the Corn Belt and Northern Plains and decreased by 12 million acres in the remaining regions. Over this 43-year period, the distribution of acreage used for crops across major crop-producing regions remained about the same.
Ownership. Nearly 60 percent (1.35 billion acres) of the land in the United States is privately owned. The federal government owns 29 percent (653 million acres), over a third of which is in Alaska. State and local governments own about 9 percent (198 million acres). About 3 percent (66 million acres) is in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There were no major changes in these aggregate ownership statistics from 2002 to 2007. Foreign ownership accounted for about 1 percent (22 million acres) of U.S. land in 2007.