U.S. Forest Service Report Projects Population Growth Will Dramatically Reduce Water and Open Space

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

January 2, 2013

On December 18, the U.S. Forest Service released its report that analyzed resource management trends and challenges for the next 50 years. The study predicts that growing population and increased urban sprawl will lessen water supplies, reduce available open space as well as prime forest land including privately owned forestland.

As a result, Americans will have less opportunity to enjoy clean water and wildlife habitat. The report, available here, projects by 2060 U.S. urban and developed land will increase by 41 percent. This will devastate forested areas with losses ranging from 16 to 34 million acres in the lower 48 states.

High population growth in arid regions like parts of California will present grave problems. Dry, western states have added the largest numbers of people through high birth rates and immigration. Consequently, the west will require more water to satisfy basic needs like drinking and cleaning. The report anticipates that insufficient rainfall to meet overall water needs.

The report assumes various population and economic growth variables and concludes: 1) forest areas will decline as a result of development, particularly in the South, where population is projected to grow the most, 2) the combination of increasing water demand and declining water yields leads to an increase in vulnerability of the water supply in large portions of the United States, especially in the larger Southwest and Great Plains, 3) rangeland area is expected to continue its slow decline and 4) biodiversity may continue to erode because projected loss of forestland will adversely impact a variety of forest species.

According to Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman:

"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."

Sherman concluded:

"Today’s report offers a sobering perspective on what is at stake and the need to maintain our commitment to conserve these critical assets."

To help better understand the report and population’s impact on the environment, readers should also avail themselves of the Center for Immigration Studies backgrounder which found that if current immigration levels remain steady, U.S. population will increase by 127 million by 2050.

The same CIS study also determined that even if immigration levels were reduced by half, U.S. population would still increase by 78.9 million over the next 40 years.

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