MONTREAL -- America's national forests are beginning to resemble"islands" of green wilderness, increasingly trapped by an expanding seaof new houses, a forestry researcher will report today at the 90thannual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Montreal, Canada.
The widening circle of development around forests such as theCleveland National Forest in Southern California is serving to blocknatural corridors, or wild "highways" that enable plants and wildlifeto move easily between nearby forests, says Volker Radeloff, a forestryprofessor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Radeloff analyzedgovernment census data on housing increases in and near all U.S.national forests between 1950 and 2000.
"(In an isolated state), a forest cannot function as well forbiodiversity," says Radeloff, who conducted his analysis incollaboration with UW-Madison graduate students and the North CentralResearch Station of the United States Forest Service.
Radeloff's findings also highlight significant growth withinthe forests themselves. Between 1950 and 2000, the number of housingunits within national forest boundaries increased from 500,000 to 1.5million, an increase Radeloff largely attributes to inholdings, orparcels of forest land owned by private citizens.
In the Eastern U.S., most land was settled before nationalforests were established in the late 1800s. As a result, privatelandowners hold up to 46 percent of the land within forestadministrative boundaries. Nationwide, inholders own about 17 percentof all national forest lands, Radeloff says.
As more and more people desire to live with wilderness in theirbackyard, Radeloff says, forests may just be getting "loved to death."
"People think of a national forest as a place they can be innature without seeing anyone else or where they could see a wolf," saysRadeloff. If trends continue, he adds, these solitary moments anddiscoveries will be more and more difficult to experience.
Housing in and around forests not only affects biodiversity, itimpacts hydrology cycles and accelerates the spread of invasivespecies. Wildfires and animal-human conflicts are added risks. "It ispossible that the national forests may not suffice for some endangeredspecies," says Radeloff.
Radeloff is not advocating a moratorium on building ruralhomes. "We are hoping to generate a broader discussion on how housinggrowth should occur," says Radeloff. "We need to decide areas where wewant growth and other areas where we don't want growth to occur."
When the 2010 government census data becomes available,Radeloff plans to repeat his analysis, providing updated housing growthinformation for citizens, governments and other researchers involved inland use planning.
"Historic trends are the best indication of what will happen inthe future," says Radeloff. "We hope that this data will be used tostart discussions on future development in and near national forests."
NOTE: High-resolution images are available at:http://www.news.wisc.edu/newsphotos/park_housingdensity.html
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