Nonmetropolitan America in Transition

By Amos H. Hawley; Sara Mills Mazie | Go to book overview

17
Land-Use Trends

INTRODUCTION

The total land area of the fifty states is 2,263 million acres, or almost exactly ten acres per person (Bureau of Land Management, hereafter BLM, 1976). If the vast but remote area of Alaska and the small but remote area of Hawaii are excluded, as not relevant to the land-use problems and solutions for most Americans, there are still about 1,900 million acres of land--approximately eight acres per person ( Clawson 1972). For comparison, the playing area of a football field includes about 1.1 acres.

When one considers the use of this land area, irrespective of its ownership which is considered later, there are three big land users: cropland, at 467 million acres; grazing and rangeland, at 598 million acres; and commercial forest, at 718 million acres (in each case, omitting overlapping uses) ( Frey 1977). These three major land uses thus include about 79 percent of the total land area. Though these are the largest land users, in many respects they are less important than the much smaller area of more valuable lands used for urban purposes, for transportation, for parks and recreation, for reservoir sites, and for a miscellany of other purposes. Although these account for only 8 percent of the land area, their total value greatly exceeds that of the three largest land users. Moreover, it is among these smaller but highly important land uses that the largest changes have been made in recent years.

If one looks only at the national statistics, a remarkably steady picture of land use in the United States seems to emerge. That is, the totals by broad categories of use have changed comparatively little since about 1920. At various times we have expanded or contracted cultivated cropland area somewhat, depending more upon economic conditions and the demand for agricultural commodities, including export demand, than upon any other factor; but the variation has been in the range of 380 to 410 million

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