The extent of buildings in wildland vegetation of the conterminous U.S. and the potential for conservation in and near National Forest private inholdings

Download Carlson et al_2023_The extent of buildings in wildland vegetation of conterminous US_Landscape and Urban Planning

Development in natural areas is a leading threat to biodiversity. Global conservationists have called for the expansion of protected areas to preserve wildlands that are free from buildings, and in the U.S., the ‘America the Beautiful’ initiative aims to protect 30% of land and water areas by 2030 (known as the ‘30x30’ target). Here, we determined opportunities and limitations for conservation in the conterminous U.S. by assessing the extent of buildings in wildland vegetation. We focused specifically on National Forest lands, as these contain numerous private inholdings where development may occur. Using a newly available building footprint dataset, we determined 1) whether buildings were present and 2) numbers of buildings within three distances of wildland vegetation (100, 250, and 500 m), representing varying magnitudes of ecological impact. Our findings revealed that 29% of wildland vegetation nationwide was within 500 m of a building, 15% was within 250 m, and 5% was within 100 m. National Forest lands were less affected by building disturbance, but a substantial proportion (12%) of wildland vegetation area was within 500 m of a building. Of National Forest lands that were within 500 m of an inholding, 76% was not yet in proximity to a building; consequently, ~10% of National Forest lands (143,474 km2) are susceptible to impacts from future development on inholdings. We conclude that National Forest inholdings are therefore important opportunity areas for 30x30 conservation goals. Our assessments can inform where conservation efforts can limit impacts from present and future development on biodiversity.