land use in the United States

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007. The authors are Cynthia Nickerson, Robert Ebel, Allison Borchers, and Fernando Carriazo with USDA’s Economic Research Service. The report is Economic Information Bulletin Number 89 dated December 2011 and available online at The following text is from the report’s abstract and summary.

“The United States has a total land area of nearly 2.3 billion acres. In 2007, the major land uses were forestland at 671 million acres (30 percent); grassland pasture and rangeland at 614 million (27 percent); cropland at 408 million (18 percent); special uses (primarily parks and wildlife areas) at 313 million acres (14 percent); miscellaneous uses (like tundra or swamps) at 197 million acres (9 percent); and urban land at 61 million acres (3 percent). This report presents findings from the most recent (2007) inventory of U.S. major land uses, drawing on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, public land management and conservation agencies, and other sources. The data are synthesized by State to estimate the use of several broad classes and subclasses of agricultural and nonagricultural land over time. National and regional trends in land use are compared with earlier major land-use estimates.”

“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.”

“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 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.”

“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.”