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Environmental & Resource Economics

Land Use Management and Policy

Communities across the nation are struggling to accommodate various issues arising from population increase and economic development. In recent years, the conversion of crop, range, and forest lands to housing, urban, and other non-agricultural uses has been rising at an alarming rate. Many uncoordinated development decisions have resulted in an unnecessarily rapid conversion of these lands.

Once these lands are developed, they can no longer produce food, fiber, timber, and other forestry products, as well as other natural amenities, mitigate flooding, and recharge groundwater. Tensions run high between urban and agricultural communities with competing water needs. Imprudent land uses, such as development on floodplains, steep slopes, and fire-prone areas, have escalated taxpayers' expense in disaster relief when floods, mudslides, and wildfires occur.

In addition, developed land requires more infrastructure and public services—
such as roads, schools, health care, police and fire protection, and water treatment facilities—than that of agricultural production. The ratio of public expenditures to the revenues is much higher in urban and suburban communities than in rural communities.

Meanwhile, conflicts are intense and lawsuits are filed when urban dwellers complain about such things as odor, dust, and noise resulting from agricultural production. A dichotomy surfaces as Americans move to suburban settings seeking “country living. ” Haphazard development changes the landscape and causes environmental and ecological degradation.

Sustainable communities must integrate agricultural production and economic development. They incorporate in their housing developments economic, social, and cultural characteristics that are in harmony with the environment. Sustainable communities can increase the quality of life for both urban and rural dwellers, minimize conflict, make the most of natural amenities, and ensure long-term community economic vitality.

NIFA supports and collaborates with the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD) to address land use issues. NERCRD provides educational materials, workshops, and conferences to planners, county commissioners, and professionals.

In addition, NIFA partners with researchers and educators at many land-grant universities to understand the economic factors behind urban sprawl, evaluate the fiscal and environmental consequences of urban sprawl, investigate the implications of government policy on public and private lands, and assess the economic benefits of protecting farm and ranch land. Just to name a few examples:

  • Michigan State University Land Use Area of Expertise Team has a statewide network to build capacity for, and facilitate, community-based land use education and decisionmaking.
  • Ohio State University Land Use Team addresses a breadth and depth of land use issues including community visioning, watershed and natural areas protection, and land use policy development.
  • Community Affairs and Land Use Education Program at the Pennsylvania State University has information related to state and local laws and regulations, cost of community services, economic impact analysis, good neighbor relations, and others.
  • Purdue Extension Land Use Team offers educational materials and programs to address land use issues in Indiana.
  • University of Wisconsin Center for Land Use Education takes a team-based approach to provide community planning tools and educational information.
  • The Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative at the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources provides research and educational information for stakeholders.


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