Land use

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Habitat fragmentation caused by numerous roads near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Indiana Dunes Habitat Fragmentation.jpg
Habitat fragmentation caused by numerous roads near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Land use involves the management and modification of natural environment or wilderness into built environment such as settlements and semi-natural habitats such as arable fields, pastures, and managed woods. Land use by humans has a long history, first emerging more than 10 thousand years ago. [1] It also has been defined as "the total of arrangements, activities, and inputs that people undertake in a certain land type." [2]



A land use map of Europe--major non-natural land uses include arable farmland (yellow) and pasture (light green). Europe land use map.png
A land use map of Europe—major non-natural land uses include arable farmland (yellow) and pasture (light green).

Land use practices vary considerably across the world. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization Water Development Division explains that "Land use concerns the products and/or benefits obtained from use of the land as well as the land management actions (activities) carried out by humans to produce those products and benefits." [3] As of the early 1990s, about 13% of the Earth was considered arable land, with 26% in pasture, 32% forests and woodland, and 1.5% urban areas. Land change modeling can be used to predict and assess future shifts in land use.

As Albert Guttenberg (1959) wrote many years ago, "'Land use' is a key term in the language of city planning." [4] Commonly, political jurisdictions will undertake land-use planning and regulate the use of land in an attempt to avoid land-use conflicts. Land use plans are implemented through land division and use ordinances and regulations, such as zoning regulations. Management consulting firms and non-governmental organizations will frequently seek to influence these regulations before they are codified.

United States

In colonial Americas the land use pattern having the few regulations existed to control the use of land, due to the seemingly endless amounts of it. As society shifted from rural to urban, public land regulation became important, especially to city governments trying to control industry, commerce, and housing within their boundaries. The first zoning ordinance was passed in New York City in 1916, [5] [6] and, by the 1930s, most states had adopted zoning laws. In the 1970s, concerns about the environment and historic preservation led to further regulation.

Today, federal, state, and local governments regulate growth and development through statutory law. The majority of controls on land, however, stem from the actions of private developers and individuals. Three typical situations bringing such private entities into the court system are: suits brought by one neighbor against another; suits brought by a public official against a neighboring

Nutritional value and environmental impact of animal products, compared to agriculture overall [7]
CategoriesContribution of farmed animal product [%]
Land use
Greenhouse gases
Water pollution
Air pollution
Freshwater withdrawals

landowner on behalf of the public; and suits involving individuals who share ownership of a particular parcel of land. In these situations, judicial decisions and enforcement of private land-use arrangements can reinforce public regulation, and achieve forms and levels of control that regulatory zoning cannot.

Two major federal laws have been passed in the last half-century that limit the use of land significantly. These are the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (today embodied in 16 U.S.C. 461 et seq.) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.).

The US Department of Agriculture has identified six major types of land use in the US. Acreage

Mean land use of different foods [8]
Food TypesLand Use (m2year per 100g protein)
Lamb and Mutton
Farmed Fish

statistics for each type of land use in the contiguous 48 states in 2017 were as follows: [9]

US land use (2017) [9]
Useacreage (M)km2 (M)% of total
Pasture/range 6542.64735
Forest 538.62.1828
Cropland 391.51.58421
Special use*168.80.6839
Urban 69.40.2814


Land use and land management practices have a major impact on natural resources including water, soil, nutrients, plants and animals. [10] Land use information can be used to develop solutions for natural resource management issues such as salinity and water quality. For instance, water bodies in a region that has been deforested or having erosion will have different water quality than those in areas that are forested. Forest gardening, a plant-based food production system, is believed to be the oldest form of land use in the world. [11]

The major effect of land use on land cover since 1750 has been deforestation of temperate regions. [12] More recent significant effects of land use include urban sprawl, soil erosion, soil degradation, salinization, and desertification. [13] Land-use change, together with use of fossil fuels, are the major anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide, a dominant greenhouse gas. [14]

According to a report by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, land degradation has been exacerbated where there has been an absence of any land use planning, or of its orderly execution, or the existence of financial or legal incentives that have led to the wrong land use decisions, or one-sided central planning leading to over-utilization of the land resources - for instance for immediate production at all costs. As a consequence the result has often been misery for large segments of the local population and destruction of valuable ecosystems. Such narrow approaches should be replaced by a technique for the planning and management of land resources that is integrated and holistic and where land users are central. This will ensure the long-term quality of the land for human use, the prevention or resolution of social conflicts related to land use, and the conservation of ecosystems of high biodiversity value.

Kastellet cph.jpg
The citadel of Kastellet, Copenhagen that has been converted into a park, showing multiple examples of suburban land use

Urban growth boundaries

The urban growth boundary is one form of land-use regulation. For example, Portland, Oregon is required to have an urban growth boundary which contains at least 20,000 acres (81 km2) of vacant land. Additionally, Oregon restricts the development of farmland. The regulations are controversial, but an economic analysis concluded that farmland appreciated similarly to the other land. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Environmental law Branch of law concerning the natural environment

Environmental law is a collective term encompassing aspects of the law that provide protection to the environment. A related but distinct set of regulatory regimes, now strongly influenced by environmental legal principles, focus on the management of specific natural resources, such as forests, minerals, or fisheries. Other areas, such as environmental impact assessment, may not fit neatly into either category, but are nonetheless important components of environmental law.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sustainable agriculture:

Environmental protection is the practice of protecting the natural environment by individuals, organizations and governments. Its objectives are to conserve natural resources and the existing natural environment and, where possible, to repair damage and reverse trends.

Land-use planning is the process of regulating the use of land in an effort to promote more desirable social and environmental outcomes as well as a more efficient use of resources. Goals of land use planning may include environmental conservation, restraint of urban sprawl, minimization of transport costs, prevention of land use conflicts, and a reduction in exposure to pollutants. By and large, the uses of land determine the diverse socioeconomic activities that occur in a specific area, the patterns of human behavior they produce, and their impact on the environment.

Environmental degradation

Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. As indicated by the I=PAT equation, environmental impact (I) or degradation is caused by the combination of an already very large and increasing human population (P), continually increasing economic growth or per capita affluence (A), and the application of resource-depleting and polluting technology (T).

Land degradation

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land. It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. Natural hazards are excluded as a cause; however human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

Land development Landscape alteration

Land development is altering the landscape in any number of ways such as:

Habitat destruction is the process by which a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species. The organisms that previously inhabited the site are displaced or die, thereby reducing biodiversity and species abundance.

Human impact on the environment Impact of human life on Earth

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include population growth, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and human overpopulation is strongly correlated with those problems.

Land clearing in Australia

Land clearing in Australia describes the removal of native vegetation and deforestation in Australia. Land clearing involves the removal of native vegetation and habitats, including the bulldozing of native bushlands, forests, savannah, woodlands and native grasslands and the draining of natural wetlands for replacement with agriculture, urban and other land uses.

This page is an index of sustainability articles.

Index of environmental articles Wikipedia index

The natural environment, commonly referred to simply as the environment, includes all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth.

At the global scale sustainability and environmental management involves managing the oceans, freshwater systems, land and atmosphere, according to sustainability principles.

Environmental governance is a concept in environmental policy that steers markets, technology and society towards achieving the goal of sustainability. It considers social, economic and environmental aspects in the decision making of its policies.

Soil governance refers to the policies, strategies, and the processes of decision-making employed by nation states and local governments regarding the use of soil. Globally, governance of the soil has been limited to an agricultural perspective due to increased food insecurity from the most populated regions on earth. The Global Soil Partnership, GSP, was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its members with the hope to improve governance of the limited soil resources of the planet in order to guarantee healthy and productive soils for a food-secure world, as well as support other essential ecosystem services.

Forest restoration

Forest restoration is defined as “actions to re-instate ecological processes, which accelerate recovery of forest structure, ecological functioning and biodiversity levels towards those typical of climax forest” i.e. the end-stage of natural forest succession. Climax forests are relatively stable ecosystems that have developed the maximum biomass, structural complexity and species diversity that are possible within the limits imposed by climate and soil and without continued disturbance from humans. Climax forest is therefore the target ecosystem, which defines the ultimate aim of forest restoration. Since climate is a major factor that determines climax forest composition, global climate change may result in changing restoration aims.

Deforestation and climate change Relationship between deforestation and global warming

Deforestation is a primary contributor to climate change. Land use changes, especially in the form of deforestation, are the second largest anthropogenic source of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, after fossil fuel combustion. Greenhouse gases are emitted during combustion of forest biomass and decomposition of remaining plant material and soil carbon. Global models and national greenhouse gas inventories give similar results for deforestation emissions. As of 2019, deforestation is responsible for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland degradation also emits GHG. Growing forests are a carbon sink with additional potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some of the effects of climate change, such as more wildfires, may increase deforestation. Deforestation comes in many forms: wildfire, agricultural clearcutting, livestock ranching, and logging for timber, among others. The vast majority of agricultural activity resulting in deforestation is subsidized by government tax revenue. Forests cover 31% of the land area on Earth and annually 75,700 square kilometers of the forest is lost. Mass deforestation continues to threaten tropical forests, their biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. The main area of concern of deforestation is in tropical rain forests since they are home to the majority of the planet's biodiversity.

Environmental issues in Sri Lanka

Environmental issues in Sri Lanka include large-scale logging of forests and degradation of mangroves, coral reefs and soil. Air pollution and water pollution are challenges for Sri Lanka since both cause negative health impacts. Overfishing and insufficient waste management, especially in rural areas, leads to environmental pollution. Sri Lanka is also vulnerable to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events and sea level rise.

Environmental issues in Georgia (country)

Situated in the South Caucasus Region bordered by the Black Sea to the North the Russian Federation to the North, Azerbaijan to the East, Turkey to the Southwest and Armenia to the South, Georgia is a small country supplied with profitable natural resources, heavenly scenes, copious water assets, rich living spaces, and ecosystems that are of local and worldwide significance.


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