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Goal: Sustain Our Nation’s Forests and Grasslands New Research Reveals That Mixed Land Use Watersheds are Most Vulnerable to Forest Loss

Waterfall

SRS researchers have developed a new model for projecting land use at small spatial scales. The model shows how fine-scale land use patterns impact hydrologic processes. Photo by Sarah Farmer, USDA Forest Service.

Introduction

Forest Service scientists developed a novel land use model and integrated modeling framework that represents a significant advancement for evaluating the potential consequences of the combined effects of climate and land use change at scales necessary to inform policy and management decision-making. Our findings indicate that land use change was particularly influential in a mixed land use watershed, which is especially important for identifying areas where hydrologic responses are most sensitive to land use change. This study emphasizes the importance of integrated modeling to predict future water resources, including impacts from land use change, climate change, forest dynamics, and hydrological processes.

Summary

A key challenge for disentangling the relative impacts of climate change, land use change, and their interactions has been the inability to project future land use in a rational and robust way, at spatial scales relevant to ecosystem processes, watershed management, and water supply management. The land use model developed by SRS researchers as part of this study represents a significant advancement for evaluating the potential consequences of the combined effects of climate and land use change at scales necessary to inform policy and management decision-making. The study highlights several key points for future water yield and, in turn, water resource availability in the study region. For example, we found that even a moderate amount of conversion of forest to developed use in a mixed use watershed had a large effect on streamflow dynamics. Our findings indicate that land use change was particularly influential in a mixed land use watershed, which is especially important for identifying areas where hydrologic responses are most sensitive to land use change. This study emphasizes the importance of using integrated modeling to predict future water resources, including impacts from land use change, climate change, forest dynamics, and hydrological processes, under a unified framework.