The key to conservation stewardship in the 21st century -
The contiguous 48 states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands cover over 1.94 billion acres of land and water; about 71 percent of this area is privately owned rural land – nearly 1.4 billion acres.
These rural lands are predominantly forest land (413 million acres), rangeland (406 million acres), and cropland (363 million acres).
Private lands represent the forefront of the conservation marketplace in the 21st century. Privately owned lands hold the key to protecting biodiversity, the uptake of sustainable agriculture and forestry, and the protection of open spaces – especially along the suburban fringe of our expanding metropolitan areas.
A confluence of factors has increased the need for the kind of multi-faceted conservation approach required to improve and accelerate conservation on private lands. They include:
- declining federal and state budgets
- the increasing fragmentation of private ownership in rural areas
- the increasing importance of private lands in providing raw materials for new markets, such as biofuels, and ecosystem services that support urban centers
- the graying tsunami of rural America ( average age of a farmers is 60+, forest owners 70+)
- the loss of ecologically and economically valuable private working lands is accelerating
Private landowners are the stewards of the land and are some of the most practical and effective land managers in the U.S. There are about 13 million landowners in the United States. They husband 71% of the lower 48 states, 82% of the nation’s wetlands, and 80% of the country’s endangered species habitats. Agriculture and agriculture related industries accounts for approximately 5% of the gross domestic product.
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