U.S. Land Usage May Surprise You!


If you had to guess how America uses its land, what would you think?

Using data from a report recently issued by Bloomberg.com, the United States land usage was divided into 6 major categories; Pasture land/Range, Forest area, Cropland, Urban areas, Special Use land and listed the last category as Miscellaneous.

While the definitions of the first four categories are pretty clear, we wondered what was included in Special Use land and Miscellaneous land categories.  According to the USDA,  “Special Use” land is defined as our State and National Parks, wildlife areas, airports, highways, railroads, and military bases.  The Miscellaneous category includes, non-urban (rural) residential property, wetlands, dessert, cemeteries, golf courses and other barren or unusable land.

The map below illustrates how the U.S. uses it land divided by these 6 major categories.  Each square on the map represents 250,000 acres of land.

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The following map should give you a better sense of how the land is used.

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Beginning with the largest category, over 1/3 of U.S. land is comprised of pasture land.  The bulk of this land is populated by cows.  Sheep and goats come in second, horses third.

The second largest section (over ¼ of U.S. acres) is comprised of forest land.  The forest acres consist of Federal and State timberland, corporate and private or family owned land.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 11 million of these acres each year are harvested for its timber.  The good news is that since 2007, due to regrowth, the volume of timber stock actually increased by 1% each year.

Agricultural land, with over 390 million acres, is the third largest grouping equating to approximately 1/5 of the U.S. land mass.  32% of this land is dedicated to growing livestock feed while 21% is used for growing exports such as grain, feed and wheat.  Almost 20% is dedicated to the food we consume, while the rest is comprised of idle land (recovering cropland),  and other smaller products.

Skipping over to the urban areas, there are close to 70 million acres where most of us live and work, which is less than 5% of the total U.S. land base.  Interestingly, the growth rate for urban areas is about 1 million additional acres each year.

Special Use areas are comprised mostly of wilderness (38%) and our State and National Parks (26%).  The balance consists of rural highways, railroads, airports, military bases, and farmsteads.

And finally, the major uses included in the Miscellaneous area consist of golf courses (2 million acres), cemeteries, dessert, marshland and other non-usable land.

And if you’re wondering what happened to Alaska and Hawaii, they’ve not been excluded from this report.  Data suggests that Special Use land and Forests make up the majority of those states.