According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), suburbanization will result in more than 12 million acres of southern U.S. forest being cleared or impacted between 1992 and 2020. Forests provide people with “ecosystem services,” by protecting urban watersheds and wildlife habitat, controlling erosion, and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Unless there are changes in the pattern of development that now favors low density housing, strip malls, and exurban road construction, the USFS estimates that from 2020 to 2040, suburban growth will lead to another 19 million acres of forest loss. In total, this loss is approximately 31 million acres, an area about the size of North Carolina. The USFS also recently released a report that details the impact increasing housing density is having on ecosystem services from forests across the U.S. and identifies the South as a region particularly at risk.

The southern United States currently contains approximately 39.5 million acres of protected areas—many of them forested—distributed throughout the region. In areas of particularly rapid suburbanization, such as Atlanta, Georgia and Richmond, Virginia, these protected areas are responsible for preserving forestland that would otherwise be lost to suburban sprawl. Increasing the amount of public and private protected area plays a critical role in staving off suburbanization in the South. Using the maps on, users can now examine the how close suburbanization is now getting to protected areas in the South.

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This map is part of a continuing project to produce maps that shed light on significant environmental issues throughout the world.