Natural vegetation cover on private lands: locations and risk of loss in the northwestern United States

Andrew J. Hansen, Katrina Mullan, David M. Theobald, Scott Powell, Nathaniel Robinson, Alyson East

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although natural habitats are being lost globally, the extent and fate of natural habitats on private lands in the United States have not been quantified at the resolution relevant for conservation planning. Here we provide information on the locations and risk of loss of areas of natural vegetation cover (NVC) on private lands across the northwestern United States to motivate discussion on needs and opportunities to slow their loss. Specific questions were as follows: (1) Where are the remaining areas of NVC on private lands? (2) Which regions and communities have had the highest loss rates of NVC? and (3) In which socioecological settings is NVC at greatest risk of loss? NVC location and change were mapped using two land cover classifications during 2001–2011, the most recent period with available data. Associations between NVC loss and market proximity, demographic, infrastructure, natural amenity, and climate factors were used to model probability of NVC loss in 2011. We found that NVC covered 64% of the study area in 2011. During 2001–2011, 2.5% of the area of NVC in 2001 was converted to development and croplands. Rates of loss were as high as 12% in some regions (e.g., western Washington). Housing development accounted for the majority of this NVC loss, increasing by 8% while croplands increased by 5%. Conversion of NVC for development and crops during 2001–2011 per capita varied 20–40 fold among “city spheres” (urban areas >10,000 people and 40-min commuting distance). NVC loss was statistically associated with urban fringe development, forest edge vegetation, proximity to highways, public land, and waterbodies and was associated with New West demographic city spheres. Of the NVC on private lands in 2011, 11% was projected to have >20% probability of future loss over the next decade. We conclude that portions of the northwestern United States, one of the last stronghold for extensive natural habitats in the contiguous United States, are rapidly losing NVC to development, particularly in the New West communities that typically have the highest motivation and capacity to conserve them.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03756
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • conservation
  • habitat loss
  • land use
  • natural habitats
  • natural vegetation cover
  • northwestern United States
  • private lands


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