Land-use Changes, Forest Type Changes, and Related Environmental Concerns in the Southern U.S.
Type of Degreedissertation
Forest Economics and Policy
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The U.S. South covers roughly 24 percent of the total land area and 30 percent of the unreserved forest area of the United States. During the past few decades, the region has experienced dramatic land use as well as forest type changes due to rapid economic and population growth, and different returns in land uses. These kinds of changes, though meeting the needs of economic development, may result in severe environmental degradation such as air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, wildlife habitat fragmentation, and increased flooding, which will threaten the environment. This dissertation includes three essays to address these kinds of land use and environmental changes from economic perspectives. The first essay (chapter 2) presents an empirical analysis of the contributing factors that driven land use and land use changes in the South by applying a random parameter logit (RPL) model using the USDA National Resources Inventory (NRI) 1982-1997 five-year interval land use and land quality data. Results indicate that land use and land use changes in the US South follow the classic land-use theory that higher economic returns cause lands to transit to or to remain in a certain use. Human disturbance is another main factor that results in the loss of rural lands. However, land use transition probabilities with respect to economic returns and population density are both inelastic. The importance of each driving factor and the policy implications are addressed and discussed as well. The second essay (chapter 3) projects the future distribution of forest types in the South by examining the factors that directly or indirectly influence historical forest type changes using a two-stage discrete choice model, and explores the environmental consequences caused by forest type transition in terms of carbon sequestration on forest lands. Projection results indicate that the area of pine plantation will keep increasing, with a total increase rate of 58 percent during 1997-2047, and the areas of natural pine and hardwoods will decline. Comparing the projections of carbon stocks on forest lands with and without forest type transition, carbon storage from the dramatic change of increase of planted pine, and decline of other forest types are not significantly different from that without forest type transition. The third essay (chapter 4) explores how land use change decisions are determined by private landowners when property taxes are involved in land use management strategy. Taking North Georgia as the empirical study area, a random parameter logit model is applied to examine how property tax, especially the current use valuation property tax policy influences landowners’ land use change decisions. Results indicate that property taxes have a negative impact on landowner’s land use and land use change decisions, which means that the higher the property tax for a land use, the lower the probability of lands converting to or remaining in that use. It is inelastic and varies among plots. Without the current use valuation assessment property tax policy, there would be an extra 8,000 acres croplands, an extra 10,000 acres pasture lands, and an extra 10,000 acres of forest decrease in North Georgia, which is about 0.25 % of the total area of rural lands of North Georgia.