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Conversion to Developed Land

Areas Changing from Natural to Developed

It is estimated that 214,265 acres of land area (an area about the size of Yadkin County) forested in 2006 will be converted to developed land by 2030 in 25 of the 27 counties covered by this Index. Continued development leads to several challenges, including the amount municipal governments must spend to provide services to residents. For example, continued development leads to an increase in landslide risk from the erosion of steep slopes, more frequent flooding from altered terrain and hydrology, and an increase in wildfire potential (studies show that 96 percent of all fires are caused by human activity). In addition, and as demand for recreation grows, land use patterns will shift towards the center of mountain ranges, thus threatening vulnerable habitats.

Although land conversion is one of the biggest threats to Western North Carolina’s forests, it is also one over which humans have direct control. There are effective ways to mitigate the negative impacts of land conversion on the natural system, including:

  • the preservation and restoration of critical habitat so that species may adapt and survive,
  • the control of invasive species through chemical and mechanical treatment,
  • the management of lands around water bodies (which are among the most sensitive areas likely to experience environmental stress with increased human activity), and
  • reduction of the risk of wildfire by creating residential landscapes that, by design, help to reduce the spread of fire.

As land is converted from “undeveloped” to developed, the economics, politics, infrastructure, and quality of life of the region also change. New partnerships and constituencies are needed to assist communities, developers, and property owners in making informed decisions. From this, mechanisms that enable and encourage cooperative and cross-boundary management become necessary.


Vogler, John B., Douglas A. Shoemaker, Monica Dorning, and Ross K. Meentemeyer. 2010. Mapping Historical Development Patterns and Forecasting Urban Growth in Western North Carolina 1976-2030. Charlotte, NC: The Center for Applied GIScience at UNC Charlotte. Accessed from: