Housing density is a good indicator of urbanization, landscape-scale land use intensification, and landscape fragmentation.
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Urban and exurban development have been among the strongest drivers of landscape change in the Appalachian region as a whole, and the conversion of land to these uses is projected to continue at a rapid pace.
Increases in urban land uses in landscapes with strongly varied topography and steep slopes are expected in the Appalachian region. Coupled with forest loss, this can exacerbate discharge rates, peak flow, and stream velocity. Increased impervious surface and forest loss associated with urbanization typically result in reduced surface water availability for human consumption, and can increase concentrations of stream sediments, nutrients, and pollutants.
Timber and nontimber forest products
Urbanization is expected to reduce the land area available to support working forests and alter the dynamics of nontimber forest product harvest, fishing, and hunting in nearby forests. Absence of freshwater fish from degraded streams may represent a significant loss of fishing expenditures.
Forest loss associated with urbanization results directly in reduced carbon storage capacity. These losses, together with similar effects of surface mining, may outstrip regional gains from forest growth without significant changes in urban development policy, restoration efforts, timber markets, and other factors.
Rural landscape values and outdoor recreation
The changes that come with urbanization and low-density development can have negative impacts on the unique sense of place and quality of life of rural Appalachian communities. Landscapes dominated by hardwoods and agriculture are likely to continue to be threatened by land-use changes associated with urbanization, in turn linked to income and population growth. As rural landscapes and water supplies are increasingly converted to more intensive uses, opportunities for outdoor recreation are expected to decline. At the same time, demand for such opportunities is expected to increase with the population growth that accompanies urban and exurban expansion, placing increased pressure on nearby accessible sites with limited capacity.
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Descriptions of landscape cover types and fragmentation yield rich information about how forest, rural, and urban areas interface and mix.
The boundaries between natural and urban areas in Appalachia are continually challenged as urban populations expand.