Land Cover Trends Project

Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens

By Terry L. Sohl 1

Click to see available downloads for this ecoregion

map of Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens

Figure 1.  Location map for the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens ecoregion.  The underlying land cover is from the 1992 National Land Cover Database (Vogelmann and others, 2001).  The 20 km X 20 km sample blocks are shown in yellow.Click on map to open a larger version in a new window.

 

Ecoregion Description

 

The Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens is a disjunct ecoregion covering approximately 19,200 km2 (7,400 mi2) of the coastal plain of New Jersey, Long Island in New York, and Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and nearby islands in Massachusetts (fig. 1).  The region has a wide variety of ecological systems, including cedar swamps, stunted pitch pine and oak forests, sphagnum bogs, coastal salt ponds, dune systems, and the nation’s only maritime grasslands.  Due to generally acidic soils, agricultural activity is often limited to acid-loving crops such as blueberries and cranberries, although areas of the ecoregion support fruits, vegetables, and other crops (fig. 2).  While parts of the ecoregion represent some of the best-preserved natural habitat in the Eastern United States, other portions of the ecoregion are among the most highly developed lands in the country.

 

Contemporary Land Cover Change (1973 to 2000)

 

Overall rates of land cover conversion were low compared to all other Eastern U.S. ecoregions (fig. 3).  The footprint of change in the ecoregion (i.e., the percentage of area that changed at least one time from 1973 to 2000) was 5.8 percent (table 1).  Change per period was relatively constant, hovering around 1.5 percent change per time interval (table 2).  When normalized to account for varying time period lengths, annual rates of change peaked during the 1980 to 1986 time period and declined in subsequent periods (fig. 4).

While overall change rates were low, significant land cover trends are apparent.  The Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens experienced a 15 percent increase in population between 1970 and 2000, from 9.6 to 11.0 million people (U.S. Census Bureau).  Locally, population increases have been more dramatic, with Cape Cod experiencing a doubling in population over the same time period.  Accommodating this growth was the primary driver of land change, as developed lands increased from 25.5 percent to 30.2 percent of the ecoregion area from 1973 to 2000 (table 3) (fig. 5).

Most of the development occurred at the expense of agricultural and forest lands, as both underwent significant net declines in every time period (fig. 6).  Over 900 km2 of land was developed from 1973 to 2000, resulting in the loss of 310 km2 of forest and 530 km2 of agricultural land (table 4).  The proportion of all change caused by development steadily increased throughout the study period (table 5). 

Agricultural lands dropped from the fourth most common land cover in the ecoregion from 1973 to 1992 to the fifth most common by 2000 (table 3).  The decline in relative abundance of agricultural land is related to a strong effort to protect native ecosystems within the region, especially the unique pine barren forest.  As less forest land was available for development, the proportion of developed land originating from agricultural land steadily and dramatically increased (table 5).  In addition to development pressures, high tax rates have driven many farmers to switch from vegetable and fruit crops to higher-valued products such as nursery stock, flowers, and sod (Hart, 1991).  These factors prompted the National Farmland Trust organization to name parts of the ecoregion on Long Island and Cape Cod as one of the 20 most threatened agricultural areas in the country.

Forest lands also steadily declined from 1973 to 2000.  However, the rate of decline slowed in the latter half of the study period with the aforementioned effort to conserve these unique habitats.  Specifically, parts of the New Jersey Pine Barrens were designated as the nation’s first National Reserve and later as a U.S. Biosphere Reserve (Mason, 1992; Walker and Solecki, 1999). 

Forms of land cover conversion other than development were relatively minor (tables 3 and 4).  Even changes in the next two most affected land cover classes (mechanically disturbed and mining) were very often driven by development demands.  The mapping of mechanically disturbed lands represents a temporary state of transition for a given area, a transition that often leads to permanent development in this ecoregion.  The area of mined land showed a small increase during the study period, but most of that increase was likely related to increased demand for sand and stone aggregates used in construction.  These development pressures will likely continue to drive land use conversions in the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens for the foreseeable future (fig. 7).

 

References

 

Hart, J.F., 1991, The perimetropolitan bow wave: Geographical Review, v. 81, n.1, p. 35-51.

 

Mason, R.J., 1992, Contested Lands: Conflict and Compromise in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens: Philadelphia, PA, Temple University Press.

 

U.S. Census Bureau.  Various Years. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/index.htm

 

Vogelmann, J.E., Howard, S.M., Yang, L., Larson, C.R., Wylie, B.K., and Van Driel, N., 2001, Completion of the 1990s National Land Cover Data for the conterminous United States from Landsat Thematic Mapper data and ancillary data sources: Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing, v. 67, p. 650-662.

 

Walker, R.T., and Solecki, W.D, 1999,  Managing Land Use and Land Cover Change: The New Jersey Pinelands Biosphere Reserve:  Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 89, no. 2, p. 220-237.

Table 1.  Percentage of the ecoregion touched by change

 

[94.2 percent of all pixels in the ecoregion were unchanged throughout the study period, while 5.8 percent were touched by change 1 or more times]

 

 

Overall

Number of changes

 

spatial change

1

2

3

4

Percent of ecoregion

5.8

5.4

0.3

0.0

0.0

 

 

 

Table 2.  Overall change estimates, margin of error at an 85 percent confidence level, and normalized annual change for each of the four time periods

 

 

Period

 

1973-1980

1980-1986

1986-1992

1992-2000

Total change (% of ecoregion)

1.5%

1.7%

1.4%

1.6%

Margin of error (85% confidence level)

+/-0.6%

+/-0.6%

+/-0.5%

+/-0.8%

Average annual rate of change (%/year)

0.2%

0.3%

0.2%

0.2%

 

 

 

Table 3.  Percentages of each land cover class for the five mapped dates

 

 

1973

1980

1986

1992

2000

Net change 1973-2000

Land-use/land-cover class

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

km²

%

Water

3259

16.9

3270

17.0

3278

17.0

3278

17.0

3282

17.1

22

0.1

Developed

4908

25.5

5105

26.5

5344

27.8

5555

28.9

5812

30.2

904

4.7

Mechanically disturbed

38

0.2

7

0.0

20

0.1

17

0.1

18

0.1

-19

-0.1

Mining

78

0.4

91

0.5

110

0.6

122

0.6

124

0.6

46

0.2

Naturally barren

153

0.8

152

0.8

147

0.8

147

0.8

146

0.8

-7

0.0

Forest

4482

23.3

4385

22.8

4270

22.2

4202

21.9

4134

21.5

-348

-1.8

Grassland/Shrubland

19

0.1

27

0.1

29

0.2

21

0.1

20

0.1

1

0.0

Agriculture

3349

17.4

3266

17.0

3112

16.2

2971

15.4

2783

14.5

-566

-2.9

Wetland

2944

15.3

2926

15.2

2920

15.2

2916

15.2

2911

15.1

-34

-0.2

Non-mechanically disturbed

0

0

0

0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

 

 


Table 4.  The 5 most common land cover conversions for each of the four time periods

 

 

 

 

Area changed

% of all

Period

From class

To class

(km2)

changes

1973-1980

Forest

Developed

88

31

 

Agriculture

Developed

81

28

 

Mechanically disturbed

Developed

22

8

 

Forest

Mining

12

4

 

Wetland

Agriculture

11

4

 

Other classes

Other classes

72

25

 

 

 

286

100

 

 

 

 

 

1980-1986

Agriculture

Developed

138

41

 

Forest

Developed

98

29

 

Forest

Mining

17

5

 

Agriculture

Forest

10

3

 

Agriculture

Mechanically disturbed

10

3

 

Other classes

Other classes

60

18

 

 

 

333

100

 

 

 

 

 

1986-1992

Agriculture

Developed

130

48

 

Forest

Developed

61

22

 

Mechanically disturbed

Developed

14

5

 

Agriculture

Mechanically disturbed

9

3

 

Agriculture

Forest

8

3

 

Other classes

Other classes

50

18

 

 

 

272

100

 

 

 

 

 

1992-2000

Agriculture

Developed

179

59

 

Forest

Developed

61

20

 

Mechanically disturbed

Developed

12

4

 

Agriculture

Mechanically disturbed

8

3

 

Forest

Mechanically disturbed

6

2

 

Other classes

Other classes

38

13

 

 

 

304

100

Overall:

 

 

 

 

1973-2000

Agriculture

Developed

528

44

 

Forest

Developed

308

26

 

Mechanically disturbed

Developed

49

4

 

Forest

Mining

36

3

 

Agriculture

Forest

28

2

 

Other classes

Other classes

246

21

 

 

 

1,195

100

 

 


Table 5.  The percentage of all change going to developed land and the percentage originating from agricultural lands

 

[Developed lands comprised an increasing percentage of all change from 1973 to 2000, while the percentage of new development originating from agricultural lands has also steadily increased]

 

Developed Lands

 

Date

Percent of All Change

Percent Originating From Ag Land

1973 - 1980

68.9%

41.2%

1980 - 1986

72.1%

57.5%

1986 - 1992

77.9%

61.5%

1992 - 2000

84.8%

69.5%

 

 

Location map for the Atlantic Coastal Pine
Barrens ecoregion.

 

Figure 1.  Location map for the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens ecoregion.  The underlying land cover is from the 1992 National Land Cover Database (Vogelmann and others, 2001).  The 20 km X 20 km sample blocks are shown in yellow.

 

 

Fruit and vegetable crops

 

Figure 2.  A variety of fruit and vegetable crops are grown in parts of the ecoregion, with vineyards a common sight in parts of the ecoregion. 

 

 

Bar chart

 

Figure 3.  The overall spatial change in all Eastern U.S. ecoregions.  Each bar chart shows the proportion of the ecoregion that experienced change on 1, 2, 3, or 4 dates.

 

 

Land cover change per time interval table

 

Figure 4.  Estimates of land cover change per time interval normalized to annual rates of change.

 

 

See caption

 

Figure 5.  The rapid expansion of housing developments, retirement communities, and recreational centers resulted in an 18% increase in developed area, usually at the expense of forest and agricultural lands.

 

 

See Caption

 

Figure 6.  Per period net change for each mapped land cover class.  Areas above the zero axis represent net gains for a land cover class, while areas below represent net losses.

 

 

See Caption

 

Figure 7.  While urban development has occurred throughout the ecoregion, recreational opportunities and the desire for other coastal amenities has resulted in concentrations of development along most of the coastlines.

 

 

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