The land within the boundaries of the United States—covering nearly 2.3 billion acres—provides food, fiber, and shelter for all Americans, as well as terrestrial habitat for many other species.
- Land is the source of most extractable resources, such as minerals and petroleum.
- Land produces renewable resources and commodities including livestock, vegetables, fruit, grain, and timber.
- Land supports residential, industrial, commercial, transportation, and other uses.
- Land, and the ecosystems it is part of, provide services such as trapping chemicals as they move through soil, storing and breaking down chemicals and wastes, and filtering and storing water.
The use of land, what is applied to or released on it, and its condition change constantly: there are changes in the types and amounts of resources that are extracted, the distribution and nature of land cover types, the amounts and types of chemicals used and wastes managed, and perceptions of the land's value.
While human activities on land (including food and fiber production, land development, manufacturing, and resource extraction) provide multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits to communities, they can also involve the creation, use, or release of chemicals and pollutants that can affect the environment and human health.
EPA works with other federal agencies, states, and partners to protect land resources, ecosystems, environmental processes, and uses of land through regulation of chemicals, waste, and pollutants, and through cleanup and restoration of contaminated lands.
The complex responsibilities of land management underscore the challenges of collecting data and assessing trends on the state of land. Numerous agencies and individuals have responsibilities for managing and protecting land in the United States. Responsibilities may include protecting resources associated with land (e.g., timber, minerals) and/or land uses (e.g., wilderness designations, regulatory controls).
- Approximately 40 percent of the nation is owned or managed by public agencies.1 The other 60 percent is managed by private owners under a variety of federal, state, and local laws.
- The largest owners of public land at the federal level are the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Local governments have primary responsibilities for regulating land use, while state and federal agencies regulate chemicals and waste that are frequently used on, stored on, or released to land.
ROE indicators are presented to address five fundamental questions about the state of the nation's land:
Indicators: Land Cover
- What are the trends in land cover and their effects on human health and the environment? "Land cover" refers to the actual or physical presence of vegetation or other materials (e.g., rock, snow, buildings) on the surface of the land. It is important from the perspective of understanding land as a resource and its ability to support humans and other species. Changes in land cover can affect other media (e.g., air and water).
Indicators: Land Use
- What are the trends in land use and their effects on human health and the environment? "Land use” refers to the economic and cultural activities practiced by humans on land. Land use can have effects on both human health and the environment, particularly as land is urbanized or used for agricultural purposes.
Indicators: Chemicals Used on Land
- What are the trends in chemicals used on the land and their effects on human health and the environment? Various chemicals (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic chemicals) are applied or released to land for many purposes. The quantity and diversity of chemicals and the potential for interactions among them create challenges in understanding the full effects of their use.
- What are the trends in wastes and their effects on human health and the environment? Numerous types of waste are generated as part of most human activities. Trends in wastes include trends in types and quantities of waste, and mechanisms for managing wastes. Waste trends reflect the efficiency of use (and reuse) of materials and the potential for land contamination.
Indicators: Contaminated Land
- What are the trends in contaminated land and their effects on human health and the environment? Contaminated lands are lands affected by human activities or natural events (such as manufacturing, mining, waste disposal, volcanoes, or floods) that pose a concern to human health or the environment.
 Bigelow, D., and A. Borchers. 2017. Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2012. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. (2 pp, 199 K, About PDF)