“Parcelization” of forestland: The first step to conversion from working forest to suburbs

Parcelization of forestland
Aerial views show forestland undergoing conversion to housing through 'parcelization,' a process that includes land use rezoning.

Here’s a term you might not have heard before: “parcelization.” In land-planning-speak that describes the beginning of an all-too-familiar pattern in which forestland goes from traditional industrial forest companies to other private owners and then converts to other non-forest uses, such as low-density housing or non-contiguous, fragmented tracts of forestland. In other words, the land doesn’t go directly from forest to houses, but in a series of steps that may disguise this process. In King County from 1997-2003, 44 percent of the forest practice permits slated for conversion were in areas identified as no longer remaining in a forestland use, but it was forestland conversion all the same.

Conversion has several negative ecological consequences. More impervious surfaces (like roofs, concrete and roadways) reduce water storage and infiltration to the water table. Residential wells exempt from permits put pressure on the quantity and quality of groundwater. Habitat areas become fragmented and important migration corridors are cut off between the protected areas that do remain. From a social standpoint, fragmentation may result in longer commute times. Sprawl could cause Washington to lose the character and appeal that attracts business and inspires residents.

Source: The Future of Washington Forests (2007), published by DNR and the University of Washington, College of Forestry.