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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Forest Disturbance Processes

Measuring Forest Parcelization

Research Issue

What influences whether a forest becomes parcelized? What is the relationship between forest parcelization and land development? What is the extent of forest parcelization in northern Minnesota?

Our Research

When large tracts of forested land are divided into smaller tracts with multiple owners, we say that forest ‘parcelization’ has occurred.  Parcelization can make it harder or less profitable for owners to manage smaller forested plots, and may have negative impacts on wildlife, habitat, and other beneficial resources and services that forested landscapes provide.  The question of whether parcelization leads to forest fragmentation or the conversion of forest land to other uses is of particular concern.  Determining where and why forest land becomes parcelized is not a straight-forward task.  However, until we understand the where and why of parcelization, little can be done to help prevent it.

We measured forest parcelization activity in heavily forested Itasca County (Minnesota) between 1999 and 2006 using readily available real estate sales data, a new approach to assessing parcelization. We then analyzed the immediate and extended relationships between parcelization and land development activities.

Research Results

Despite widespread perceptions of increasing parcelization in this region, we found no significant positive or negative trend in forest parcelization in Itasca County.  An average of 0.4% of private forest land was parcelized each year during the study period (1999-2006). Parcelization was more common near cities, water, and public lands, suggesting these might be drivers of parcelization.

Although the overall rate of parcelization is small, examination of specific parcels suggests that development often occurs shortly after parcelization.  This development activity can significantly change a landscape or a community, and can have substantial ecological, economic and social consequences.

Mundell, J.; Taff, S.J.; Kilgore, M.A.; Snyder, S.A. 2010. Using real estate records to assess forest land parcelization and development: A Minnesota case study. Landscape and Urban Planning 94: 71-76.

Research Participants

  • Joseph Mundell, Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota
  • Steven J. Taff, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota
  • Michael A. Kilgore, Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota
  • Stephanie A. Snyder, Operations Research Analyst, U.S. Forest Service - Northen Research Station


Last Modified: 02/23/2016