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Conservation Toolkit

U.S. Forest Services | Environment and Natural Resources

Public Agency Participation in Local Land Use Planning

Section Outline


This section provides ideas for how public agencies can participate in local land use planning processes in conjunction with local authority and decision-making. It discusses the value and types of public agency participation, and provides examples of written agency comment to local planners and decision makers. This section also offers information about collaborative services offered by the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute and the Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resource Mediation Program. Finally, success stories of public and private collaboration in land use planning are highlighted.

Public Agency Interest in Local Land Use Planning

Although various federal and state agencies, local planning authorities, and individual citizens carry out the management strategies and development decisions of public and private lands, many values and goals for the land may overlap. Management and development outcomes also affect adjacent lands, whether they are publicly or privately owned. Thus, public agencies have an ongoing interest in local land use planning that affects nearby national lands.

National forests, national grasslands, and other types of federal land have social, ecological, and economic values. Amenity resources offered by a forest or grassland ecosystem may include clean drinking water and clean air; fish and wildlife habitat; livestock grazing; timber and other forest products; minerals, oil, and gas; hunting, fishing, and other recreation; open space; and aesthetic and spiritual values. The USFS August 2007 publication “National Forests on the Edge: Development Pressures on America’s National Forests and Grasslands” ( discusses potential impacts on public lands caused by increased development in areas surrounding Forest Service land.

Findings from the publication include:

  • Limitation of habitat outside national forest and grassland boundaries;
  • Habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss;
  • Increased wildlife mortality and displacement resulting from new roads and higher traffic flows;
  • Changing wildlife behavior due to roads and interactions with humans and exposure to noise and light;
  • Increased mortality by poaching and predation by domestic animals;
  • Obstructed migration corridors or other important seasonal habitat; and
  • Decreased water quality and aquatic habitat.

Rural development, which includes roadside and home landscaping, is often correlated with an increase in invasive and non-native vegetation, which may cause impacts such as:

  • Replacement of native plant species;
  • Decreased plant diversity;
  • Disrupted ecosystem function; and
  • Introduction of non-native insects and disease.

Land development may also compromise existing recreation access points and recreation management by:

  • Decreased or increased public access to national forests and grasslands; and
  • Unmanaged recreation on public lands.

Rural land development and subsequent population increases may also impact fire management, including:

  • Increased risk of fire ignition caused by humans and air pollution;
  • More structures that require protection from forest fires;
  • Complication of fire suppression and other management strategies; and
  • Increased management costs.

Rural development may have hydrological implications for publicly managed lands. Water quality and hydrology impacts may include:

  • Damaged waterways, banks, beds, and riparian areas;
  • Compromised water quality;
  • Altered hydrologic cycles and impaired watershed function; and
  • Increased runoff and nonpoint source pollution.


Rural development can have both social and economic implications for forests and grasslands that are managed by the USFS. Socioeconomic impacts may include:

  • Decreased open space and landscape aesthetics;
  • Decreased economic benefits from hunting and fishing on public lands as a result of limited public access through bordering private lands;
  • Increased crime including illegal garbage dumping; and
  • Increased cost of management of and potential loss of cultural resources.


Boundary management may be complicated by rural residential development. Impacts on public boundary management may include:

  • Increased incidence of encroachment, trespass, and unauthorized use and/or occupation of public land and resources;
  • The illegal use of national forest and grassland as a private backyard, lawn, garden, playground, dump, and/or for personal storage; and
  • Increased illegal road building, timber harvest, and off-road vehicle trails.

Finally, impacts of rural development on federal land use planning and administration are identified as:

  • Increased cost and complications; and
  • The need to coordinate efforts with more private landowners.

These potential impacts on public lands resulting from local land use decision making are all reasons for public land managers to be interested, informed, and involved in local land use planning. The USFS projects that nearly 22 million acres of private, rural lands that are adjacent to national forest and grasslands, will undergo residential development by 2030. As a result, it is increasingly important for public land managers to collaborate and build working relationships with local land planners, decision makers, and private landowners.


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Ruckelshaus Institute

Haub School of Environment

and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

Bim Kendall House

804 E Fremont St

Laramie, WY 82072

Phone: (307)766-5080

Fax: (307)766-5099


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