Print this page

Land Use Primer:

What is the difference between Land use and Land Cover

In many instances, the terms Land Use and Land Cover tend to be exchangeable. However there are differences. Land use refers to how land is used by humans. In other words it refers to the economic use to which land is put. For example is the land being used for commercial purposes (stores, office buildings, apartments, etc.) or for industrial purposes (factories, assembly plants)?  Or is the land being used for recreational or agricultural purposes?

On the other hand, Land Cover refers to the vegetation, structures, or other features that cover the land. For example, is the land covered by grass, by trees, by water, or by large buildings surrounded by a lawn?

Two land parcels may have similar land cover, but different land use.  For instance, an industrial plant that assembles electronic components may look, from the outside, very much like an office building with a distribution warehouse.  The first is an example of industrial use, the latter an example of commercial use.

Two land parcels that have similar land use may have different land cover.  A golf course and an office building are both commercial land uses.  The former would have a land cover of grass, while the latter would be considered built up.

Next: Why are we concerned about changes in land use