U.S. Forests Being Renewed, Although Challenges Remain
Any loss of forestland during the 20th century due to urban and suburban growth was generally offset by replanting and reforestation efforts as well as natural forest re-growth on abandoned agricultural lands, and there is good reason to believe those trends will continue, says a new study released by the Society of American Foresters.
The U.S. is covered by 750 million acres of forestland, and that amount has remained essentially unchanged for 100 years, although the nation’s forests have increased by more than 10 million acres over the last 20 years, according to “The State of America’s Forests.”
Helping regenerate forests are technological advances that have made farming more efficient, vastly reducing the amount of land needed to produce food, the study says.
“There is much good news to be shared about America’s forests, particularly in regard to their abundance, the ecological services and recreational services they offer, the raw materials they provide and the successful initiatives to sustain them,” Dale Bosworth, former forest chief for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, writes in the report’s introduction.
The report is based on data from a wide range of sources, including the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it reaches a similar conclusion to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report in March finding that the U.S. had annual increases in forest area in the 1990s through 2005.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences last November also reported a widespread pattern of reforestation in the U.S. and said that it was a world leader in forestland re-growth.
“Our nation should be proud of the state of our forests,” said Rob Lowman, president of the Abundant Forests Alliance (AFA), a coalition of wood and paper products companies formed to share information about how the industry is helping to ensure abundant forests.
While the report notes that America’s forests face significant challenges — such as fire, insects and disease, invasive weeds, unmanaged recreation and land conversions — it documents a number of reasons to be optimistic:
- Annual net growth of U.S. forests is 36% higher than the volume of annual tree removals.
- Sustainable forest management is contributing to carbon sequestration and storage. In the U.S., the total carbon sequestration by forests and the creation of wood products during the 1990s reached nearly 200 megatons per year — around 10% of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fuels.
- The stability and abundance of forestland, along with the growing conservation ethic of the American public over the past century, has helped many species on the brink of extinction — such as the wild turkey and elk — make full recoveries.
- Historical trends indicate that the standing inventory, or volume, of growing trees of hardwood and softwood species in U.S. forests increased by 49% between 1953 and 2006.
- Certification of sustainable forest management continues to increase every year. The three major U.S. certification systems — Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council and American Tree Farm System — “together certify more than 107 million acres, representing 14% of total U.S. forests. Some 25% of private U.S. forestland is now certified.”