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The State of America's Forests

Who Owns America's Forests?

Fifty-seven percent of US forestland is owned by private interest, whether individual or companies; 43 percent is "public" land under the control of federal and state agencies. Private ownership is land owned by individuals, families, private cooperatives, industries, investment funds and any private institution, organization or society. Public ownership is land owned by national, state and regional governments, or government-owned institutions, corporations or other public entities.

Benefits of America's Forests

Water quality
Foresters manage areas called watersheds (areas where we collect our drinking water) and riparian zones (land bordering rivers, streams, and lakes). These are places where maintaining water quality is the primary concern for foresters. Forests actually help to clean water. The trees, the soil, and bacteria are all part of this process. Forest cover protects and nurtures the soils that are the key to water retention, filtering, and quality.

Foresters employ a variety of management techniques to benefit wildlife, including numerous endangered species. Species such as wild turkey and wood ducks were almost extinct at the turn of the century. Wildlife conservation and habitat enhancement have resulted in flourishing populations of these and other species we now take almost for granted. Foresters are working with wildlife biologists to improve habitats and ensure survival of other wildlife species.

Forests represent one of the greatest renewable resources and provide vital ecosystem values, products, services and conditions. When forests are managed in a sustainable manner, forest production can commonly meet the landowner's economic objectives while also protecting the environment.

Historically, the volume of growing stock in US forests has increased continually over the past five decades — by 49 percent between 1953 and 2006. After considering tree mortality, the net volume growth increased by 75%.

One indicator of forests' ability to provide wood products over the long term is the difference between the timber growth (growing trees) and timber harvests. When this ratio is positive, it means that the amount of timber growth exceeds the amount of timber being removed. In 2006, the gain of timber (growing trees) in US forests was 9.6 billion cubic feet, almost 22 percent higher than timber net annual gains in 1996 and four times higher than in 1953.

Almost 86 percent of US forestland is available for outdoor recreation — a rapidly growing forest use since the middle of the 20th century. The US National Forests alone host 137 million visits per year. The fastest-growing recreational activity is walking (84% participation) followed by gatherings with family and friends (73%); visiting nature centers, trails, visitor centers (57%); picnicking (55%); and viewing or photographing natural scenery (54%) Foresters manage outdoor recreation by ensuring recreational opportunities while protecting trees, wildlife, and water.

Urban Forests
Forests in urban areas reduce stormwater runoffs, improve air quality, and reduce energy consumption. For example, three well-placed mature trees around a house can cut air-conditioning costs by 10-50 percent. Municipal ordinances, civic participation, and the growth of urban forestry have resulted in the planting and maintenance of millions of trees in our country's cities and towns. Foresters manage urban forests to ensure future benefits to communities.

Renewable and energy-efficient building products
Foresters manage some forests for timber and produce a renewable resource because trees can be replanted. Other building materials, such as steel, iron, and copper, can be reused and recycled but not replaced. Wood is a renewable resource which, in addition to being recyclable, can be produced anew for generations to come on sustainable managed forestlands. Recycling and processing wood products also requires much less energy than does the processing of many other non-renewable materials.

Threats to America's Forests

In 2006, almost 8 percent of US forests — approximately 58 million acres — were at significant risk from insect and disease mortality.
Solution: After identifying the insect or disease, foresters develop a plan to reduce the spread of the insect or disease. The plan may include chemical treatments such as pesticide and biological control with native insects. Foresters continue to do research on the best tools and strategies to fight insects and disease.

Between 1996-2006 forest fires increased an average of 5.8 million acres per year.
Solution: Removing trees and undergrowth from crowded forests decreases the risk of forest fires through treatment programs such as thinning the forests and prescribed burning developed by foresters.

It's estimated that 3.5 million areas of US forests are infested with invasive weeds and plants which is a major threat to biological diversity.
Solution: Foresters identify invasive weeds and plants then develop a specific plan to reduce and control the spread of invasive weeds. The plan may include prescribed fire or transportation restrictions of forest products to other states, Foresters continue to do research and learn about new tools and strategies to fight invasive weeds and plants.

A recent study, by the US Forest Service, estimates that more than 44 million acres of private forestland might be converted to housing development in the next three decades.
Solution: The impact of housing and urban growth on forests can be minimized thoughtful urban growth planning and incentives to own, manage, and maintain forestland. Urban foresters can help urban areas manage and maintain forestland.

The increase in temperature caused through climate change can stress forests making them more vulnerable to insect and disease outbreaks. In addition, wildfires will become more frequent and intense.
Solution: Forest management is recognized as an effective means to fight climate change. During the 1990s, forests and forests products absorbed 200 megatons of carbon per year which is equal to approximately 10 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions.

To learn more about threats to America's forests, read The State of America's Forests. The State of America's Forests is the most definitive, one-source compilation of credible forestry facts touting more than 50 sources and peer-review by academia, non-governmental organizations, and the US Forest Service.