Ask the average person to identify the number one threat to forests in America, and they’ll probably say logging. In the past, over-harvesting was certainly a problem, as more trees were cut than could be replaced. But times have changed, and now that a large percentage of America’s forests are owned by families and individuals rather than timber companies, it’s actually suburbanization and converting forests to other non-forest uses that’s wiping out tracts of undeveloped woodland.
According to a new report called Vanishing Pieces of the Puzzle by the American Forest Foundation, 56 percent of the nearly 800 million wooded acres in the United States are in private hands, and two-thirds of those acres are owned by 22 million individuals. Those private owners are clearing their forests for suburban development and pastures, selling them to pay bills, and dividing them up into smaller parcels as each generation passes. Many privately-owned forests are also being devastated by wildfires and tree-killing insects and diseases.
Based on data from the U.S. Forest Service, the report goes into detail about how these threats are affecting ecosystems, water quality, and quality of life for people living in communities with diminishing forested lands. So, what can be done to save them? Make them more valuable to the owners by increasing markets for sustainable wood, for one thing.
“What most don’t realize is that harvesting can be a vital sustainable forestry practice, and helps restore and sustain important forests – like bottomland hardwoods,” says Tom Martin, AFF President and CEO. “Land owners who are active in the American Tree Farm System, harvest to keep their forests healthy, then sell to markets who want sustainable wood, which enables them to earn income to replant, restore and keep their forests as forests – protecting a vital carbon sink for all.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons