In the United States, our forests hold so much value, tangible and intangible. They’re beacons of biodiversity, brimming with life. They give us oxygen, help clean our water, boost soil health, grow food, store carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming, help regulate temperatures, offer beauty and recreation, and help support the livelihoods of at least 1 million families. They also provide us with renewable and often recyclable essentials like lumber and paper.
This week, the U.S. celebrates everything forests have to offer with National Forest Products Week. The White House gave this designation to the third week of October (18-24, 2020) to recognize the value of what forests produce and commit to conservation practices that help responsibly manage them all over the country.
So, in the spirit of National Forest Products Week, we’re revisiting some of our posts about the value of forests, and the importance of caring for them with future generations in mind.
There are more trees in the U.S. than there were 100 years ago
From a report by the North American Forest Commission:
- After two centuries of decline, the area of US forestland stabilized in about 1920 and has since increased slightly. The forest area of the US is about two-thirds what it was in 1600.
- The area consumed by wildfire each year has fallen 90 percent; it was between eight and twenty million hectares (20-50 million acres) in the early 1900s and is between one and two million hectares (2-5 million acres) today.
- Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997 forest growth exceeded harvest by 42 percent and the volume of forest growth was 380 percent greater than it had been in 1920.
- Nationally, the average standing wood volume per acre in US forests is about one-third greater today than in 1952; in the East, average volume per acre has almost doubled. About three-quarters of the volume increase is in broad leaved or deciduous trees.
- Populations of many wildlife species have increased dramatically since 1900. But some species, especially some having specialized habitat conditions, remain the cause for concern.
- Tree planting on all forestland rose dramatically after World War II, reaching record levels in the 1980s. Many private forestlands are now actively managed for tree growing and other values and uses.
- Recreational use on national forests and other public and private forest lands has increased manyfold .
- American society in the 20th century has changed from rural and agrarian to urban and industrialized. This has caused a shift in the mix of uses and values the public seeks from its forests (particularly its pubic forests). Increased demands for recreation and protection of biodiversity are driving forest management. This has caused timber harvest from federal lands to decline by more than 60 percent since 1990. In spite of this shift, today’s urbanized nation is also placing record demands on its forests for timber production.
Working forests can help slow the pace of climate change
“ According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sustainably managed forests have the potential to absorb one-tenth of the projected global carbon emissions during the first half of the 21st century. Maintaining the forests needed to combat climate change could help make up for weak global emissions reduction targets.”
Cutting down trees isn’t (always) a bad thing
“The perception that cutting down trees is always bad just isn’t true. In fact, when properly managed, the process of growing and harvesting trees is an important part of a sustainable future for humans, wildlife and the environment. The most important reason for this is very simple: trees are a renewable resource, and provide essential raw material for thousands of products, including wood, paper and even lumber byproducts that can be burned for energy.”
Sustainable forestry is diversifying the economy in rural areas
“Sustainable forestry is helping to create and preserve jobs and diversify economies in rural communities that have been hit hard by the recession, or have a high concentration of poverty. In forested areas all over the nation, tax credits combined with 21st-century methods of harvesting, moving and processing timber are improving the quality of life for local residents.”
Modern forestry techniques help boost carbon storage in forests
“The techniques harvest timber in a way that mimics natural disturbances of old forests, like wind storms, releasing the crowns of large older trees by cutting less vigorous trees around them. That gives those older trees lots of sunlight so they grow new wood and leaves faster than usual, and in turn, store more carbon dioxide so it isn’t released into the atmosphere.”
What makes Eastern White Pine a better choice than plantation-grown pine
“Growing among hardwoods in mixed forests, white pine trees are allowed to reach an age of 80 to 100 years before they’re cut down, making them an important part of these forest ecosystems. In contrast, other types of pine, including radiata, are planted on single-species pine plantations.”
The role of working forests in protecting wildlife
“Forestry companies are increasingly integrating conservation work into their operations, hiring wildlife biologists and other specialists, and working with government and non-profit organizations to protect and increase biodiversity.”