Conservation and Maintenance of Soil and Water Resources
Soils are the fundamental resources enabling land to provide a wide array of benefits. Humans and wildlife alike rely on soils for the production of life-sustaining nourishment and shelter. Soil is important to society because it supports plants that supply food, fibers, life-saving drugs and other essentials and because it filters water and recycles wastes.
Forested watersheds provide water purification, mitigation of floods and droughts, soil retention, and habitat maintenance. The quality and abundance of fresh water in lakes, wetlands, streams, and rivers determine aquatic and terrestrial species biodiversity.
Forty-eight percent of the North’s water supply originates on the forests that cover 42 percent of the land. About 94 percent of the water that originates from forests is from non-Federal land.
Increasing the percent of forest cover improves the ability of a watershed to produce clean water.
Many northern watersheds have water quality problems, especially those near major urban centers. Locations of concern include watersheds in New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, southern Illinois, central Michigan, southern Minnesota, and southeastern New Hampshire.
Soil compaction is not a widespread problem on the region’s forested lands; it is largely confined to trails (walking, biking, hiking, equestrian, and motorized) and forest harvest operations.
Regional inventories show the proportion of
bare forest soil and compacted forest soil to be
relatively low. Excess aluminum can be toxic to
trees and other plants under certain conditions.
Many other soil characteristics (such as percent
soil organic matter) are now routinely quantified
for forest inventory plots, but whether levels are
beneficial or detrimental to forest sustainability
is debatable. For conserving soil, managing
land for forest cover is generally considered
preferable to other land uses. Trends in forest soil
characteristics are poorly documented.
Nearly half of the region’s surface water supply
originates from forest lands and most drinking
water comes from surface water sources. Most
rainfall and snowmelt in forests moves into
streams through subsurface flows, accelerating
nutrient uptake and contaminant absorption
processes. Increasing forest area in the last
century has benefited water quality, but the morerecent
losses of forest land to urban development