Northern Forest Futures Project

Forest Productivity

[image:] Oak leaf with two acorns.

Maintenance of Productive Capacity of Forest Ecosystems

People rely on forests, directly and indirectly, for a wide range of goods and services. Measures of forest productive capacity are indicators of the ability of forests to sustainably supply goods and services over time. An ongoing focus on maintaining productive capacity of forests can help ensure that the use of forest resources does not impair long term forest productivity even though the goods and services expected from forests may change over time due to social, economic, or technological trends.


Key Findings

  • If harvesting rates observed in the recent past continue into the future, differences in projections of forest conditions in the northern region would be small.
  • Under all projections, the trend of steadily increasing live wood volume that characterized northern forests in the past century would level off from 2010 to 2050; after 2050, volume is projected to decrease if harvesting increases to satisfy demand for bioenergy.
  • The levels of increased biomass harvesting for energy assumed in three scenarios appear to be too large to be sustainable through 2060; lower levels of harvesting for energy or projections that include wood-energy plantations could have different outcomes.
  • Forest area by age class is concentrated in the 40- to 80-year age category, resulting in a lack of structural forest diversity that would take decades to alter.
  • Under all projections for the North, the area of the maple-beech-birch forest-type group would increase and the area of nearly all other forest-type groups would decrease; projections are mixed for the white-red-jack forest-type group.
  • For the North as a whole, projected forest removals resulting from land-use changes are likely to average about 13 percent of total removals, with the remainder resulting from harvesting; in populous eastern States—including Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—removals resulting from land-use changes would be >50 percent in some decades.
  • Under all projections for northern forests, the growth-to-removals ratio would be <1.0 (indicating an unsustainable situation over the long term) from 2035 to 2055; by 2060, the ratio would increase to 1.2 if harvesting rates observed in the recent past (2003 to 2008) continue into the future.
  • The large increases in harvesting northern forests required to satisfy a robust demand for bioenergy would not be sustainable over the long term because it would result in decreasing forest volume after 2050; this does not suggest that lower rates of bioenergy harvesting would be unsustainable.

From Future Forests of the Northern United States, NRS-GTR-151, 2016.

Maps and Figures

Projected annual volume losses resulting from land-use changes in forests of the North, 2010 to 2060, under seven scenarios
Projected annual volume losses resulting from land-use changes in forests of the North, 2010 to 2060, under seven scenarios
Comparison of projected volume losses resulting from harvesting and land-use changes in the North, 2010 to 2060
Comparison of projected volume losses resulting from harvesting and land-use changes in the North, 2010 to 2060, under scenario A2-C that assumes high greenhouse gas emissions, large gains in population and energy consumption, moderate gains in income, and a continuation of recently observed harvest rates.

For additional detail, see Criterion 2: Maintenance of Productive Capacity of Forest Ecosystems in the Future Forests of the Northern United States.