The first step in knowing where you are going is to assess exactly where you are.
“Forests of the Northern United States,” a report recently produced by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, creates a snapshot of the forested land, both public and private, which covers 172 million acres, or 42 percent of the land area, in the nation’s most densely forested and most densely populated corner of the nation.
The Northern Forest Futures Project is joint venture of the U.S. Forest Service, the Northeastern Area Association of State Foresters and the University of Missouri. The project seeks to forecast how known and emerging natural resource and societal trends will change the character of tomorrow’s forests and how the resulting changes will alter the ability of forests to contribute to the well-being of people and communities.
“Forests of the Northern United States” will provide context to the ultimate product of the 3-year Northern Forest Futures Project, an evaluation of the sustainability of northern forests under different scenarios over the next 5 decades.
“Forests of the Northern United States” provides a broad overview of eight dimensions of northern forests. The first seven points are from the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators (Montréal Process Working Group 2010), a multi-dimensional, widely used framework for organizing information about sustainable forest conditions at local, state, regional, national, and global spatial scales. The eighth is focused on urban and community forests, which occur in close proximity to places where most northern residents live.
soil and water conservation
global carbon cycles
legal and institutional framework for conservation; and
urban and community forests.
“Forests of the Northern Forests” is available in portable document format (pdf), and the Northern Forest Futures Project website (https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/futures/) greatly augments the report. For example, the site’s data dashboard allows visitors to quickly access data for a particular state and even see how individual state data compares with other states.
Key findings for Criterion 1: Conservation of Biological Diversity include:
Forest area in the region increased by 28 percent over the last 100 years.
The region’s forest land is 74 percent privately owned.
Young forests and old forests are relatively rare; 70 percent of the forest area is between 40 and 100 years old.
About 1 percent of the region’s forest-associated species are presumed extinct; populations of 85 percent of forest-associated species appear to be secure, and populations of the remaining forest-associated species are at some degree of risk.
Key findings for Criterion 2: Maintenance of Productive Capacity of Forest Ecosystems include:
Of the 172 million acres of forest land in the North, 95 percent is suitable for timber production (i.e., classified as timberland).
The region’s timberland is 77 percent privately owned, but the proportion of private ownership ranges from 46 percent in Minnesota to 96 percent in Maine.
From 1953 to 2007, the volume of standing timber on timberland in the North increased by 140 percent from 104 to 248 billion cubic feet; standing volume increased substantially in each of the 20 Northern States.
Key findings for Criterion 3: Ecosystem Health and Vitality include:
The most frequent types of tree defects are advanced decay, cracks or seams in tree boles, cankers, galls, and dead terminal branches.
Gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, and hemlock woolly adelgid are entrenched invasive species causing widespread mortality.
Other insects and diseases that have the potential to cause extensive mortality if they become widely established include the Asian longhorned beetle, Sirex wood wasp, European spruce bark beetle, and thousand cankers disease of black walnut.
Key findings for Criterion 4: Conservation and Maintenance of Soil and Water Resources include:
Forests protect the soil both directly and indirectly from wind and water erosion. Wind erosion is rare in wooded areas, which are protected by the forest canopy, tree roots, and forest floor litter.
Forty-eight percent of the North’s water supply originates on the forests which cover 42 percent of the land. About 94 percent of the water that originates from forests is from non-federal land.
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.
Key findings for Criterion 5: Maintenance of Forest Contribution to Global Carbon Cycles include:
Forests sequester large amounts of carbon in soil organic matter and in the wood of living trees.
The total amount of stored carbon in U.S. forests is equal to approximately 27 years of carbon dioxide emissions for the United States.
The annual net increase in carbon sequestered in U.S. forests from tree growth is equivalent to about 10 percent of the annual emissions of carbon dioxide and associated greenhouse gasses.
Key findings for Criterion 6: Maintenance and Enhancement of Socioeconomic Benefits include:
In 2006, primary wood products manufacturing in the region added value of an estimated $52 billion to the economy—41 percent of total U.S. added value for this sector.
The northern forest products industry employs 441,000 workers in forest management and logging, forest products, and pulp and paper industries. This is about 40 percent of the 1.1 million U.S. employees in these sectors.
The most common nature-based recreational activities in northern forests are walking for pleasure; family gatherings; viewing/photographing scenery, wildlife, or flowers; picnicking; sightseeing; and driving for pleasure.
Key findings for Criterion 7: Legal, Institutional and Economic Framework for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management include:
State and federal agencies support forest planning on private forest lands.
Across the region, 10 percent of the nonindustrial private forest land acreage (private land not held by the forest products industry) is managed under stewardship plans, but the covered area for individual states ranges from less than 5 to more than 30 percent.
Sixteen percent of the region’s forest land is in some form of protected status.
Key findings for Criterion 8: Urban and Community Forests include:
In the North, 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas which cover 6 percent of the region’s land base.
Urban area growth in the North totaled 4 million acres from 1990 to 2000.
Most of the urbanization in the North in the 1990s occurred in agricultural (42 percent) and forested (37 percent) areas.
Within urban and community lands in the North, tree cover averages 39 percent while impervious cover averages 20 percent.
“Forests of the Northern United States” is just the beginning of the Northern Forest Futures Project. The team is now evaluating what effect three possible future scenarios might have on Northern forests: high economic growth with moderate population growth; moderate economic growth with high population growth; and low economic growth, low population growth. Projections are expected to be complete in early 2013.