Deforestation in the United States

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Virgin forest in the U.S.
In 1620
In 1850
In 1926

Deforestation in the United States is an ongoing environmental issue that attracts protests from environmentalists. Prior to the arrival of European-Americans, about one half of the United States land area was forest, about 1,023,000,000 acres (4,140,000 km2) estimated in 1630. Recently, the Forest Service reported total forestation as 766,000,000 acres (3,100,000 km2) in 2012.[1][2][3] The majority of deforestation took place prior to 1910 with the Forest Service reporting the minimum forestation as 721,000,000 acres (2,920,000 km2) around 1920.[4] The forest resources of the United States have remained relatively constant through the 20th century.[3]

The 2005 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment ranked the United States as seventh highest country losing its old growth forests, a vast majority of which were removed prior to the 20th century.[3]

After European colonization[edit]

For the 300 years following the arrival of Europeans, land was cleared, mostly for agriculture, at a rate that matched that of population growth.[5] For every person added to the population, one to two hectares of land was cultivated.[6] This trend continued until the 1920s when the amount of crop land stabilized in spite of continued population growth. As abandoned farm land reverted to forest the amount of forest land increased reaching a peak in 1963 of 753,000,000 acres (3,050,000 km2).[1] After 1963 there was a gradual decrease through the next few decades which has been reversed with recovery and slight gains in the early 21st century. Gains in forest land have resulted from conversions from crop land and pastures at a higher rate than loss of forest to development. Because urban development is expected to continue, an estimated 93,000 square kilometres (23,000,000 acres) of forest land is projected be lost by 2050,[7] a 3% reduction from 1997. Other qualitative issues have been identified such as the continued loss of old-growth forest,[8] the increased fragmentation of forest lands, and the increased urbanization of forest land.[9]

Current issues[edit]

Map of above ground woody biomass c. 2000

Deforestation in the United States is affected by many factors. One such factor is the effect, whether positive or negative, that the logging industry has on forests in the country. Logging in the United States is a hotly debated topic as groups who either support or oppose logging argue over its benefits and negative effects. "This industry comprises the establishments primarily engaged in one or more of the following: (1) cutting timber; (2) cutting and transporting timber; (3) producing wood chips in the field,” the definition provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[10]

"The United States is the second leading producer and consumer of forest products and accounts for about one-fourth of the world’s production and consumption. The United States is also the world’s second-largest producer of softwood and hardwood lumber. In 1996, total annual sales for commercial (nonfederal) timber and nontimber forest products was approximately $3.8 billion."[citation needed]

The biggest issue thought to be facing deforestation in the United States is illegal logging in forests although facts prove otherwise from habitat and forest cover loss annually to catastrophic fire. More than 83 million acres have been lost to wildfire from 2005 to date.[11] The United States Forest Service states that illegal logging is the biggest problem with deforestation because it is nearly impossible to monitor and stop.[citation needed] It goes on throughout the U.S. and other countries and often happens when companies disregard their permits and go beyond what they are allowed to harvest. The Forest Service and EPA work together to make sure that the permits for logging companies in the United States are granted in such a way that the forests are kept healthy and sustainable, and illegal logging reduces the chances that forests will be kept this way.[citation needed]

The United States Forest Service is in favor of logging to a certain extent[citation needed] but there are several groups that oppose logging in the United States. Groups such as state that logging in the United States and specifically in industrial areas has led to deforestation and near extinction of many animals.[citation needed]

Species extinctions in the Eastern forests[edit]

Forest cover in the Eastern United States reached its lowest point in roughly 1872 with about 48 percent compared to the amount of forest cover in 1620. Of the 28 forest bird species with habitat exclusively in that forest, Pimm claims four become extinct either wholly or mostly because of habitat loss, the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, ivory-billed woodpecker, and Bachman's warbler.[12]

Further reading[edit]

  • Matera, Chris (14 September 2009). "Massachusetts forests at the crossroads" (PDF). Massachusetts Forest Watch.
  • R.H. Fuller (1906). The Struggles of the First State to Preserve its Forests. Appleton's.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Forest Facts, 2012" (PDF). United States Forest Service. 2014-08-31. Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  2. ^ "National Report on Sustainable Forests — 2010". United States Forest Service. 2014-04-29. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  3. ^ a b c Forest Resources of the United States Archived May 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Major Trends, Forest Inventory & Analysis, 2002" (PDF). United States Forest Service. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  5. ^ 'Collapse': How Societies choose to Fail or Succeed, The New York Times
  6. ^ American Forest A History of Resiliency and Recovery United States Forest Service
  7. ^ Land Use Changes Involving Forestry in the United States: 1952 to 1997, With Projections to 2050
  8. ^ United Nations (2005) "Global Forest Resources Assessment"
  9. ^ U.S. Department of Agriculture "Forests on the Edge - Housing Development on America's Private Forests" (2005) Retrieved November 19, 2006
  10. ^ US EPA, "Forestry Facts and Figures".
  11. ^ U.S. National Interagency Fire Center
  12. ^ Pimm, Stuart (2002). "The Dodo became extinct (and other ecological myths)" (PDF). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. 89 (2): 190–198. doi:10.2307/3298563. JSTOR 3298563. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-27.

External links[edit]