Deforestation Background in the US

Valentina Balatsenko

Forests in the US

With the United States being in the top five largest countries in the world, it’s no surprise the forests in the nation make up a large percent of the world’s forests. The US, having the fourth largest estate of forests, includes around 8% of the world’s total forests. Approximately 34% of the United States land is forested, with the majority being in the eastern portion of the country (2020). The types of forests in the US range from dry coniferous forests; to deciduous forests, tropical rainforests; boreal forests; temperate rainforests; and pine plantations (2016). 

In looking at the nation’s forests, The US Forest Service breaks up the country into three categories: South, North, and West. The states placed in the “South” category are all the states Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas, and east of Texas and Oklahoma. The states in the “North” region are the remaining eastern states to the east of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri. The rest of the states, including Alaska and Hawaii, are classes as “West”. 

Of the approximate 304 million hectares of forest land in the US, about 56% is owned privately (2016). The forests that are not in private ownership are managed by local, state, federal and tribal governments. While the US federal government does not have a hand in governing privately owned forest land, privately owned forests are regulated by forestry laws that differ with individual states. 

Some of the key players in this issue are the owners of private forest land and the United States Forestry Service. While these may be the most obvious players, it’s important to remember that the citizens of the country are also directly involved in this issue. Forests impact their life in the local sense; creating tourist attractions and areas for recreation and parks. 

The Threats to US Forests

While the number of forest land in the US has been relatively stable over the last century since the introduction of government structures to govern forests sustainably and the creation of protected national parks and grasslands, there are other natural challenges that forests are facing. Climate change has contributed to the worsening of issues such as wildfires, droughts, and disease outbreaks in forests. This paired with the introduction of invasive species to different regions of the country puts millions of hectares of forest land in the United States at risk. 

What is Deforestation? 

Deforestation is commonly defined as the removal of trees through deliberate, natural, or accidental means. This removal can have drastic effects on the environment, ranging from contributing to climate change to also devastating habitats (2019).  Some natural causes of deforestation are extensive logging, cattle ranching, and development. Natural causes can include, but are not limited to, wildfires, disease, and introduction of invasive species to the region. 

How is Deforestation Related to Climate Change? 

While climate change can also contribute to deforestation, deforestation can also make climate change worse, creating a circle where the problems keep increasing. Increased temperatures have contributed to droughts, which cause trees to lose strength. This loss of strength means that trees have a harder time fighting against insects. Climate change has also been known to increase the risk of wildfires, which is a direct threat to forests around the country. The loss of forest land also directly contributes to climate change. With less healthy trees to absorb Carbon monoxide, there are more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Trees also help slow down erosion, so with the loss of forests, the topsoil erodes, which takes with it the necessary nutrients for farming and other plantlife to grow (2019). 

Borunda, A. (2020, September 18). The science connecting wildfires to climate change. 

Effects of Deforestation: The Pachamama Alliance. (2019). 

Forest area (% of land area) – United States. (2020). 

Tom, T. (2016, September 16). State of Forests and Forestry in the United States. 

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