So what are the facts surrounding this topic? It’s important to look at both the statistics involving climate change as well as forestry in the United States to better understand the situation.
How Much of the United States is Covered in Forest?
A good place to start is the question of how many hectares of land in the United States are forest land, and how that number has diminished over the last few centuries. About a third of the country’s land area is covered in forest, making up approximately 304 million hectares of forest. Out of those 304 million hectares, a little over 50% are owned privately. Compared to the land that the US would be in the 1600, it is estimated that 46% of the region was covered in forest, about 423 million hectares (Tom, 2016). Over the course of the next three hundred years, this number went down to a little over 300 million hectares and has stayed relatively stable since then. This stability was brought about mostly by the introduction of laws with the goal of sustainable forestry.
The forest land in the US is categorized a few different ways. The United States Forest Services classes forest land as “timber land”, “reserved forests”, and “other forest land” (2016). Timber land is described as available forest land, reserved forest land is unavailable, and other forest land is defined as land that has less productivity than 1.4 m3/ha/yr. It’s also important to recognize that the US accounts for 25% of the world’s timber production for industrial products (Tom, 2016).
The Risks to the Forests
There have been many changes brought about in the environment due to climate change. Some changes that relate directly to the forest land in the US are the increased temperature and increased droughts. These changes cause wildfires which contribute to net forest loss in the country. Since the industrial revolution in the 1800’s, the Earth’s temperature has been slowly increasing. This increase in temperature creates an environment that helps wildfires grow and spread (Borunda, 2020). From 2012 to 2016, the western states in the nation faced one of the worst recorded droughts and heatwaves. Tens of millions of trees died, and many of those trees remain where they were, now drying out from the continuing heat. These dry, dead trees are serving as fuel for the spreading wildfires and do nothing but help the fires grow.
Other factors that relate to how climate change has affected forests in the United States include the introduction of non-native invasive species, erosion, and increased greenhouse gases. In the United States, three of the most impactful non-native invasive insects that are affecting the nation’s trees are the Asian Longhorned Beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer, and the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. Besides invasive insects, there are also non-native invasive forest pathogens and invasive forest plants that disrupt and threaten the natural forest life (Sherylaromero, 2020). Droughts that are brought about by climate change have made trees weaker to fight these invasive species, leading to more tree loss in the country.
Borunda, A. (2020, September 18). The science connecting wildfires to climate change.
Tom, T. (2016, September 16). State of Forests and Forestry in the United States.