Wednesday, February 16, 2005

U.S. Forests are on a Rebound, But Can it Last?

Interesting article with lots of good figures on forest land.

The United States has gained 10 million acres of forests since 1990.
That is encouraging.
When European settlers began to colonize America in the early 1600s, forests covered more than a billion acres — about half the territory that eventually would become the United States.

Colonists cut down trees for fuel and farmland, and a long, slow decline of forests began. It hit bottom in 1920, when only 735 million acres of woodlands were left. By that time, 370 million acres of trees — one-sixth of the nation's land — had been taken over by farms, cities, homes and industry.

Today, the land area covered by forests has risen slightly, from 735 million to 749 million acres. Trees now occupy one-third of the nation's territory.
So we went from 1/2 of the US being forests to 1/3. The 10 million acres we have gained back is just .5% of the total land of the US. I had not realized that 1920 was the low point for forests in the US. Hopefully this means we are on the rebound and will continue to add forest land.
Farm machinery and tractors took over from horses and mules, which needed a quarter of the cropland for their own food. Heat and power came from coal, oil and gas instead of wood.
This is interesting. It makes me think that the use of fossil fuels has allowed the US to have more forest land. If we didn't use fossil fuels, we would need more farm land to raise crops for the horses and mules to work the land. If we didn't use fertilizer from fossil fuels we would also need more crop land which would leave less for forests. If we used wood to heat our houses instead of natural gas, we would need to cut down more forests to provide this. An interesting thought for environmentalists.
Worldwide, 235 million acres of trees vanished in the past decade, as much as all the land in California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and North Carolina combined.
That doesn't seem good. Makes you wonder if the US is exporting/globalizing some of its forest cutting. I have heard stories of South American's who cut down forests in order to create grazing land for cattle which will be exported to the US. I wonder if you add back in the amount of "exported" cut forest land if the US still added forest in the last 10 years.

via Seattle Times

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