We should be concerned about our forests, report says

Energy and its disruption of natural ecosystems is just one way the U.S. could lose up to 34 million acres of forested land to development by 2060, according to a recent report from the U.S. Forest Service.

A recent report from the U.S. Forest Service says the U.S. could lose up to 34 million acres of forested land by 2060 because of a 41 percent forecasted increase in urban and developed land areas.

The report, titled “Future of America’s Forests and Rangelands,” says expanding populations, increased urbanization, and changing land-use patterns could profoundly impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years.

“We should all be concerned by the projected decline in our nation’s forests and the corresponding loss of the many critical services they provide such as clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wood products and outdoor recreation,” Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman said. “Today’s report offers a sobering perspective on what is at stake and the need to maintain our commitment to conserve these critical assets.”

Forest Service scientists partnered with universities, nonprofit organizations and other agencies in finding urban and developed land areas in the U.S. will increase 41 percent by 2060.

It’s expected forested areas will be impacted the most by this growth, with losses ranging from 16 to 34 million acres in the lower 48 states.

The study also examines the effect of climate change on forests and the services forests provide.

Most importantly, the report says, long-term climate change could have significant effects on water availability, making the U.S. potentially more vulnerable to water shortages, especially in the Southwest and Great Plains.

Population growth in more arid regions will require more drinking water.

Recent trends in agricultural irrigation and landscaping techniques also will boost water demands.

“Our nation’s forests and grasslands are facing significant challenges,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said. “This assessment strengthens our commitment to accelerate restoration efforts that will improve forest resiliency and conservation of vitally important natural resources.”

The study also shows the potential for significant loss of privately owned forests to development and fragmentation, which could substantially reduce benefits from forests that the public now enjoys, including clean water, wildlife habitat, forest products and others.

Additionally, the report, which is available online at treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/41976, stresses the need to develop forest and rangeland policies that are flexible enough to be effective under a wide range of future socioeconomic and ecological conditions such as climate change.

The Forest and Rangelands Renewable Service Resources Planning Act of 1974 requires the Forest Service to produce an assessment of natural resource trends every 10 years.


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