Conservation in Context: Sustaining America’s Forest Legacy

————————————————————-
“In 1955 there were 8.5 acres of forest for every
American. Today it is 4.7 acres. Assuming current
trends in land development and forest conversion
continue, U.S. per capita forest area will be 1.8
acres in 2050. ”

“Š carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases Š
are already influencing many forest species and
processes. Development and landscape
fragmentation confound these impacts.”

“Reprioritize forest management objectives on public lands.”

” Š provide incentives and institutions for
forest ecosystem management across ownership and
jurisdictional boundaries.”
————————————

Conservation Biology
Volume 22, No. 6, 1378-1379
DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01102.x

Conservation in Context

Sustaining America’s Forest Legacy
Norman L. Christensen, Jr.
Nicholas School of the Environment, Box
90329, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708,
U.S.A., email normc@duke.edu

America’s 750 million acres of private and public forest lands are a remarkable legacy of this nation’s commitment to forest conservation and restoration over the past century. This forest legacy provides a wide range of benefits and values including wood, clean water, wild- life, recreation, green space, carbon uptake and storage, cultural legacies and connections, and aesthetic beauty and inspiration-not to mention jobs and tax revenues to support schools and local government. But our world is changing, our forests are changing, and our forest legacy is in peril (NCSSF 2008).


o Changing demographics: Our increasing numbers mean increasing demand. The population of the United States has grown by 75% over the past 50 years, and it is expected to grow by another 40% by 2050. In 1955 there were 8.5 acres of forest for every American. Today it is 4.7 acres. Assuming current trends in land development and forest conversion continue, U.S. per capita forest area will be 1.8 acres in 2050.

o Changing human demands on forest lands: The demands placed on forest land have grown in quantity and complexity. Demand for wood products, clean water, recreation, and wildlife continues to grow, along with accelerated interest in forests as a primary energy source and a repository for carbon. There is unprecedented growth in demand for land for development, with human influences on forests extending far beyond the areas that are actually developed.

o Changing forest cover: Forest lands are rapidly disappearing, especially in urban-rural transitions where the benefits and values of forest cover are so badly needed. The extent of and commitment to streamside forest buffers on agricultural landscapes depends too heavily on the whims of the marketplace and uncertainties of electoral cycles and Farm Bill reauthorizations.

o Changing forest health: Even where acreage is stable, forest benefits and values are increasingly diminished. Wildlife diversity and ecosystem services are decreasing as a consequence of the fragmentation of forests by
roads and development and by the growth in single-species, short-rotation forest management.

To these changes is added a growing litany of invasive nonnative species that influence forest biodiversity and management options in all regions. New diseases and insect pests appear in U.S. forests each year, causing losses of trees and even species in every region of the country. In many western forest types, fire suppression coupled with historic management practices has increased flammable fuels within stands and across forested landscapes. This, along with drought and increased human access, has increased the likelihood of ignition of severe fires and their propagation across large areas. That the number of state and federally listed threatened and endangered forest species continues to grow should be no surprise.

o Changing climate: Human activities are causing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases to increase and temperatures to rise in our atmosphere. These changes are already influencing many forest species and processes. Development and landscape fragmentation confound these impacts. Future forest managers may need to consider means of augmenting natural rates of adaptation and species movement. Nevertheless, forests store large quantities of Earth’s carbon, and they may be managed to store even more. Thus, forest management is a potentially important tool to mit- igate carbon emissions and global warming.

Some of these changes are inevitable, others are not. To sustain the forest benefits and values we cherish, our lands must be managed to reverse adverse change where that is possible and to adapt to changes that cannot be reversed. This management will require a shared understanding of the importance of America’s forests and a bold, new vision for their future. A central tenet of that understanding is that forests are keystone elements in the conservation of air, water, biological diversity, and beauty across the full gradient of human land uses. Central to that vision are policies and actions aimed at conserving the full complement of forest benefits and values across entire landscapes. The following must be among those policies and actions.

o Reprioritize forest management objectives on public lands. Over the past century, public forests such as the National Forest System have become islands of wildlife habitat, water protection, and recreation in a sea of conflicting uses on private lands. Land-use policy must now acknowledge this change and set the conservation of these specific benefits and values as the highest priority for public lands. Such policies will have the added benefit of enhancing carbon uptake and storage.

o Provide stable and permanent incentives for forest greenways and buffers on both urban and rural landscapes. Through financial incentives and land planning, future policies must encourage establishment and maintenance of permanent forest corridors that re-connect the forest landscape and sustain flows of clean water in streams and rivers. Reconnected landscapes will mitigate global warming and be a source of beauty.

o Improve planning and coordination across jurisdictions and ownerships. Future policies will provide incentives and institutions for forest ecosystem management across ownership and jurisdictional boundaries. These programs will encourage participation and foster trust among all stakeholders. They are especially important for effective management of forest health challenges that extend across traditional borders of jurisdiction and ownership.

o Implement innovative and effective communication and learning. Future policies and programs will foster understating of the importance of integrated land planning and management and of the multiple benefits and values that obtained from such management.

Norman L. Christensen, Jr.
Nicholas School of the Environment, Box
90329, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708,
U.S.A., email normc@duke.edu

Literature Cited

NCSSF. 2008. Forests for Tomorrow. The final report of the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry.
www.ncssf.org (accessed August 2008).
Conservation Biology Volume 22, No. 6, 2008

—————————————————————————————————-

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed