HOW MUCH FOREST WE HAVE AND WHO OWNS IT?
In the early 1600s, forests covered about one-half
of the area of what is now the continental United States. More than a
billion acres of land was forested when the pilgrims arrived. Today,
even with all the clearing for development, with all the trees
harvesting, with all the wood products we have consumed in 350 years,
we still have more than 753 million acres in forests, nearly
three-quarters as much as when the first settlers arrived.
One third of the United States is forested. This
means that our nation's 2.3 billion acres of land, 753.5 million acres
are forest lands. These forest lands are classified as either
commercial or noncommercial. Commercial forest lands are "capable"
and "available" for growing trees for harvest. In addition to
providing fiber for wood and paper, they provide recreation, wildlife
habitat, and watershed protection.
Commercial forest lands make up 66 percent, or 499.7
million acres, of the 253.9 million acre total. The other third,
253.9 million acres, is classed "incapable" or "unavailable" for
growing trees for harvest. Of this total, 233.9 million acres are
considered unproductive or presently incapable of growing sufficient
wood fiber per acre to make them profitable to harvest. (A large
percentage of these lands, 113 million acres, is in Alaska.)
The other 19.9 million acres are classed as either
productive-reserved or deferred---"capable" of growing trees for
harvest but "not available." These include National parks, Wilderness
areas, and other single-use restrictions.
Nearly three-fourths of the commercial forest lands
are located in the eastern half of the United States, about equally
divided between the North and South. Eighty percent of New England,
more than half of the land along the Atlantic Coast, and 15 percent of
the Central Region are covered with commercial forests.
Government, with 136.1 million acres, is the largest
single owner of commercial forest land. National Forests make up 91.9
million acres of 18 percent of all commercial forest land. Other
federal lands, including lands managed by the Bureaus of Land
Management and Indian Affairs, make up another three percent or 15.2
million acres. And six percent (29 million acres) is in state and
The largest portion of commercial forest land is
owned by individuals 296.2 million acres or 59 percent. Nearly half
of these lands are in the South and North.
The forest products industry, with 67.3 million
acres, owns only 13 percent of the commercial forest land. About 52
percent of these industrial lands are in the South and 26 percent are
in the North, with most of the remaining lands on the Pacific Coast.
For several decades up to 1960, America's commercial
forest lands expanded, as farmlands were returned to forest status.
This was particularly true in the Eastern states.
However, in the period between 1962 and 1970, the
trend reversed. A decline of 8.4 million acres in the commercial
forest base over this period was mostly in the South. Reasons
included: shifts of public land use to reserved or deferred status,
increased use of forest lands for roads and power lines rights of way,
lands cleared for crop production, pasture lands and for recreation
Within the 12 states that are included, in whole or
in part, in the Appalachian area, more than 8.1 million acres of
commercial forest land is owned by the federal government. Most of
that (6.2 million acres) is in National Forest land and is managed by
the U.S. Forest Service.
State, county and other governmental bodies own
another 4.78 million acres, while the forest industries own 13.8
million acres. As reflected in national figures, the largest owner by
classification is the private landowner. Private commercial woodlands
in the Appalachian area equal 110.2 million acres or 80 percent of the
total land area.
Industry does the best job of timber production on
its land. The average annual per-acre growth is 70 cubic feet. The
average on private land is 30 and on federal timberlands 35 cubic feet
per acre per year. Clearly, the demand for consumer products from the
forest will demand that better management of our forest resources be a
national policy. With the potential for doubling the output from
federal and privately-held lands available to us, we have no
alternatives...we must call on the professional foresters and land
managers to make these lands as productive as possible.
The timber productivity of these lands, of course,
must be balanced with all the benefits available. The management
decision that provides the most benefit for the most people will