Finally, some good news on the subject of conservation: In the United States, there are more trees then there were 100 years ago
It’s easy to be cynical about the state of the environment, especially when bombarded daily with stories about global warming, smog-filled cities, and forests leveled for the sake of profit. But it turns out that last one isn’t a bad as you might think, at least here at home. Despite its rapid expansion, the United States has more trees standing than it did a century ago, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The number of trees can be credited to a successful sustainable harvesting program, which has ensured that forest growth has exceeded the number of trees that have been cut down since the 1940s. America currently has the fourth largest collection of forests in the world, comprising eight percent of the world’s forests, or about 300 million hectares. Only the Russian Federation, Brazil, and Canada have more forest.
The trees have also been helped out by the creation of the National Parks and other government programs and changes in agriculture requiring less deforestation, as well as greater numbers of the population moving from rural areas to cities and suburbs. 63 percent of domestic forests are also privately owned, and with logging and agricultural activities moving overseas, landowners are more committed to keeping trees rooted in the ground. Somewhat ironically, logging companies have been among the biggest proponents of forest conservation, with many even planting more trees than they harvest.
Trees in America were once plentiful, but with the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s, forest were cleared in wide swaths for development. As the landing spot for settlers, the East Coast was the hardest hit by loggers, but New England is now seeing the greatest amount of forest growth, with the average numbers of trees per acre almost doubling since the 1950s.
Live trees provide a number of benefits to humans, beyond their aesthetic appeal and as a shelter for wildlife. Forests play a vital role in absorbing carbon emissions, helping to fight global warming. Since a number of these trees are relatively young, there is concern of the age of the forests, considering the irreplaceable loss of some of America’s oldest trees.
Research has suggested that older forest can absorb more carbon dioxide and help promote greater diversity of plant and animal life. While new forests provide benefits, environmentalists have stressed the importance of protecting old-growth forests, noting that a newly planted tree is not necessarily a perfect replacement for one that’s stood for hundreds of years.
The gradual recovery of America’s forests is far from complete, and it will take hundreds of years to create an entirely healthy forest system. But the improvement over their condition a century ago is an encouraging sign for the future of the nation’s wild areas and an improving attitude towards sustainability and preserving nature for future generations.