Released December 18, 2012
WASHINGTON — A comprehensive U.S. Forest Service report released today examines the ways expanding populations, increased urbanization, and changing land-use patterns could profoundly impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years.
Significantly, the study 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.
“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,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman. “Today’s report offers a sobering perspective on what is at stake and the need to maintain our commitment to conserve these critical assets.”
Alaska yellow cedar stands have been declining in southeast Alaska during the last century. More than 500,000 acres of dead and dying trees have been mapped by aerial surveys. Yellow cedar is extremely valuable wood and also has ecological and cultural importance. Knowledge of the cause of yellow cedar decline and associated site risk factors is leading to a conservation strategy for this valuable tree species in the context of a warming climate with reduced snow, according to a report released by the U.S. Forest Service.
U.S Forest Service scientists and partners at universities, non-profits and other agencies found urban and developed land areas in the U.S. will increase 41 percent by 2060. Forested areas will be most impacted 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, over the long-term, climate change could have significant effects on water availability, making the US 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. This assessment strengthens our commitment to accelerate restoration efforts that will improve forest resiliency and conservation of vitally important natural resources,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
The assessment’s projections are influenced by a set of scenarios with varying assumptions about U.S. population and economic growth, global population and economic growth, global wood energy consumption and U.S. land use change from 2010 to 2060. Using those scenarios, the report forecasts the following key trends:
Additionally, the report stresses the need to develop forest and rangeland policies, which 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 Resources Planning Act of 1974 requires the Forest Service to produce an assessment of natural resource trends every 10 years.
U.S. Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/news/2012/releases/12/report.shtml