Eastern US Forests Show 'Significant' Decline in Past 40 Years

photo: Putneypics via flickr.

While recent research has shown that eastern US forests are growing faster as the climate changes, overall the total forest cover throughout the region has shown "significant" decline in since the early 1970s years, reversing a trend began in the beginning of the 20th century.Since the 1920s, forest cover has been expanding throughout the eastern part of the country as farmland was reclaimed by trees. However, new research in the journal Biosciences shows that from 1973 to 2000 forest cover decline by more than 3.7 million hectares (4.1%), described by the paper as a "substantial and significant net loss." This net loss occurs even though reforestation of abandoned farmland continues.

Timber, Urban Development, Mountaintop Removal Mining Top Three Factors
As to the causes of this, the paper cites mechanical disturbance of forests (primarily the timber production, harvest, reforestation cycle) as being the largest single cause at 56% of net loss. Following this is expanded urban development, which was a factor in every eco-region studied, but especially so in the mid-Atlantic. Losses due to mining, primarily mountaintop removal coal mining, was the third largest factor in net forest loss, with some 420,000 hectares lost during the time period studied.


Greatest cause of forest loss for each eco-region in eastern United States. Image: Biosciences

Read more: Land-use Pressure and a Transition to Forest-cover Loss in the Eastern United States [PDF]

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Tags: Agriculture | Deforestation | United States