By the numbers: U.S. Old growth forests

English: Redwood trees in Muir Woods National ...

English: Redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument, just outside San Francisco, California, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case yesterday’s post about Hyperion left you wondering about the greater state of forests in the U.S., I’ve got some numbers for you.

I mentioned in passing that Hyperion was approximately 700 – 800 years old, which is not particularly ancient as far as trees go. The North American continent was a much different place when Hyperion was a sapling. Before European settlement, about 46% of the land that would become the modern United States was forest. By 1907, this number had decreased to 33% and fortunately has remained stable since that time. However, very little (~26%) of those original forests still exist today. Most of this ‘old-growth’ forest resides on public lands in Nation Forests and National Parks. Interestingly, it was estimated that the tract of land on which Hyperion stands came within probably two weeks of being logged before it was annexed into the protection of the parks system.

The economy of forestry and ecological conservation are in a constant policy struggle to balance short-term human needs with longer-term ecosystem-wide needs. Forest products have a value of ~$230 billion dollars annually, but forests also play vital roles as a habitat for many other species and a mechanism for the large scale natural capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Nevertheless, these related but conflicting interests must compromise to ensure a sustainable existence of forests.

While these facts all seem so logical, there’s something about ancient forests that gives them inherent value worthy of protection. There is an awesomeness there that demands silence. The immense size of the trees and the diversity of life all around make being human seem insignificant, but at the same time a forest affirms your place in the world and restores your spirit. I’m not the only one that thinks so…

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” John Muir

“In my deepest troubles, I frequently would wrench myself from the persons around me and retire to some secluded part of our noble forests.” John James Audubon

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Being in the forest is refreshing, but I, like all of you reading this, sleep at night in a home made of forestry products. So if you also appreciate the latter, value the former.



Extra reading on forest policy:


2 thoughts on “By the numbers: U.S. Old growth forests

  1. Pingback: International Day of Forests | New Under The Sun Blog

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