The U.S. forest products sector is very dynamic, and contributes a substantial amount of employment, income, manufacturing sales, and value added to rural forest economies throughout the country. Overall, forest products comprise about 1.5% of the total U.S. economy, and contribute about 5% of total manufacturing output in the country. Furthermore, the forest products sector is one of the top three contributors to most southern state economies.
The forest products industry creates incentives for property owners to manage their forests rather than convert them to other uses with a higher financial return, such as development. These working forests deliver many ecosystem services that society values—fresh water, carbon sequestration and storage, erosion control, natural disaster mitigation, biodiversity, recreation, foods, and medicinal plants.
The industry also provides markets for the by-products of forest management and restoration, such as small timber from hazardous fuels reduction and after-fire salvage harvests. In some areas of the West and interior Alaska, the lack of a forest products industry means that owners have no financial incentive to improve forest health. These owners must then decide whether to restore their forests at their own expense, for the benefit of all.
The United States is both the biggest consumer and the biggest producer of forest products, making almost 30 percent of the world’s forest products in all major categories.
The size and organization of the forest products sector have changed over recent decades because it is a cyclical industry, sensitive to fluctuations in the domestic economy and to long-term changes in output markets, consumer preferences, technology, and global economic growth.
The overall trend in the U.S. share of global production, mostly made up by solidwood products and pulp and paper, has been decreased production in most categories. For some products, the decline has been evident since the 1960s; others have slipped since the late 1990s. Trends point toward further declines, even while domestic production of particular products, such as wood pellets, increases.
By Dave Merrill and Lauren Leatherby
There are many statistical measures that show how productive the U.S. is. Its economy is the largest in the world and grew at a rate of 4.1 percent last quarter, its fastest pace since 2014. The unemployment rate is near the lowest mark in a half century.
What can be harder to decipher is how Americans use their land to create wealth. The 48 contiguous states alone are a 1.9 billion-acre jigsaw puzzle of cities, farms, forests and pastures that Americans use to feed themselves, power their economy and extract value for business and pleasure.
Using surveys, satellite images and categorizations from various government agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the U.S. into six major types of land. The data can’t be pinpointed to a city block—each square on the map represents 250,000 acres of land. But piecing the data together state-by-state can give a general sense of how U.S. land is used.
By Darryl Fears
Over several decades in the past century, city populations swelled as Americans moved away from rural forests. Now the forests are moving farther away from Americans.
A new study of satellite images taken over 10 years starting in 1990 shows the rural forest canopy disappearing. Forest space disappeared from the United States in such big chunks that the average distance from any point in the nation to a forest increased by 14 percent, about a third of a mile.
While that’s no big deal to a human driving a car with a pine-scented tree dangling from the rearview mirror, it is to a bird hoping to rest or find food on epic seasonal flights across the globe, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.
But forests aren’t just for the birds. They improve the quality of life for fauna and flora, from bears to flowers. Altering forests can change the dynamics of ecosystems and can potentially “affect water chemistry, soil erosion, carbon sequestration patterns, local climate, biodiversity distribution and human quality of life,” a statement announcing the report said.