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30. The United States of America

Country Data

Total land area (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land


Natural forest area 1995 (thousand ha)

Total change in forest cover 1990-1995 (thousand ha)/annual change (%)

Population total 1997 (million)/annual rate of change 1995-2000


Rural population


GNP per person total 1995 in US$


Source of data: FAO- State of the World’s Forest 1999

Forest history and trends

Many U.S. forests, particularly those in the eastern U.S., were heavily depleted during the 19th century due to agricultural land clearing, logging and massive wildfires. The forest conservation policy framework that emerged after 1900 to address these concerns included the following efforts: 1) to promote and encourage the protection of forests and grasslands, regardless of their ownership, from wildfire; 2) to acquire scientific knowledge on the management of forests and wildlife and on the more efficient utilization of wood products; 3) to reserve remaining public lands for permanent use, management, and protection, e.g. national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, etc.; and 4) to improve the management and productivity of private forests and agricultural lands through research and technical and financial assistance to landowners.

The means for implementing this conservation strategy included public and private research and extension, establishment of professional forestry and natural resource colleges and universities, and a variety of public and private partnerships, e.g. co-operative fire protection involving federal, state and private entities, among others.

A snapshot of current conditions is as follows:

· After two centuries of decline, the area of U.S. forestland stabilized around 1920 and has since increased slightly. The forest area of the U.S. is about two-thirds what it was in 1600.

· The area consumed by wildfires each year has fallen 90%; it was between eight and twenty million ha (20-50 million acres) in the early 1900s and is between one and two million ha (2-5 million acres) today.

· Nationally, forest growth has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997, forest growth exceeded harvest by 42%, and the volume of forest growth was 380% greater than it had been in 1920.

· Nationally, the average standing wood volume per acre in U.S. forests is about one-third greater today than in 1952; in the East, the average volume per acre has almost doubled. About three-quarters of the volume increase is in broadleaved or deciduous trees.

· Populations of many wildlife species have increased dramatically since 1900. But some species, especially some having specialized habitat conditions, remain causes for concern.

· Tree planting on all forestland rose dramatically after World War II, reaching record levels in the 1980s. Many private forestlands are now actively managed for tree growing and other values and uses.

· Recreational use of national forests and other public and private forestlands has increased many fold.

· American society in the 20th century changed from rural and agrarian to urban and industrialized. This has caused a shift in the mix of uses and values the public seeks from its forests (particularly its public forests). Increased demands for recreation and protection of biodiversity are driving forest management. This has caused the timber harvest from federal lands to decline by more than 60% since 1990. In spite of this shift, today’s urbanized nation is also placing record demands on its forests for timber production.

Demand and supply situation of timber

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of forest products and the second largest producer (after Canada). The U.S. accounts for 15% of the world trade in forest products. The forest products sector, although small in comparison to the rest of the U.S. economy, is significant on a global scale, as demonstrated by the fact that the U.S. exports and imports of wood products total $150 billion yearly.

Forests in the U.S. are considered productive and provide for much of the country’s needs. In 1997, the U.S. produced 512.5 million m3 of forest products (including wood fuel) and consumed 563.3 million m3.

Between 1990 and 1997, the timber harvest from U.S. federal lands, which formerly supplied about 25% of the U.S. softwood timber production, declined from about 66 million m3 per year to 24 million m3. This has caused a shift in harvest to U.S. private lands and to Canadian forests. Between 1990 and 1997, U.S. softwood lumber imports from Canada rose from 42 to 63 million m3, increasing from 27 to 36% of the U.S. softwood lumber consumption. Imports of panel products from Canada increased as much as lumber. Much of the increase in lumber imports has come from the native old-growth boreal forests of eastern Canada. In Quebec alone, the export of lumber to the U.S. has tripled since 1990.

U.S. consumption, by major product, included: lumber - 263 million m3 (47%); pulpwood-based products - 178 million m3 (32%); plywood and veneer products - 35 million m3 (6%); wood fuel - 72 million m3 (13%); and other products - 14 million m3 (2%).

U.S. wood product consumption has increased by 50% since 1965, from 374 to 563 million m3 annually.

Forest policy and institutional framework

The U.S. has a basically decentralized system of policy-making for forests that reflects its mix of forestland ownership.

The federal government has a direct management and policy responsibility for the federal forest estate. In addition, the federal government has one of the largest forestry research organizations in the world, which, among other duties, carries out regular inventories and assessments of conditions and trends of all U.S. forestlands, regardless of ownership. The federal government also provides the states with funding to help support technical and financial assistance to private forest owners to improve management of the vast private forest estate. The federal government is involved in providing assessments of insect and disease and wildfire problems and the funding to help address them, regardless of ownership.

All fifty states are individually responsible for guiding and regulating management of the 71% of the productive non-reserved forests that are privately held. Each state has a state forester and forestry organization to provide direct technical and financial assistance to private forest owners, to protect forests from fire, insects and disease, and to implement state laws affecting the use and management of these lands. Many states also manage public forests. At the local level, hundreds of counties and many cities own and manage forest, park and municipal watershed areas.

Federal, state and local governments spend $6.4 billion annually on forest management, including $3.2 billion by the U.S. Forest Service, which alone manages 77 million ha of national forests and rangelands and employs 32,000 people.

In view of decentralized forest regulations and extensive private forest ownership, the actions of state and local governments and non-government parties, such as small non-industrial forest owners, industry and local communities, are the principal factors in how private forests are managed in the U.S. All U.S. citizens are part of the natural resource public decision-making process at the local, regional and national levels.

Current forestry issues

The success of the U.S. conservation policies put in place in response to public concerns at the turn of the century left the U.S. well positioned to implement UNCED’s Agenda 21. An extensive educational, management and policy infrastructure now exists to support scientific forest management. Government, universities and industry are all actively involved in research to produce faster and better growing forests. New and innovative ways are constantly being developed to use wood products more efficiently.

Under the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Act of 1974 (RPA), the U.S. Forest Service publishes an “Assessment of US Forests” every ten years, with five-year updates. Current assessments of the health and conditions of U.S. forests show that in some cases resource conditions are not satisfactory. Problems include: habitat fragmentation due to residential subdivisions and urban development; loss and deterioration of the forest and grassland habitats that once were created by frequent, low intensity fires; reduction and fragmentation of late successional and old-growth forest habitats due to timber harvesting; loss and degradation of riparian and wetland habitats; and effects of air pollution on forests in some areas, to name a few. Of particular concern are rare and unique ecosystem types and species with specialized habitat requirements that are associated with them.

One significant general threat is from introduced exotic plants, animals and diseases. There is a long history of heavy damage to U.S. forests and loss of species from introduced biological agents, including white pine blister rust, chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, gypsy moth and, more recently, hemlock woolly adelges, beech bark disease and the Asian long-horned beetle. Increasing world trade in forest products and of international trade in general only increased the opportunity for such introductions. Introduced exotic animals also pose a significant threat to displace and out-compete domestic wildlife species.

Policy initiatives

On October 13, 1999, President Clinton announced plans to protect 16 million ha of National Forest System land from road building and commercial development. A yearlong process soliciting pubic comments will determine the specific areas selected.

In September 1999, the U.S. Forest Service established its new planning regulations that will give greater emphasis to the sustainable management of National Forest System lands. The regulations provide direction for working towards the goal of sustainability and encourage the use of “criteria and indicators” for sustainable forest management, emphasizing monitoring activities designed to develop a desired future condition.

In 1998, the U.S. Forest Service incorporated sustainable resource management into its National Forest policy agenda. In June 1998, the U.S. Forest Service also committed to prepare a comprehensive national assessment of the status and trends of U.S. forest conditions and management based on the Montreal Process criteria and indicators (C&I) for sustainable forest management. In July 1998, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service initiated the Roundtable on Sustainable Forests, bringing together representatives of federal, state and local government agencies, non-governmental organizations and industry to discuss how best to implement the Montreal Process C&I for both public and private forests. Follow-up workshops are planned. The report will be released in 2003 as part of the mandated five-yearly assessment of all forestlands and trends in the forest sector, which the U.S. undertakes within the framework of the Resources Planning Act of 1974. The resulting Presidential report to Congress will be organized using the Montreal Process C&I. In the meantime, the 2000 Assessment will be organized utilizing the Montreal C&I format as an important step in a long-term commitment to developing comprehensive quantitative and qualitative information on the sustainability of U.S. forests.

Respect and recognition of traditional rights of indigenous people, including Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives, is an ongoing effort by the U.S. government. Since 1992, numerous actions have been taken by the government, including issuance of Executive Orders regarding consultation and coordination with Indian governments and Indian sacred sites, and of directives on government-to-government consultations with federally recognized tribal governments.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is involved in the implementation of conservation and management programs for North American forest-dwelling neotropical birds. FWS has developed partnerships with dozens of federal and state agencies, private conservation organizations and local governments to restore and manage forest habitats for these migratory species. The Texas Gulf Coast Wood Lot Initiative (important to migrating birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico) and the 12-million ha Tennessee Valley Project are working examples.

State Foresters are responsible for the establishment of State Stewardship Committees in every state, which include representation from a range of natural resource disciplines as well as the public and private sectors. Each state has also developed and is implementing state resource plans, which will ultimately bring millions of hectares of non-industrial private forestlands under stewardship management.

In June 1999, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House Council on Environmental Quality sponsored an initial study on the potential economic and environmental effects of tariff liberalization in the forest products sector. The study was released in October 1999.

Other efforts

There are numerous organized advocates and partners in the U.S. for forest conservation that have a profound effect on U.S. forestry and forest policy.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an NGO dedicated to preservation of the nation’s biodiversity, has accumulated over 3.64 million ha of wildlife habitat and manages over 1,500 reserves. TNC is currently focusing on developing agreements with the business community and has come to an agreement with the timber company Westvaco to conduct a biodiversity inventory of its 562,000 ha of land.

In October 1994, the American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA), which represents 95% of the industrial forestland in the U.S., approved a set of Sustainable Forestry Initiative Principles and Guidelines (SFI), which includes performance measures for reforestation and the protection of water quality, wildlife, visual quality, biological diversity and areas of special significance. In 1998, the program was expanded to include public and non-industrial private lands.

The U.S.-based International Wood Products Association (IWPA), which represents major timber exporting and importing companies, has established membership-approved voluntary “Codes of Conduct” for trade in wood products and forest management, similar to the SFI.

There are a number of standards and certification schemes, such as the International Standards Organization and the Forest Stewardship Council, involved in a growing trend for wood products certification. This trend is reflected in the growing number of lumber mills seeking and receiving “chain of custody” certificates and a number of large corporate retailers such as Home Depot, the world’s third largest lumber retailer, selling certified wood products. To date, about 179 companies throughout the U.S. carry FSC chain-of-custody certification and 52 U.S. forest management companies are FSC-certified.

International activities in general

The U.S. has major interests at the international level. The U.S. provides substantial forest-related assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other federal agencies, as well as through contributions to international organizations and financial institutions such as the World Bank, and various innovative debt reduction initiatives. Several of the largest multinational forest and paper companies are U.S.-owned, and many U.S.-based environmental organizations and academic institutions undertake forest field activities and projects abroad.

The U.S. is active in a wide variety of intergovernmental agreements, organizations, initiatives and other fora that undertake forest-related work and policy discussions. Key among them is the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). The U.S. is a member of the 12-country Montreal Process Working Group on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests and hosted the 11th Meeting of the Working Group in November 1999 in Charleston, South Carolina. The U.S. initiated the G-8 Action Program on Forests, which world leaders launched at the Denver Summit in 1997 and endorsed a year later. A progress report on implementation of the G-8 Action Program will be submitted to G-8 leaders at the Okinawa Summit in 2000.

In July 1998, the President signed into law the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), which authorizes the reduction of official debt owed the U.S. by countries with tropical forests in exchange for forest conservation measures. The law expands the 1992 Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, which led to the signing of agreements with seven Latin American countries that were undertaking macroeconomic and structural adjustment reforms to cancel $875 million in their official debt, generating substantial local currency for child survival and environmental projects. Seven countries have requested debt buy-back or debt-for-nature swaps under the TFCA; many more have expressed interest in debt reduction should funding become available.

The U.S. is actively pressing the G-8 and other industrialized countries to establish environmental guidelines for export credit agencies along the lines of the “Environmental Procedures and Guidelines” used by the Export-Import (EX-IM) Bank of the United States to evaluate applications for financial support for foreign projects sponsored by U.S. business. Proposed forest sector projects, such as pulp and paper mills, area evaluated by EX-IM for ecological soundness and mitigation measures. Project sponsors are required to develop forest management plans that consider, among other things, impacts on water resources, endangered/threatened species, and local communities from construction and operation.

International activities in the Asia-Pacific Region

Reduced impact harvesting

The U.S. Forest Service is collaborating with the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) to promote reduced-impact harvesting in the Asia-Pacific region. Numerous workshops and meetings have been held to develop and implement a Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting in Asia-Pacific. An internet-based network, RILNET, has been established to disseminate information. A workshop is planned to gather information on the current state of reduced-impact harvesting and share it with policy makers, managers and implementers. Through USAID and U.S. Forest Service support, the Tropical Forest Foundation has placed a field person in Indonesia to help provide training and support to reduced-impact harvesting in the region. A study is also planned to gather information on the economic benefits/cost of employing reduced impact harvesting techniques.

Underlying causes of fires

In partnership with the Center for International Forestry Research and the International Center for Research in Agroforestry, the U.S. Forest Service is assisting in an assessment of the underlying causes of the 1997/98 fires in Indonesia. The U.S. Forest Service’s Remote Sensing Applications Center has been active in analyzing satellite imagery of the areas burned on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. The final results will be disseminated throughout Indonesia with the aim of assisting the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops and other government agencies in policies that would prevent wide scale forest burning and promote sustainable forest management.

Fire management

The U.S. Forest Service is building capacity in Indonesia for fire suppression and management in cooperation with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Assistance has been provided since August 1998, and is in the form of short to medium-term assignments of fire management specialists. The U.S. Forest Service assisted in the implementation of a workshop to foster interagency coordination for fire suppression at the provincial level. This activity specifically meets the goals of and builds the capacity of the Indonesian Ministry to decentralize authority.

Invasive species

Invasive species are a serious global biological and economic problem. Yet, usually little is known of the severity, life history, or effective control measures for the invasive pests until they are already well established. The U.S. Forest Service has been working with countries in the region to identify priority invasive species to control and explore effective measures to control these invasive species. This includes studying the pest’s life history, biological control, chemical control, and monitoring and evaluation. Some of the pests of interest to the United States include: Asian longhorned beetle, kudzu, beech bark scale, Oracella acuta (mealybug), mile-a-minute weed, hemlock wooley adelges, and red turpentine beetle.

Erosion modeling

A GIS-Based Soil Erosion and Sediment Transport Model is being developed in collaboration with the Beijing Forestry University to validate a new geographic information system based on soil erosion and transport model using data collected from the Quxi watershed in the Yangtze River Basin in Southern China.

Nature based tourism

A brochure is being developed in collaboration with the Forestry Bureau in Zhongdian Prefecture, Yunnan Province. The brochure will highlight the natural features of the area and incorporate environmental ethics such as “tread lightly” and “leave no trace.” The brochure will be developed in both Chinese and English and completed by the end of 2000.

A workshop is being planned in Sichuan with the Sichuan Forestry Department to discuss the components of nature-based tourism, especially ecotourism. Additionally, it will serve as an opportunity for park and reserve managers to share experiences and try to develop a group to address issues of mutual interest. The workshop is tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2000.

The effect of removing forests from timber production

The Forest Service is supporting a study by the International Forestry Sector Analysis of the effects of removing natural forests from commercial timber production, in collaboration with FAO and professional forestry personnel from selected countries in Asia.

Information sources online

Information concerning marketing and trade of timber and timber products in the U.S., particularly import from the Asia Pacific Region has been regularly presented at the ITTO Tropical Timber Market Report website at:

The Year 2000 RPA Assessment is expected to be published by October 2000. Supporting technical reports and analyses are in various stages of completion and several have already been published on the following website at:

Forest inventory data for the U.S. can be accessed online at USDA/Forest Service’s forest inventory website at:

Many other Forest Service publications can be accessed online at:

For a summary overview on U.S. forests visit the “State of the Nation’s Ecosystems” website at: click on “Forests”.

Focal point
Gary Man
International Programme
Asia-Pacific Programme Co-ordinator
USDA Forest Service, 1099 14th St.
NW Suite 5500 W, Washington DC 20005
Telephone: 202-2734740
Fax: 202-2734750


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