FO: NAFC/2000/4



Item 2(c) of the Provisional Agenda


St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada,
12-16 June 2000


Information Note

Table of Contents



The United States has the fourth largest forest estate of any nation, with 8% of the world's forests or about 300 million hectares of forest, exceeded only by the Russian Federation, Brazil and Canada.

About 33 percent of the United States (302 million hectares -- 747 million acres) is forested. Forest types vary from sparse scrub forests of the arid, interior west to the highly productive forests of the Pacific Coast and the South, and from pure hardwood forests to multi-species mixtures, and coniferous forests.

About two-thirds (204 million hectares -- 504 million acres) of the Nation's forests are classed as productive forests that are not legally reserved from timber harvest. About 7 percent or 21 million hectares (52 million acres) of forestland is reserved for non-timber uses and managed by public agencies as parks, wilderness or similar areas. About 26 percent of US forests or 77 million hectares (191 million acres) are not productive for growing industrial wood, but are of major importance for watershed protection, wildlife habitat, domestic livestock grazing, and other uses.

Most of the Nation's forestlands are in private ownership. Private forests comprise 63 percent of all forestland and 71 percent of US productive forestland that is available for harvest of commercial forest products. Private lands supply 89 percent of the wood volume harvested in the US. The forest industry holds about 13 percent of the nation's productive non-reserved forest land, and provides 30 percent of the timber harvested, while non-industrial owners (primarily small holders) own 58 percent of productive non-reserved forests and harvest 59 percent of wood volume.

Private forestlands are concentrated in the East and federal forests in the West. Federal forests comprise 27 percent of all forests and 21 percent of productive non-reserved forests. About 6 percent of US timber harvests come from federal forests.

The federal lands are administered primarily by five agencies -- the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Defense/Energy Departments.

About 9 percent of US forestland is administered by states and local governments. These lands produce about 6 percent of US timber harvest.


Many US forests, particularly those in the eastern US, 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 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. cooperative fire protection involving federal, state and private entities, among others.

A snapshot of current conditions is as follows:


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

Forests in the US are considered productive and provide for much of the country's needs. In 1997 the US produced 512.5 million cubic meters of forest products (including wood fuel) and consumed 563.3 million cubic meters.

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

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

US wood products consumption has increased by 50% since 1965, from 374 to 563 million cubic meters annually.


The US has a basically decentralized system of policy-making for forests that reflects its mix of forest landownership.

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 US 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.

The 50 states are individually responsible for guiding and regulating management of the 71 percent 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 US Forest Service, which alone manages 77 million hectares of national forests and rangelands and employs 32,000 people.

In view of decentralized forest regulation 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 US. US citizens are part of the natural resource public decision-making process at the local, regional and national levels.


The success of the US conservation policies put in place in response to public concerns at the turn of the century left the US 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 in response to increasing demand. 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 US Forest Service publishes an "Assessment of US Forests" every ten years, with five-year updates. Current assessments of the health and conditions of US forests show that in some cases resource conditions are not satisfactory. Problems include: habitat fragmentation due to residential subdivision and urban development; loss and deterioration of the forest and grassland habitats that once were created by frequent, low intensity fire; 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 or provenances with specialized habitat requirements that are associated with them.

One significant general threat is from alien species, animals, insects and diseases. There is a long history of heavy damage to US 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 adelgid, beech bark disease and the Asian long-horned beetle. Increasing world trade in forest products and of international trade generally increases the opportunity for such introductions. Introduced exotic animals also pose a significant threat to displace and out-compete domestic wildlife species.


The United States also has major interests at the international level. The US provides substantial forest-related assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition through the US 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 US-owned, and many US-based environmental organizations and academic institutions undertake forest field activities and projects abroad.

The United States 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 US 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 US 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.



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 year-long process soliciting public comments will determine the specific areas selected.

In September 1999 the US 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 US Forest Service incorporated sustainable resource management into its Natural Forest policy agenda. In June1998 the US Forest Service also committed to prepare a comprehensive national assessment of the status and trends of US 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 US Forest Service initiated the Roundtable on Sustainable Forests, bringing together representatives of federal, state and local government agencies, non-government 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 national assessment of all forestlands and trends in the forest sector, which the US 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 US forests.

Respect and recognition of traditional rights of indigenous people, including Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives, is an ongoing effort by the US. 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 directives on government-to-government consultations with federally recognized tribal governments.

The US 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 hectare 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 US 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.


In July 1998, the President signed into law the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), which authorizes the reduction of official debt owed the US 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 buyback or debt-for-nature swaps under the TFCA; many more have expressed interest in debt reduction should funding become available.

The US 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 US business. Proposed forest sector projects, such as pulp and paper mills, are evaluated by EX-IM for ecological soundness and mitigation measures. Project sponsors are required to develop forest management plans that considers, among other things, impacts on water resources, endangered/threatened species, and local communities from construction and operation.

International Resource Assessment and Capacity Building

In July 1998 the US Forest Service convened a North American workshop on how to carry out the FRA 2000 remote sensing survey in North America, which FAO will use as a model for other regions. There was agreement to assist Mexico in its remote sensing survey. Through the International Institute for Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico, coordination and capacity building for the Caribbean region was also carried out.

The Forest Service has initiated work with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) to develop forestry databases for Russia and analytical assistance with the Russian "First Approximation Report" on data availability for C&I implementation.

The Forest Service is providing technical advice for establishing or revamping national scale inventories in the Baltics, Argentina, Mexico and Indonesia.

The US Government assisted Mexico with fire emergency planning, preparation and suppression during the catastropic fires in Mexico in the spring of 1998. In March 1999 the US co-sponsored a fire experts meeting on use and management of fire in agro-pastoral and forestry programs in Mexico. In 1998, the US established an $5 million fire prevention and restoration fund with Mexico NGOs.

In July 1998 the US Department of State hosted the 1st international conference of senior experts from 35 countries and international organizations to help launch a Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN). The network hopes to reduce disaster losses by establishing a virtual network that facilitates timely dissemination of accurate information for the prevention, mitigation and response to natural disasters. In May 1999, the US and Mexico co-sponsored the 2nd GDIN meeting in Mexico City to discuss specific goals and objectives for the Network. Subsequent meetings are scheduled for April 2000 in Ankara, Turkey and for 2001 in Canberra, Australia.

Other Efforts

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

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

In October 1994 the American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA), which represents 95% of the industrial forestland in the US, approved a set of Sustainable Forestry Initiative Principles and Guidelines (SFI). These guidelines include 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 US-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 US carry FSC chain-of-custody certification and 52 US forest management companies are FSC-certified.

The US Government cooperated with a consortium of environmental NGOs and the Ford Motor Company in an initiative led by the World Wildlife Fund US to prepare a comprehensive "Conservation Assessment of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of North America," including forests, which was published in May 1999.


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. Documents are available on the following website:

Forest inventory data for the US can be accessed on line at USDA/Forest Service's forest inventory website at Many other Forest Service publications can be accessed on line at

For a summary overview on US forests visit the "State of the Nation's Ecosystems" website at: and click on "Forests."