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Responses of Northern U.S. Forests to Environmental Change
ISBN 0-387-98900-5

Chapter 1: Forest Resources and Conditions

William H. McWilliams, Linda Heath,
Gordon C. Reese, and Thomas L. Schmidt
The northern region contains 23% of the forest area of the U.S., and 45% of the population. Heavily forested areas are located near areas of high population density. As a result, forest fragmentation has become a major issue for the region. Private forest landowners control 80% of forest land. Most of the private owners are “nonindustrial”, owning timberland primarily for recreation and esthetic enjoyment.

Most of the North had been cleared for agriculture or heavily logged by the mid-1800s. Since then, reestablishment and regrowth of forests on farmed or logged land has provided the large areas of maturing forest common today. The region is still gaining forest land from other uses, primarily agriculture, despite continued development and fragmentation in some areas.

A major event shaping the species composition of today’s forest was the chestnut blight, which all but eliminated this important species by mid-20th century. Oaks and other hardwoods replaced this once-dominant species. Oak-hickory and maple-beech-birch together account for over 60% of the forest area, with oak-hickory common in the southern part of the region and maple-beech-birch common in the northern part of the region. Aspen-birch is common in the North, particularly in the Lake States. The most northern parts of Maine and the Lake States contain significant amounts of Spruce-fir. In terms of timber volume, the North contains 47% of the nation’s hardwood volume but only 11% of the nations softwood volume.

Lack of oak regeneration following harvest is considered a major issue for the region, as loss of oak forests coupled with a major expansion of red maple results in lower economic value and reduction of important mast species. Areas of major pest problems include spruce-fir forests in Maine, heavily damaged by spruce budworm in the 1980s, and the Allegheny plateau region of Pennsylvania, where numerous biotic and abiotic agents have caused damage and decline of sugar maple.

Northern forests contain large reservoirs of carbon, particularly in abundant maturing forests and forest soils. n the recent past, forest growth has been more than twice forest removals. Expected increases in harvesting coupled with slower growth will reduce the high rate of carbon sequestration over the next 50 years or so.

Click to view.

Top: Location of forestland, estimated probability of occurrence for oak-hickory forestland.
Bottom: Probable distribution of oak-hickory forestland by stand size class, Northern Region (excluding Southern New England), 1997.

Click to view.

Previous: Preface | Next: Chapter 2