Chapter 2: Current and Historical
Trends in Use, Management and Disturbance of United States Forest
by Richard A. Birdsey & George
Abstract: These tables
present current and historical area estimates of land use, land
use change, forest management, and natural disturbance for forest
lands of the U.S. We reconstruct portions of the history of U.S.
forests of the 20th century using readily available and sometimes
obscure public information collected by the U.S. Government, principally
the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. Much of the
information is highly aggregated from large electronic data bases
containing detailed records for recent decades, and some is summarized
from printed tables of information contained in hundreds of government
reports from earlier decades. The quality, consistency, and available
detail of the information decrease back through time.
Where possible we follow the definitions published
in Smith et al. (2001), also available on the internet at http://fia.fs.fed.us/.
When combining data from different sources, we use a term land
use/land cover to acknowledge that the available data sets
are themselves based on somewhat inconsistent definitions. Many
of the definitions have changed over time. Periodically, analysts
revise older data sets to be consistent with changing definitions
and standards for data collection. The most recent compilation
of U.S. forest statistics by Smith et al. (2001) is an excellent
example of the presentation of consistent historical estimates.
In other cases where possible we have adjusted historical estimates
to current standards to account for methodology changes.
The USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) has
conducted a comprehensive U.S. forest inventory since 1928. The
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) periodically
estimates land cover/use for private lands of the
U.S. in their National Resources Inventory (NRI) (Natural Resources
Conservation Service 2000). The USDA Economic Research Service
Census of Agriculture program has produced estimates
of land use by State for various categories since 1945 (e.g. Daugherty
1995). Some relevant historical data are contained in a Bureau
of Census compilation (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1975), while
other data are available in periodic reports by Agencies or special
compilations requested by Congress (for example, USDA 1928).
Errors became evident in reconciling the different sources of
information because of inconsistency in definitions, independent
sampling frames, uncoordinated timing of data collection, and
gaps and overlaps in scope of data collection. We estimate that
we are missing information on about 6 million ha of Federal nonforest
land, and that there is a double counting of about 13 million
ha of private forest land and rangeland. These errors amount to
about 2% of the total land area of the U.S.
To View Online: The
summarized data set can be seen by selecting one of the links
below (It is best viewed in a Maximized browser):
To Download: Internet
Explorer Users right click on the link and select "Save link
as...". Netscape Users the files will automatically download
when a link is selected.
Daugherty, Arthur B. September, 1995.
Major Uses of Land in the United States: 1992. Agriculture Economic
Report (AER) 723. USDA-Economic Research Service (ERS). Washington,
D.C. 39 page document/Appendix tables 1 through 7 (pages 22-37).
Natural Resources Conservation
Service. 2000. Summary report 1997 National Resources Inventory.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. 90 p.
Smith, W. Brad; Vissage, John
S.; Darr, David R.; Sheffield, Raymond M. 2001. Forest resources
of the United States, 1997. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-219. St. Paul,
MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central
Research Station. 191 p.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1975.
Historical statistics of the United States, colonial times to
1970. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
1928. American forests and forest products. Statistical Bulletin
No. 21. Washington, DC: U.S. Gov. Printing Office. 220 p.