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Criterion 2: Maintenance of Productive Capacity of Forest Ecosystems

Figure 10-4: Chart of timber land in the US by major cover type, 1953 & 2007Figure 12-1: Graph of area of tree planting in the US by major geographic region, 1952-2006

Criterion 2 addresses the ability of the Nation’s forests to continue to provide raw materials for the wood products industry and nonwood forest products for sale and personal use. This criterion has five indicators. The first three indicators track traditional measures of timber production capacity, and the last two track measures of harvest of timber and nonwood forest products, respectively. The data presented in this criterion generally support the conclusion that our current use of the Nation’s forests is sustainable from the perspective of timber production capacity; the area of timber land is stable and timber stocking on these lands has been increasing. In the case of nonwood forest products, the data are not sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion about the sustainability of productive capacity.

Capacity for timber production. Timber land is defined as the potential area of forest land available for, and capable of wood production. As is the case with forest land, the area of timber land in the United States has been very stable during the past 50 years. It currently stands at 514 million acres (69 percent of all forest land). The highest concentration of timber land is in the Southern Region,31 where 95 percent of the forest is classified as belonging to this category. A similar percentage of the Northern Region forests are also timber land, but the total area of timber land there is 20 percent less than in the South. Smaller amounts of timber land are located in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast Regions, where, because of lower stocking and productivity (notably in the Rocky Mountain Region) and more area in higher protection categories (see Indicator 1.2), the proportion of timber land to forest land is relatively less. Alaska also has considerable forest lands, but only 7 percent is classified as timber land because of low productivity and relative inaccessibility.

Ten percent of U.S. timber land is classified as mixed forest. The remainder is either predominantly conifer or broadleaf forest types, with the former constituting the overwhelming majority of timber lands in the western half of the country and the latter found mostly in the eastern half. Of conifer forest types in the East, 41 million acres (44 percent) of the 93 million acres are of planted origin, mainly in the South.

In contrast to the stable area of timber lands, timber growing stock volume on these lands has steadily increased during the past 50 years, reaching a current level of 932 billion cubic feet—51 percent higher than that reported in 1953. Most of this increase was in the Northern and Southern Regions. As a result of initially high-stocking volumes in mature stands and continued harvest offsetting growth in younger stands, The Pacific Coast Region saw only a 4-percent increase in growing stock during the past five decades.

Currently, 63 million acres of planted timber lands exist in the United States, consisting mainly of pine plantations in the South. The small proportion of planted land relative to total timber lands (only 12 percent) belies their importance as a timber resource. Planted lands play a large role in current and anticipated future supplies of timber because of their high growth rates, easy operability, and overall intensity of management, and, as a result, the South is expected to continue to serve as the major U.S. timber producing region well into the future. Since 1982, more than 2 million acres have been planted annually, virtually all with native species. A significant percentage of the planted conifer seedlings also come from tree improvement programs emphasizing superior growth grades, form class, and disease resistance. It should be noted, however, that the rate of new plantings has declined significantly in the South and elsewhere since its peak in the 1980s.

The South supplied 62 percent of all timber removals in 2006, up from 49 percent in 1953. On public lands in the West, where timber management has been sharply curtailed in recent years, removals have declined from 4.4 billion cf in 1976 to 2.8 billion cf in 2006, a fall of 35 percent. Net growth in timber stocks currently exceeds harvest by a considerable extent in all regions of the United States.

Although increasing timber stocks indicate that the United States will not be running out of wood anytime soon, mounting evidence suggests that the intensity of forest management for timber production is declining. This decline is perhaps most clearly evident in falling rates of plantation plantings. The sale of timber lands by forest management companies to real estate investment trusts and similar entities is cited as a major factor in this development, and these trends are exacerbated by low stumpage prices arising from a surfeit of available wood fiber and growing wood products imports. This situation has certainly not been improved by the recent recession. Although not immediately apparent in gross statistics on growth and harvest, the potential effect of declining management intensity on our ability to supply our needs for timber in the coming decades bears watching.

Nontimber forest products. The indicators in this criterion that track timber production capacity benefit from an extensive and well established set of statistics, primarily from the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. Nontimber forest products (NTFPs) do not enjoy the same statistical foundation.

The data we do have indicate that NTFPs represent a major source of economic activity and value from use for many people. In 2006, more than 14,000 permits and contracts were issued for the collection and consumption of food and forage plants on national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) properties. Approximately 156,000 pounds of fruits and berries, 468,000 pounds of mushrooms and other fungi, more than 7,000 tons of decorative foliage, and over 2,000 tons of forage were harvested and/or consumed using these permits. Since 1998, the number of permits and contracts issued has increased by 65 percent Although data on the volume of NTFPs harvested on private land is lacking, a 2006 survey of private forest landowners indicated that nearly 10 percent of the estimated 10 million private forest landowners collected edible plants, nuts, and berries either for sale or personal consumption. During the past three decades, an estimated 2.7 million pounds of ginseng have been harvested from eastern hardwood forests.

Source: National Report on Sustainable Forests — 2010