Forests and People: Key threats and opportunities
Increasingly complex issues, forest ownership patterns, and population distribution serve as the backdrop for forest management and conservation in the Northeast and Midwest. A range of priority issues face the region and include:
• Keeping forests as forests
• Forest ecosystem health and productivity
• Urban and community forest health and sustainability
• Water, biodiversity, recreation, and other ecosystem services
• Forest products industry and markets
• Sustainable forest management across all ownerships
• Climate change
• Wildfire threats to forests, public safety, and property
• State and private capacity for forestry
• Awareness of and support for forests
While the issues outlines above are a high priority across most of the region, States varied in their approaches to developing their respective Forest Action Plans given the diversity of the forests and varying priorities across the Northeast and Midwest. With the goal of providing a region-wide perspective of these key issues and insight on how states identified goals and actions, the states and the USDA Forest Service together developed a comprehensive analysis of the process to provide a regional context for Forest Action Plans.
Fragmentation, parcelization, and conversion to non-forest uses makes “keeping forests as forests” a critical priority for natural resources managers.
Keep Forests as Forests. Between 1982 and 1997, the Northeast and Midwest lost 3.7 million acres of forest land to development, and the trend continues. An assessment of development trends found that more than 12 million acres of privately owned forest land in the Northeast and Midwest could be converted to other uses by 2030, roughly the total area of forest land in Vermont and New Hampshire combined. As the forest is critical for clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and forest products, keeping forests as forests has implications well beyond conservation and protection of “open space.” As described by most states, the key components of this issue are the lack of financial incentives to keep private forest lands forested and the conversion of forest land to nonforest uses following the transfer of land from one generation to the next.
Forest health and invasive species, wildfire, and climate change are critical threats across urban and rural forests in the Northeast and Midwest.
Urban and Community Forest Health and Sustainability. Urban and community forests occur in nearly all communities within the Northeast and Midwest, from the most urban to the very rural. In the state forest action plans, there is emphasis on the benefits of trees and forests as green infrastructure that contributes to the quality of life in communities. In an integrated approach, most States seek to protect and maintain existing tree cover; implement best management practices; and engage local officials and the public in planning, sustaining, and improving forest resources in and around cities, suburbs, and towns.
Forest Action Plans, in the Northeast emphasize water quality and quantity, biodiversity and wildlife habitat, recreation, and traditional forest products.
Active, sustainable forest management of all forest land is essential for maintaining the flow of desired products and services that forests provide and for improving forest health and resilience to stressors. Most states have strategies focused on outreach and support to private forest land owners, including polices, programs, and initiatives that help landowners maintain working forests. Common goals and strategies for public forests include managing them for multiple benefits and services, using them as demonstration areas for sustainable forest management, and for connecting people to forests. State forestry agencies have also highlighted the challenges facing the forest products industry and traditional markets as a critical issue and outlined goals related to improving and diversifying markets for timber and nontimber forest products, woody biomass, ecosystem services, and renewable energy development.