The Bugwood Network

Myths and Facts about U.S. Forests

    MYTH:The early U.S. forest was a carpet of trees that extended from coast to coast.

    FACT:The preColumbian forest of 1600 covered less than half of the present day United States.


    MYTH:We only have 5% of the original ancient forests left that once covered the Pacific Northwest in the preEuropean settlement era.

    FACT:This figure wrongly assumes that the coastal Northwest was covered with old trees before the arrival of settlers from the East.  According to U.S. government studies, no more than a third of  the region's forest was covered with oldgrowth trees at any time.  Natural wildfires, and fires set by native Americans, routinely cleared vast swaths of old forests.


    MYTH:Congress authorized salvage logging on federal lands of dead and dying timber that ignores environmental safeguards.

    FACT:Salvage logging cannot proceed without an approved Environment Assessment as required under the National Environmental Policy Act and a Biological Evaluation as required under the Endangered Species Act.  Moreover, a salvage sale can be stopped at any time  by a district ranger up to the Secretary  until the point that the sale is advertised. 


    MYTH:We're running out of trees.

    FACT:We have more trees today than we had in 1970, on the first Earth Day  even more than we had 70 years ago.  In the middle of the last century, for example, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut were about 35% forested; today they are 59%.


    MYTH:We're cutting more than we're growing for future generations.

    FACT:Forest growth has exceeded harvests since the 1940s.


    MYTH:We're running out of old growth trees in our ancient forests.

    FACT:In the U.S. today there are 13.2 million acres of old growth, i.e. large trees 200 years of age or older.  The vast majority of these trees  comprising an area the size of New Jersey and Massachusetts combined  will remain in their natural condition and will never be harvested due to legal and regulatory prohibitions on logging, road building and even fire fighting.


    MYTH:We're running out of wilderness.

    FACT:The U.S. has permanently protected 104 million acres of land, much of  it forested, in the Wilderness Preservation System.  It's part of a larger total of 270 million acres that is off limits to all commercial activity, including logging, mining and grazing. 


    MYTH:Clear cutting, the practice of harvesting most trees in a given area, destroys the forest.

    FACT:Clear cutting is a sound practice that benefits future forests.  By mimicking natural wildfires, clear cutting is widely recognized by forest scientists and even by conservation groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, American Forests, the Society of American Foresters as an ecologically sound technique for reforesting many softwood species.  That's because, for their survival, conifer seedlings typically require direct sunlight and cannot survive in shade.


    MYTH:A natural forest supports more ecological diversity than a managed forest.

    FACT:Managed forests, even those with some clearcutting, often produce more biodiversity than completely natural forests, according to U.S. Forest Service studies in the Lake States and New England.  Even tree farm plantations contain a rich mosaic of plant and animal life.


    MYTH:Forest management harms fragile wetlands.

    FACT:In fact, good forest management is the environmentally preferred land use for wetlands, as confirmed by the National Wetlands Policy Forum sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


    MYTH:Forest management harms all wildlife.

    FACT:Forest management can help wildlife.  Forest management creates openings that stimulate the growth of food sources which is the prime reason why forest species such as elk, deer, turkey and antelope are far more plentiful today than earlier in the century. Sustainable Forestry guidelines promulgated by the American Forest & Paper Association require the promotion of habitat diversity and the conservation of plant and animal populations on members' forest land.


    MYTH:More paper recycling will prevent the use of "virgin" wood from harvested trees.

    FACT:Even if we could recycle 100% of our used paper, we would still need "virgin" fiber to replace wornout recycled fiber and meet the increasing demand for paper products.  Recycling extends the use of virgin fiber, but it will not replace it.  Even so, today well over half of all fiber used in paper products comes from recycled paper and from wood waste from sawmills.  Recycled wood is another promising source of fiber.

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Last updated on Thursday, March 20, 2003 at 10:08 AM
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