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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Four Threats to the Health of America’s Forests and Grasslands

Healthy forests make for a healthy nation.

In the 21st century, the nation’s forests and grasslands face four threats. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth named them as: (a) fire and fuels, (b) invasive species, (c) loss of open space, and (d) unmanaged recreation.

Fire and Fuels

Rehabilitation and restoration treatment priorities are highest where risks are greatest. Estimates are that high priority treatment areas cover 397 million acres across all ownerships, public and private, an area three times the size of France.

Invasive Species

Of 2,000 nonnative plants found in the United States, 400 are invasive species. The U.S. spends $13 billion per year to prevent and contain the spread of invasives. For all invasives combined, the price tag is $138 billion per year in total economic damages and associated control costs. In addition to nonnative plants, 70 million acres of forest in all ownerships (public and private landholdings) are at serious risk of being wiped out by 26 different insects and diseases (e.g., gypsy moth, hemlock woolly adelgid, dogwood anthracnose – the list goes on).

A strategic Forest Service response to invasive specifies is embodied in the National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management launched in October 2004. The strategy is an aggressive program that harnesses the capabilities of the Forest Service. The Forest Service provides cutting edge leadership in natural resource management and research and development.

Invasive Species

More than 21.8 million acres of open space were lost to development between 1982 and 1997, about 4,000 acres per day, 3 acres a minute. Of this loss, close to 10.3 million acres are in forestland. It continues today.

Unmanaged Recreation

Increasing use of the national forests for outdoor activities prompts the need to manage these forms of recreation, including the use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs). OHV ownership has grown from 5 million in 1972 to 36 million in 2002. Depending on the site, unmanaged OHV use in the national forest can have serious impact on the land, among them: (1) damage to wetlands and wetland species, (2) severe soil erosion, and (3) spread of invasive species.

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