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Tracking Forest Sustainability to Meet U.S. and International Goals

Posted by Guy Robertson, Research and Development, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
Jan 29, 2018
A Loblolly pine forest
Loblolly pine forests are prevalent throughout the Southeast, a major wood production region and supplier to domestic and international markets. Courtesy photo by istockphotos.com.

Sustaining the nation’s forests to provide lasting benefits to the people of the United States is at the core of the USDA Forest Service’s mission, and the agency is building the tools and data to support this mission. Specifically, Forest Service scientists actively monitor and assess the sustainability of the nation’s forests through the Sustainability Assessment Program, an effort that gathers and tracks information on forest conditions across the country. This information in turn enables informed discussions about sustainability in domestic and international circles.

On the domestic front, people want to know that their forests are being wisely managed and that the many benefits they value, including natural resources, recreation opportunities, and wood products, will endure now and into the future.

Our international trading partners also want to know that U.S. exports are produced sustainably. In fact, for many countries, sustainability assurance is becoming a prerequisite for trade.

The issues are as complex as they are important. For example, in much of the country, fire, invasive pests, drought, and land use changes pose greater threats to forest health and sustainability than overharvesting.

Fortunately, we have a success story to tell. At the national level, forest area in the U.S. has remained remarkably stable over the last 50 years, and the amount of wood growing on these forests has increased considerably: over 20 percent since 1990. In the Southeast, a major wood production region and supplier to domestic and international markets, these positive trends are even more pronounced, with the region emerging as one of the most productive wood producers in the world.

Assessing Forest Sustainability in the Tropical Islands of the United States report graphic
Researchers develop reports like this one using data from the forest inventory survey, a robust forest monitoring and assessment system maintained by the Forest Service for much of the last century. Forest Service report cover by the International Institute of Tropical Forestry.

We know this thanks to the forest inventory survey, a robust forest monitoring and assessment system maintained by the Forest Service for much of the last century. Researchers study and translate inventory data into information that helps determine and predict sustainability. This information is then packaged into reports, such as the recent report on the sustainability of tropical forests on U.S. islands in the Caribbean and Pacific. Researchers also use this data to compile the statistical information needed to meet our international reporting responsibilities, such as ongoing data submissions to international efforts like the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals and the Montréal Process for the Conservation and Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests.

Forest sustainability monitoring and assessment advances the agency’s mission both at home and abroad.

Forest cover map
Forest area in the U.S. has remained remarkably stable over the last 50 years, and the amount of wood growing on these forests has increased over 20 percent since 1990. Map developed by Forest Service Research & Development.
Category/Topic: Forestry

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Comments

Erin...
Feb 05, 2018

In this post you continuously talk about how the forest are meeting goals and need to meet goals, while people are worried about their national forests. How come these people who are worried haven't stepped in and fully committed to helping the nations forests? It seems everyday that you hear about something new in the forestry industry, but never much about citizens stepping up their roll to help.

Guy Robertson
Feb 07, 2018

Thanks Erin. My experience is that, while they don't always agree, many people across our society are concerned and engaged in the management, preservation and use of forest ecosystems. But I also know that, for most people, forests are only one of a number of things they care about and may be well down their list. The hope is that people can trust professionals in government, NGOs and industry to handle the details. That trust must be earned through an established history of sound and responsive management.

Don Outen
Feb 10, 2018

What is the status of the 2015 National Report on Sustainable Forests? That should provide insight into the broader range of ecological and economic sustainability indicators (MPCI) that USFS has committed to measuring, and it will allow comparison to the data from the 2004 and 2010 National Reports. Perhaps I missed it's release. Thanks!

Guy Robertson, FS
Feb 13, 2018

Hi Don. The National Report is still in preparation--three years late. We will be mounting a new set of indicators on the project website (https://www.fs.fed.us/research/sustain/) in the coming months. We hope to get a compiled hardcopy report out in early 2019.