Hey Mr. Green,
I recently read that there are more trees now in the United States than ever before. Is this true?--Betsy in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
People propagating such claims should be plopped down in the woods to do a tree census, barefoot, sans GPS or ATV.
Today, the total forest cover in the United States is only about 70 percent of what it was before European colonization: 746 million acres, down from 1.04 billion, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Species such as the American elm and chestnut have been decimated by imported diseases.
In any case, simple numbers are somewhat irrelevant because what matters most is the quality of forest. Some of what are called "forests" are just timber plantations bereft of biological diversity or second-growth groves whose habitats are diminished or open to intense logging practices.
Also, many forested lands are now fragmented, which reduces accessible woodland habitats, making it harder for wildlife to thrive. To remain healthy, forests need to be buffered by protected or undeveloped land. To learn more, or to get involved, read the Sierra Club report America's Great Outdoors at http://bit.ly/sc_ago.
One bit of good news: Forest cover has declined by only 1.5 percent in the past century, thanks to government rules, improved stewardship, and the reversion of marginal farmland to forest. We have also greatly expanded our forest reserves in parks and wilderness areas.
But here's the bottom line: A whopping 93 percent of U.S. forestland isn't permanently protected by federal law.