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Community Forestry in the United States

On an Audit in Minnesota Before European settlers descended on what is now the United States, nearly one billion acres (404 million hectares) of forests covered the land. Since the mid-1600s, approximately 300 million acres (121.4 million hectares) of forests have been cleared, most within the last two centuries. Though the US is still one of the top five countries in the world for forest area, only about one-third of its land remains forested and just eight percent of American forests are primary forests. Nationwide, over 580 animal species and nearly 800 plant species are listed as threatened or endangered, including the Florida panther, the gray wolf and the piping plover. The major factors that have driven forest loss are conversion to agriculture, urbanization, timber extraction, reservoir construction and natural disasters.

As the world's largest consumer of forest products and the second largest producer (after Canada), the US is responsible for 15 percent of all global forest products trade. The Appalachian region -- which covers parts of the Eastern and Southern US –-represents one of the most biologically diverse temperate regions of the world. Forest communities often support more than 30 canopy tree species at a single site, and rich understories of ferns, fungi, perennial and annual herbaceous plants, shrubs, small trees and diverse animal populations. Secondary forests have the capacity to conserve a great deal of biodiversity and represent, in combination with the last fragments of undisturbed forest, the best opportunity to conserve the region's biodiversity over the long term. The primary threat to these forests: increasing conversion and fragmentation through logging and development. Hardwood forests are increasingly being exploited throughout the region as maturing trees become attractive to timber exploiters and production in West Coast forests declines. Appalachia's forest industry simultaneously faces increased competition from cheap timber originating in the developing world -- often sourced illegally from biodiversity hotspots -- and development pressures at home that are shrinking forestlands and increasing financial burdens on landowners.

To help the Appalachian region maximize the potential environmental, social and economic benefits of its forestry industry, the Rainforest Alliance's Training, Extension, Enterprises, and Sourcing (TREES) program is working to:

  • Increase market demand for products harvested from forests that have been certified according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) criteria;
  • Widen and connect the network of FSC landowners, processors and manufacturers;
  • And, create and disseminate information about the benefits of green products and FSC certification.

TREES is also engaged in collaborative efforts to design and implement new region-specific auditing and certification models for wood, non-timber forest products, bioenergy and carbon offsets. Among these initiatives is an expansion of options for those who might need to work more gradually toward FSC certification, including individual loggers and logger groups, as well as those seeking FSC Controlled Wood certification.

Last updated February, 2012

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