MYTH 8: LOGGING AND DEVELOPMENT ARE SHRINKING OUR FORESTS
As with air pollution, the public is inclined to believe that economic expansion
impedes environmental stewardship. Fully two-thirds of respondents signaled
that they believe one consequence of human activity, such as logging or development,
is that Americas forests are shrinking.
In reality, our footprint over nature appears to be shrinking. One of the
most positive environmental trends in the United States during the course of
the twentieth century was the tendency to need smaller and smaller amounts of
space to provide the necessities of life. At the advent of the twentieth century,
machines began to replace work animals (and the food they require) on farms.
Subsequent chemical innovations helped drastically increase agricultural yields.
The result, as Rockefeller University professor Jesse Ausubel notes, is that
in the United States in 1900 the protein or calories raised on one Iowa
hectare fed four people for the year. By the year 2000 a hectare
feed 80 people for the year.
At the same time that we have needed less farmland while still growing more
food, we have also required less wood. The U.S. population grew by over 250
percent during the twentieth century, but total timber consumption rose by only
70 percent over the course of the century, thanks to steel and concrete replacing
wood for a variety of applications. The typical American today consumes only
half the timber for all uses that he did a century ago.
a result of these developments, the deforestation of the American continent
that marked the pre-industrial period came to an abrupt halt early in the twentieth
century. About 300 million acres of forestland were lost between 1630 and 1920.
Most of that forestland had been cleared for agriculture. Yet despite significant
increases both in population and in agricultural output during the twentieth
century, in 2002 the Forest Service reported that the total area of forestland
has been stable for nearly 100 years.
The trend in recent years is even more encouraging. According to the Forest
Services Forest Inventory and Analysis program, we have actually witnessed
slight reforestation, or over 5 million net acres since 1985.
We harvested roughly 80 million more acres of cropland sixty years ago than
we harvest today; most of this land is on its way to reforestation. We have
re-treed at least 10 million acres since 1987 alone.
Between 2000 and 2005, the United States experienced the fourth-largest average
annual net gain of forest area on the planet.
For the first time in history, a Western nation has halted, and is now rapidly
reversing, the decline of its woodlands.