Loss of Forests Means Loss of Capacity to Regulate Climate

David Moulton.

“Out of seven of the most heavily forested nations on Earth, the United States experienced a greater percentage of forest loss from 2000 to 2005 than did any of the other countries.”

So says a new study reported on today by USA Today and appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The United States lost more than 46,000 square miles of forest in those years. That's about 6% of the nation's forested land — an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania.

Forest cover  loss graph. Data by Hansen, Stehman, Potapov. Courtesy mongabay.com.And with that loss comes an important and dangerous gain — the release of the carbon that is stored in those hardwood forests.

What’s going on? The study notes that forest loss is the result of both human and natural causes. Beetle infestations are on the rise, as is the march of uncontrolled development into undisturbed land. The Southeast region of the United States has lost forest at the fastest rate — more than 10% of its forest cover from 2000 to 2005.

In our Top Ten Carbon-Storing National Forests analysis, The Wilderness Society has documented that some of our national forests contain more carbon per acre than the average rainforest — carbon “sinks” that help regulate climate while we struggle to reduce harmful global warming emissions from our factories, autos and power plants.

Protecting our forests means protecting clean air and water – and trapping millions of tons of carbon dioxide that would go into the atmosphere and make climate change even worse. Avoiding deforestation must become an important tool in fighting climate change — not just in the tropics, but in the United States and Canada as well.

photo: Forest cover loss graph. Data by Hansen, Stehman, Potapov. Courtesy mongabay.com.