There are several key situations that challenge the health of forests in the United States and worldwide, including the rapid loss of forest cover due to development, the introduction of invasive pests, and the growing demand for timber. The health of remaining forests is of utmost concern to scientists and the increasing number of environmentally aware citizens because healthy forests provide basic environmental services. In particular, clean water and soil preservation are issues of acute concern due to the earth’s burgeoning population.
Loss of Forest Cover
The health of forests is challenged by the loss of forests, or deforestation. The “healthy forests” slogan used by the Bush administration, applied to cutting trees to prevent forest fires, had little to do with the larger picture of the need for healthy amounts of forest cover to ensure the health of the world’s current population. Clean drinking water and rich soil are basic and highly critical needs that are provided by healthy stands of forest cover.
The loss of ecological services provided by forests threatens the maintenance of human life. In the United States, land clearing for agriculture increased rapidly after the Civil War and continued into the mid-twentieth century. Now eclipsed by clearing for development, the continuing rapid pace of deforestation threatens the future quality of life. For example, according to a report in the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Bay Journal, approximately 100 acres of forest are lost to development every day in their 5-state mid-Atlantic region watershed. Aggressive reforestation goals have been put in place there to limit water pollution, erosion, flooding, air pollution, and impacts to human health.
Forest health is also challenged by the introduction of destructive species from one location where they are native to another environment, where they are not. When species have not evolved in relationship with one another, it is likely that a newly introduced species will grow and reproduce quickly because it has no natural enemy or it is not a food source for other species. As the non-native species proliferates, it will cause native species to disappear. The local food web will fall apart and the environment will become unhealthy for all species.
A number of blights, fungi, insects, and moths, to name a few, have disrupted biological systems worldwide. The loss of biological services of trees killed by invasive species is of great concern to scientists.
Demand for Trees
As the population grows and lifestyles require more and better products, forests are challenged. Dwindling forests are cut for fuel. Timber is needed to build homes and furniture. Although timber is a renewable resource, lack of forest management in some countries means that trees and forest cover are lost for a longer time than is healthy for our global well being.