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Conservation in Context

Sustaining America’s Forest Legacy

America’s 750 million acres of pri- extending far beyond the areas that species continues to grow should
vate and public forest lands are a are actually developed. be no surprise.
remarkable legacy of this nation’s • Changing forest cover: Forest • Changing climate: Human activi-
commitment to forest conservation lands are rapidly disappearing, es- ties are causing concentrations of
and restoration over the past cen- pecially in urban-rural transitions carbon dioxide and other heat-
tury. This forest legacy provides a where the benefits and values of trapping gases to increase and
wide range of benefits and values forest cover are so badly needed. temperatures to rise in our atmo-
including wood, clean water, wild- The extent of and commitment to sphere. These changes are already
life, recreation, green space, carbon streamside forest buffers on agri- influencing many forest species
uptake and storage, cultural lega- cultural landscapes depends too and processes. Development and
cies and connections, and aesthetic heavily on the whims of the mar- landscape fragmentation confound
beauty and inspiration—not to men- ketplace and uncertainties of elec- these impacts. Future forest man-
tion jobs and tax revenues to support toral cycles and Farm Bill reautho- agers may need to consider means
schools and local government. rizations. of augmenting natural rates of
But our world is changing, our • Changing forest health: Even adaptation and species movement.
forests are changing, and our forest where acreage is stable, forest ben- Nevertheless, forests store large
legacy is in peril (NCSSF 2008). efits and values are increasingly quantities of Earth’s carbon, and
diminished. Wildlife diversity and they may be managed to store even
ecosystem services are decreasing more. Thus, forest management is
• Changing demographics: Our in- as a consequence of the fragmen- a potentially important tool to mit-
creasing numbers mean increasing tation of forests by roads and de- igate carbon emissions and global
demand. The population of the velopment and by the growth in warming.
United States has grown by 75% single-species, short-rotation forest
over the past 50 years, and it is management. To these changes is Some of these changes are in-
expected to grow by another 40% added a growing litany of inva- evitable, others are not. To sustain
by 2050. In 1955 there were 8.5 sive nonnative species that influ- the forest benefits and values we
acres of forest for every Ameri- ence forest biodiversity and man- cherish, our lands must be managed
can. Today it is 4.7 acres. Assum- agement options in all regions. to reverse adverse change where that
ing current trends in land develop- New diseases and insect pests ap- is possible and to adapt to changes
ment and forest conversion con- pear in U.S. forests each year, cau- that cannot be reversed. This man-
tinue, U.S. per capita forest area sing losses of trees and even spe- agement will require a shared under-
will be 1.8 acres in 2050. cies in every region of the country. standing of the importance of Amer-
• Changing human demands on In many western forest types, ica’s forests and a bold, new vision
forest lands: The demands placed fire suppression coupled with his- for their future. A central tenet of that
on forest land have grown in quan- toric management practices has understanding is that forests are key-
tity and complexity. Demand for increased flammable fuels within stone elements in the conservation
wood products, clean water, recre- stands and across forested land- of air, water, biological diversity, and
ation, and wildlife continues to scapes. This, along with drought beauty across the full gradient of hu-
grow, along with accelerated inter- and increased human access, has man land uses. Central to that vision
est in forests as a primary energy increased the likelihood of ignition are policies and actions aimed at con-
source and a repository for carbon. of severe fires and their propaga- serving the full complement of forest
There is unprecedented growth in tion across large areas. That the benefits and values across entire land-
demand for land for development, number of state and federally listed scapes. The following must be among
with human influences on forests threatened and endangered forest those policies and actions.

Conservation Biology, Volume 22, No. 6, 1378–1379 

C 2008 Society for Conservation Biology
DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01102.x
Christensen 1379

• Reprioritize forest management tablishment and maintenance of • Implement innovative and effec-
objectives on public lands. Over permanent forest corridors that re- tive communication and learn-
the past century, public forests connect the forest landscape and ing. Future policies and programs
such as the National Forest Sys- sustain flows of clean water in will foster understating of the im-
tem have become islands of wild- streams and rivers. Reconnected portance of integrated land plan-
life habitat, water protection, and landscapes will mitigate global ning and management and of the
recreation in a sea of conflicting warming and be a source of beauty. multiple benefits and values that
uses on private lands. Land-use pol- • Improve planning and coordi- obtained from such management.
icy must now acknowledge this nation across jurisdictions and
change and set the conservation of ownerships. Future policies will
these specific benefits and values provide incentives and institu- Norman L. Christensen, Jr.
as the highest priority for public tions for forest ecosystem manage-
Nicholas School of the Environment, Box
lands. Such policies will have the ment across ownership and juris-
90329, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708,
added benefit of enhancing carbon dictional boundaries. These pro- U.S.A., email
uptake and storage. grams will encourage participation
• Provide stable and permanent in- and foster trust among all stake-
centives for forest greenways and holders. They are especially impor- Literature Cited
buffers on both urban and ru- tant for effective management of
NCSSF. 2008. Forests for Tomorrow. The
ral landscapes. Through financial forest health challenges that ex- final report of the National Commis-
incentives and land planning, fu- tend across traditional borders of sion on Science for Sustainable Forestry.
ture policies must encourage es- jurisdiction and ownership. (accessed August 2008).

Conservation Biology
Volume 22, No. 6, 2008