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Deforestation is real threat to America's future

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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A recently released U.S. Forest Service report examines ways expanding populations, increased urbanization and changing land-use patterns could impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years.

The study shows the potential for significant loss of privately-owned forests to development and fragmentation, which could reduce benefits from forests the public now enjoys.

"We should all be concerned by the projected decline in our nation's forests and the corresponding loss of the many critical services they provide such as clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wood products and outdoor recreation," U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Harris Sherman stated in a press release. The USFS is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USFS scientists and partners at universities, nonprofits and other agencies found urban and developed land areas in the U.S. will increase 41 percent by 2060.

Forested areas will be most impacted by this growth, with losses ranging from 16 million acres - the size of Connecticut -to 34 million acres the size of Arkansas in the lower 48 states. The study also examines the effect of climate change on forests and the services forests provide.

Over the long-term, climate change could have significant effects on water availability, making the U.S. potentially more vulnerable to water shortages, especially in the Southwest and Great Plains. Population growth in more arid regions will require more drinking water. Trends in irrigation and landscaping techniques also will boost water demands.

Projections are influenced by scenarios with varying assumptions about U.S. population and economic growth, global population and economic growth, global wood energy consumption and U.S. land use change from 2010 to 2060. The report forecasts the following key trends:

Forest areas will decline as a result of development, particularly in the South, where population is projected to grow the most.

Timber prices expected to remain relatively flat.

Rangeland is expected to continue its slow decline but rangeland productivity is stable with forage sufficient to meet expected livestock grazing demands.

Biodiversity may continue to erode because projected loss of forestland will impact the variety of forest species.

Recreation expected to trend upward.

The report stresses developing forest and rangeland policies flexible enough to be effective under a wide range of future socioeconomic and ecological conditions.

The Forest and Rangelands Renewable Service Resources Planning Act of 1974 requires USFS to produce an assessment of natural resource trends every 10 years.

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Original Publication Date: January 2, 2013

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