While forests are dynamic eco-systems in which species composition will shift over time, regular forest inventories undertaken by the federal government demonstrate that there is rapid growth in the volume of nearly all commercial hardwoods in U.S. forests. This growth is also well distributed throughout the United States.
According to the latest statistical update by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- Between 1953 and 2012 the volume of U.S. hardwood growing stock increased from 5.2 billion m3 to 12.0 billion m3, a gain of over 130%.
- Between 2007 and 2012, the volume of hardwood standing in the U.S. increased at a rate of 124 million m3 a year (even after harvesting and natural mortality is taken into account) – that’s about 4 m3 every second.
- U.S. hardwood forests are aging and more trees are being allowed to grow to size before being harvested – the volume of hardwood trees with diameters 48 cm or greater increased nearly four-fold from 0.73 billion m3 in 1953 to 2.7 billion m3 in 2012.
- The total area of hardwood and mixed hardwood-softwood forest types in the U.S. increased from 99 million hectares in 1953 to 111 million hectares in 2012.This area increased consistently throughout the 60 year period and continued at a rate of 401,000 hectares per year between 2007 and 2012 – that’s equivalent to adding an area the size of a soccer pitch every minute.
The rapid expansion of U.S. hardwood forest owes much to the fact that it is predominantly owned by a large number of private individuals and families whose primary motivation is usually not timber production or economics.
Of the total hardwood harvest in 2012, 90% came from privately owned lands and only 10% from public lands. In the Eastern States, which accounted for 98% of all U.S. hardwood harvested in 2012, there are 9.75 million forest owners, each with an average of 15 hectares. Only 5% of private forest area is owned by corporations and the average size of corporate holdings is only 133 hectares.
According to the National Woodland Owner Survey undertaken every five years by the US Forest Service, the most commonly cited reasons for owning family forests relate to the beauty and privacy the forests provide, along with wildlife and nature protection.
The owners of U.S. hardwood forests usually grow their forests on longer rotations and typically selectively harvest a few trees per hectare, rather than clear-felling. Furthermore, after harvesting, forest owners usually rely on natural regeneration, which is abundant in the deep fertile forest soils of the U.S. In 2012, natural forests accounted for 97% of the area of hardwood and mixed hardwood-softwood forest types in the U.S. and only 3% were plantations. Even in the plantations, no non-native “exotic” or genetically modified species are used.
The American Hardwood Forest Explorer provides more detailed information on hardwood forest volume, growth and harvest at state and county level throughout the United States.