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Forest Health in the United States
SOURCE: R. Neil Sampson and Lester A. DeCoster © 1998 American Forests

Differences in East and West Forests

Many of the major trends identified earlier affect forest health in every region of the U.S., but their relative importance is significantly different. Dominant forest types, environmental conditions, patterns of human population, and forest ownerships are very different between forests in the East and forests in the West.

Differences in East and West Forests
Federal Ownership dominates western forests, while in the East,
non-industrial private forests are the most common.

The varied relationships between people and forests affect how and why forests are owned, the capabilities and expertise applied to forests, and the decision-making processes for responding to forest problems.

A comparison of the two regions reveals that:

  • The East and West are well matched in forest area (52 percent in the East; 48 percent in the West).
  • Concentrations of people are vastly different. About 78 percent of Americans live in the East, fairly well spread across the landscape. Of the 22 percent who live in the West, more than half live in California and the remainder are found mainly in a few large cities.
  • There are 187 acres per 100 people in the East; 623 acres of forests per 100 people in the West.
  • Federal ownerships dominate the West---more than 60 percent of all western forests are federally owned.
  • Private ownerships dominate the East---69 percent of all eastern forests are in nonindustrial private (NIPF) ownership.
  • More than 80 percent of all federal lands in the U.S. are in the West; almost 80 percent of all the industrial and other private forests are in the East.
  • If we recognize that a major value in public forests is providing public recreation, there is almost a ten-fold disparity between East and West, with the West (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) having 265 acres of public forest per 100 people, while the East has 32 acres of public forest per 100 people.
  • Private timberland, on the other hand, is twice as available in the East (136 acres per 100 people, compared to 76 in the West).
These profound differences make it difficult to develop over-arching national policies and programs aimed at forests and forest health. As Table 1 illustrates, a national discussion of just one of the major trends affecting forest health (e.g., fire) cannot be conducted without the debate taking on almost entirely a regional flavor.
The fact that wildfire affects federal lands and budgets so importantly makes it a political issue for the federal government, but it will not be seen as very important by people whose interests lie mainly in the East. The ranking of the relative levels of importance are subjective, and may not reflect a particular local situation, but illustrate some of the differences involved.

Table 1.
Relative Level of Importance of Broad Trends Affecting Forest Health, By Region
Region Low <<<<<<      Level of lmportance      >>>>>> High
East Simplification Fire Animals Fragmentation Exotics Emissions
West Emissions Fragmentation Animals Exotics Simplification Fire

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