The Value of Our Forests
This month's Bay Journal has an extremely informative piece on the condition of forests in the Bay watershed. Did you realize that at the time of early European settlement, the 64,000 square mile watershed was 95% forested (it's 58% forested today)? Or that the trees in those forests were so mature they stood an average of 40% taller than the trees of today?
The forests were so ubiquitous and dense, that early settlers were prompted to declare sentiments such as, "[this is] not a land of prospects. There is too much wood."
According to the report, many still fail to recognize the value of these ecosystems until they have been bulldozed and covered with homes. However, Bay region forests provide timber and wood products worth $22 billion a year, and at least an additional $24 billion a year in free "ecological services." These "services" include removing air and water pollutants, providing cooling benefits, and serving as vital habitat for critical species, such as pollinators.
In fact, the report estimates that an acre of trees in Washington, DC can reduce stormwater construction costs by $25,000.
Despite these benefits, we lose 100 acres of forested land per day in the Bay watershed. According to Richard Birdsey of the U.S. Forest Service, "Every 1 percent of forest area (about 250,000 acres) that is lost is about another million pounds of nitrogen per year going into the Bay." The watershed lost 3 times that much forest between 1982 and 1997.
The 120-page State of the Chesapeake Forests, produced by the Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service is available on-line.