Covering more than one-third of the United States, our forests are the cornerstone of American industry, infrastructure, health and well-being. Nowadays, America’s trees and forests are under attack; threats include catastrophic wildfire, forests being broken into smaller tracts, and attacks from insects and disease. Healthy forests do not happen by chance and require investments of dollars, time and expertise.

A prolonged drought in the western United States has created conditions for massive wildfires and bark beetle devastation, turning once-healthy landscapes from green to brown. In the eastern United States, pests like the emerald ash borer have destroyed tens of millions of community trees. The effect on ash trees is even threatening production of one of America’s most iconic wood products—the baseball bat.  


In spite of these compounding threats, the nation’s State Foresters and their partners are making progress to address these challenges. This month, the National Association of State Foresters, in coordination with the USDA Forest Service, issued an annual report describing that progress.

State Foresters—directors of the nation’s state and territorial forestry agencies—developed and are implementing Forest Action Plans. These plans are focused on every state’s own unique challenges while providing a big-picture look at the health of all of America’s trees and forests.

Collectively the Forest Action Plans represent a strategic roadmap for America’s forests by helping direct limited resources to where they are most needed, across all land ownerships, and offering proactive strategies to help conserve, protect and enhance the trees and forests upon which we all depend.

The state forestry agencies, along with federal partners at the USDA Forest Service, share a long history as stewards for these natural resources, working across overarching boundaries to address mutual challenges. State Foresters deliver many critical programs through the Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry Program.

Several programs enable State Foresters and their many partners to meet goals outlined in the Forest Action Plans. For example, the Forest Stewardship Program works to provide America’s 22 million private forest landowners with the information and knowledge they need to sustainably manage their forests. In 2011, privately owned forests provided almost 90 percent of the nation’s timber harvest. Without this program, we may not have access to the sustainably harvested wood products we all use every day.

State and federal partnerships are protecting forests from threats by preparing for and managing harm caused by insects and disease and reducing the risk of wildfires in our communities. Today’s wildfire seasons are on average 78 days longer than in the 1970s and are projected to grow hotter, more unpredictable, and more expensive in the coming years. State Foresters are responsible for wildfire protection on two-thirds of America’s forested lands. The State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance Programs provide crucial funding for fire equipment purchases and wildland fire training as well as community wildfire assessments and fuel treatments.

To enhance public benefits derived from trees and forests, numerous tree canopy improvement projects are being implemented in all parts of the United States. Urban and community-based trees in the United States store more than 708 million tons of carbon. This is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions from about 500 million automobiles. Research indicates that the presence of trees can significantly reduce rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases, and several reports correlate reduced neighborhood crime rates with vegetative cover. The Urban and Community Forestry Program helps keep green infrastructure healthy and productive, which directly benefits the more than 220 million urban-dwelling Americans while also providing vast benefits to our shared water, air and wildlife resources.

This is just a short list of the many State and Private Forestry Programs that help enhance public benefits derived from trees and forests. To view a copy of this year’s report, please visit The nation’s State Foresters look forwarding to continuing their work with the Forest Service and many other local partners to conserve, protect, and enhance the nation’s forests across all ownerships.

Paul DeLong is president, National Association of State Foresters and chief state forester, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.