Forests and National Prosperity
A Reappraisal of the Forest Situation in the United States


TODAY, THE NEED for productive forests transcends that of any earlier period. The Nation faces the double task of creating a lasting prosperity at home, and of working to improve economic conditions for people all over the world. Clearly, we shall need abundant resources for this task. The war pointed toward the heights of national productivity of which we are capable. It also cut deeply into our natural resources. We know now that the Nation can no longer be satisfied with the best achieved in the past. And it is equally clear that wise use of all our resources is vital if we are to reach the new, high goals ahead.

During 1945 and 1946 the Forest Service made a reappraisal of the forest situation in the United States. Its purpose was to bring up to date and amplify basic information on our timber resources, to interpret this information in relation to the national economy, and to reexamine national policies and needs in forest conservation. Previous analyses of a similar nature were made in 1938 and 1932.

Forests contribute to the welfare of the Nation in many ways. They are invaluable in the protection of watersheds; they afford recreation and sport for people in all walks of life; they are the habitat of many forms of wildlife; they provide range forage for millions of livestock. But this appraisal dealt mainly with the timber resource. Other aspects of the situation were considered primarily in relation to timber use.

The reappraisal has made use of the large amount of information available from the Forest Survey and other activities of the Forest Service, and from other agencies. Such information has been brought up to date, checked, and supplemented. Much new resource information also was obtained to assure an authoritative summary of the quantity, quality, distribution, growth, and drain of the timber resources in the United States proper. Only incidental attention was given to the forests of Alaska and to the world timber situation. Estimates of potential requirements for forest products and of unavoidable losses through natural causes were supplemented by consideration of margins for new uses, export, and national security.

Especially important new information on the character of forest practices and the degree of forest management by ownership classes was obtained by a field survey. The volume and character of wood waste and the possibilities of using more of it were explored. Problems of the timber industries in relation to raw-material supply were reviewed. The status and needs of forest protection were reexamined. Special attention was given to problems of ownership, because ownership so fundamentally influences the kind of action needed.

This report brings together in concise form the over-all findings of the reappraisal and restates the principal Federal measures which I believe are necessary to assure ample timber supplies for the future. Various aspects of the reappraisal are covered more fully in a series of separate reports, some of which have already been published.

The report shows that the Nation's saw-timber supply is declining and, of equal significance, its quality is deteriorating. Saw-timber cut plus losses from natural causes exceeds annual growth by 50 percent. Yet indications are that the intrinsic needs of the Nation for saw-timber products are considerably greater than present cut. Whether we are in for a permanent timber shortage or whether we shall have plenty of timber depends largely on what we do now. We have enough forest land. The challenge is to grow the timber.

A crop of wood cannot be grown in a single year like a crop of corn. Tomorrow's wood supply is in the trees growing in the forests today. Our forest growing stock, therefore, must be large enough so that as one year's crop is harvested, enough trees will be coming of age to provide the next year's crop. It is my hope that publication of this report will help spur the Nation to prompt, forceful, and comprehensive action to build up and maintain the forest resources so as to insure their maximum contribution to lasting prosperity for our country.

Lyle F. Watts
Chief, Forest Service.

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Last Updated: 17-Mar-2010