Editor’s Note: The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, catalyzed a wave of laws to protect the environment and natural resources. Here Thomas Straka, a professor of forest economics and management and former industrial forester, answers questions about the current state of U.S. forests.

1. How forested is the United States? Here’s a surprising fact about our increasingly urbanized nation: About one-third of it is forested. Forests have an enormous impact on our water resources, economy, wildlife, recreational activities and cultural fabric. They also are major economic assets: The forest products industry manufactures more than US$200 billion worth of products yearly, and is one of the top 10 manufacturing employers in 47 states.

2. Who owns U.S forests? About 58 percent of the nation’s forestland is privately owned, mostly by families and other individuals. The public owns the rest. About three-quarters of the public forestland is owned by the federal government, mostly in national forests, with the rest controlled by states, counties and local governments. Forests in the eastern United States are mostly private; in the West, they are mostly public.

National forests were created to protect our watersheds and timber supply. Much of the water that ends up in rivers, streams and lakes comes from forested watersheds that filter the water naturally as it flows through. Forests also help control soil erosion by slowing the rate at which water enters streams.

Environmental pressure has caused timber production to become less of a priority in national forests. Since 1960, national forests have been managed under multiple use policy, which calls for balancing timber yield with other values like wildlife, recreation, soil and water conservation, aesthetics, grazing and wilderness protection.

Read more of this article from TheConversation.com at https://theconversation.com/the-state-of-us-forests-six-questions-answered-71134.