Forest Facts

Forests are vital, but complex, ecosystems that provide so many benefits that help keep our planet healthy and habitable for all life. From serving as Earth’s greatest air conditioners to providing wildlife habitat to being a source of clean drinking water, forests are essential.

Explore some of the ways in which forests provide for the health and well-being of the entire planet.


forest stream

  • More than half of U.S. drinking water originates in forests.
  • One large tree can capture and filter up to 36,500 gallons of water per year.
  • On average, a mature tree can absorb 36 percent of the rainfall it comes in contact with.
  • Forests capture rain in the canopy and on the forest floor, reducing stormwater runoff and flooding.
  • Healthy forested watersheds provide high-quality habitat for sensitive aquatic species.
  • Forests help improve water quality by extracting pollutants through tree roots.
  • The value of water derived from national forests is estimated to be several billion dollars annually.
owl - forest facts

  • More than 5 million terrestrial species depend on forests for their survival.
  • A square kilometer of forest can house more than 1,000 species.
  • Rivers and watersheds in our national forests provide habitat for more than 550 rare, threatened and endangered aquatic species.
  • The Lower Rio Grande Valley contains 1,200 plants, 300 butterflies and hundreds of animals.
  • Female black bears living in the mountains can roam across 2,800 acres.
  • The red-cockaded woodpecker requires up to 500 acres to live.
  • 68 species of birds rely on longleaf pine forests alone.
hiker in forest

  • Today, there are 155 national forests in 42 states, plus one in Puerto Rico, comprising almost 190 million acres — 8.5 percent of the nation’s total land area.
  • More than 130,000 miles of hiking trails in the U.S. are open to the public through the U.S. Forest Service.
  • More than 4,000 designated campgrounds in the U.S. are operated by the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Recreation is a $646 billion a year industry, compared to the $340 billion spent annually on cars and car parts.
  • Recreation provides 6.1 million jobs to Americans.
  • Not only do different animal and bird species respond differently to trails, different populations of the same species may respond differently, based on previous encounters with people.
  • The natural visual screening of a trail in a wooded area tends to make most wildlife tolerate greater human disturbance than they would in open terrain.
  • If dogs are to be allowed on a trail where there are sensitive wildlife, they should be leashed or excluded seasonally to reduce conflicts.
  • Studies show that moderate, as well as strenuous, physical activity is associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline. They note also that moderate levels of physical activity in elderly people have been shown to reduce mortality from coronary heart disease, to decrease the risk of osteoporotic fractures, and to improve bone mineral density.

  • One mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year.
  • In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car’s annual mileage.
  • Deforestation accounts for up to 15 percent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases.
  • Two mature trees provide enough oxygen for one person to breathe over the course of a year.
  • Forests are the largest forms of carbon storage, or sinks, in the U.S.
  • In one day, one large tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water and release it into the air, cooling the surrounding area.
  • Forests improve public health by keeping pollutants out of our lungs by trapping and removing dust, ash, pollen and smoke.
forest fire

  • Naturally occurring fires, as well as controlled burns, clear out underbrush and help prevent megafires.
  • Climate change worsens drought and other conditions, which are expected to increase areas of severe burns by 50-100 percent by 2050.
  • Every year, global wildfires burn approximately 865 million acres — that’s five times the size of Texas.
  • Nearly 60 percent of all forest fires are caused by humans.
  • The number of acres burned in wildfires has tripled since 1985.
  • Wildfire moves at speeds of up to 14 miles an hour.
  • There are 140 million people with 40 million homes living in fire-prone areas.

Minneapolis urban forest - photo credit Chuck Fazio

Photo credit: Chuck Fazio

  • Nationally, urban forests are estimated to contain about 3.8 billion trees, with an estimated structural asset value of $2.4 trillion.
  • In neighborhoods with more tree canopy cover, air quality improves by as much as 15 percent.
  • Urban trees in the continental U.S. remove up to 800,000 tons of air pollution from atmosphere annually.
  • Trees can increase the property value of your home by 10-20 percent and attract new home buyers.
  • People shop more often and longer in well-landscaped business districts and are willing to pay more for parking and up to 12 percent more for goods and services.
  • Areas with trees experience lower crime rates.
  • Students with trees outside school windows have higher test scores and graduation rates after controlling for other factors.
  • For every 30 meters of trees, noise pollution is reduced by up to 50 percent.
energy-saving street trees

  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and save 20-50 percent in energy used for heating.
  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • A mature tree can reduce peak summer temperatures by 2° to 9° Fahrenheit.
  • 100 million mature trees growing around residences in the U.S. can save about $2 billion annually in energy costs.
  • Urban forests reduce energy consumption and material waste in cities.
  • Trees should also be planted to shade paved areas, such as streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Light energy striking dark pavement like asphalt is absorbed, causing the air above it to be heated. Light-colored pavement absorbs less energy, but can reflect it toward a building. Tree leaves reduce heat and reflection as they absorb light energy and use it to evaporate water.
  • Trees that are effective windbreaks have crowns that extend to the ground and branches that keep their foliage in winter (evergreens). Junipers, spruces, firs, Douglas-fir, and evergreen shrubs are good choices for wind protection.
  • Trees for winter wind protection should be planted upwind of the area to be protected. This usually means planting on the west, northwest, and north sides of a building.