By Gerry Gray, Ph.D., Senior Vice President

On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service released its major, long-term assessment of the current conditions, trends and future projections for our nation’s forests and rangelands. Known as the 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment, or simply the RPA assessment, this document — and the many technical reports on which it is based — contains a wealth of information for anyone interested in our forests and rangelands and the services and benefits they provide to society. In 1974, Congress mandated the preparation of an RPA assessment every 10 years, and each report’s job is to make projections looking out 50 years as an early warning system on emerging issues for managers and policymakers.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, California
Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, California. Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

The 2010 report is the 5th RPA assessment published by the agency, and it has taken an innovative, technically-sophisticated and, I might say, bold approach to its mandate. While there are many issues and findings that I could discuss, I will focus on three items that caught my attention in my initial review of the report.

  • A new future scenarios approach to the report: The 2010 report takes a fundamentally different approach than earlier reports to help address climate change and provide a coherent framework for assessing future outcomes across various resources, such as forests, water, wildlife and carbon. The report selected a set of comprehensive global scenarios that had been developed and used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide global context and quantitative linkages between American and global trends. The various scenarios include projections for population, economic activity, climate and bioenergy.
  • New tree canopy cover data and analysis in the forest resources section of the report: While I’ve been very aware of tree canopy cover data for urban forest inventories and analysis, I have not been aware of its growing acceptance as a major set of data for discussion within the RPA assessment. The inclusion of this data enriches and expands the discussion about forests and allows the use of new technology tools to develop and present important spatial information, such as how forests in certain places might be affected by heat and drought.
  • Grand Junction, Colorado
    Grand Junction, Colorado. Credit: Ethan Lofton (ELeaf)/Flickr

    A significantly expanded analysis and discussion of urban forests: The 2010 report provides greater information about urban forests, including a thoughtful discussion about the dynamics of urban growth. As urban areas expand into rural forest areas, traditional forests will be diminished, but urban forests — or the potential for establishing and managing urban forests — will increase. The report also highlights a new — or at least quite recent — perspective from the Forest Service on urban forests that reflects their significance for our growing urban populations: “Urban forests will become increasingly important for providing a range of ecosystem service to urban populations.”

This is a perspective American Forests heartily agrees with, which is why we’ve spent the last year studying various cities in the U.S. and how they are using their urban forests to the benefit of the city and its residents — thanks in part to a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. Over the next year, we plan on expanding our Urban Forests program even more and look forward to continuing to discuss the importance that urban forests will play in our lives.