New England States Are Losing Their Forest Cover

May 12, 2016

The amount of New Hampshire land covered by forests is declining over time. 

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy looked at the state of forest cover in a new report, Forests In Flux, which was released this week. They say the amount of forest cover in the New England states and New York has declined by about 1 percent over the past decade.

That may not sound like much, but these states are all more than 50 percent forested, a rate well above the national average.

The Division of Forests and Lands says New Hampshire is the second most forested state in America, with 84 percent of its land, about 4.8 million acres, covered in forests.

The causes of the loss vary by region. The North Country's forest cover decline is largely due to commercial timber harvesting, but Carsey senior demographer Ken Johnson says the main cause in the rest of the state is development. 

"Places where development are occurring, of course, are in the areas on the peripheries of the urban areas, where population growth has been greatest, and also some in the recreation areas in the middle part of the state, where second home developments are occurring," Johnson says. 

The researchers say they plan to look next at how the forest loss may affect New Hampshire. "There are concerns that [the forest loss] could affect water quality, aesthetics, recreation - certainly the forest industry," says Mark Ducey, a UNH professor of forest biometrics and management and a Carsey school fellow. "There's a lot of policy issues that begins to touch on that we should be thinking about, because forests are so important to the general character of New Hampshire as well as its economy."