This article was published in the Spring 2007 issue of Pennsylvania Forests--an issue that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

Overview of Pennsylvania's Forests

Forests are the dominant ecosystems in Pennsylvania--more than 16.6 million acres of forestland cover 58% of the land area of the state--and they provide a host of values to our citizens. They grow economically valuable hardwoods such as cherry, oak, and maple and a certain variety of marketable nonwood products, such as maple syrup and ginseng.

These forests also protect the watersheds that yield the majority of the state's fresh water. Pennsylvania has more than 84 thousand miles of rivers and streams and nearly four thousand lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. And yet less than 2% of the state's total area is found in lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This limitation serves to amplify the critical role of aquatic settings within our ecological system.

Pennsylvania's forests provide much of the habitat for the state's wildlife. They provide opportunities for people to experience nature through such activities as hiking, camping, hunting, and stream fishing. Nearly 70% of these forests are privately owned, with the remaining 30% held as public lands. Urban and community forests contribute in a substantial manner to the urban and suburban surrounds where the majority of the state's population lives. Herein are the trees that most residents see every day.

The industries that are based on the state's forest resources are significant. Wood product and paper industries contribute more than $16.8 billion annually to the state's economy and employ nearly 81 thousand people with a combined payroll of $2.8 billion. Persons engaged in hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits potentially add another $3 billion annually through expenditures tied to their pursuits.