Forests are an important part of Pennsylvania's landscape. This overview document highlights concepts about and threats to Penn's Woods.

Pennsylvania's forests and woodlands are an amazing resource that provides untold economic, ecological, and social value to the state's citizens and beyond. While the average citizen believes the state owns most of the forest, in reality seven of ten acres is privately owned. The decisions these owners make today do and will greatly affect all the values we receive as benefits from our forests now and in the future.

Pennsylvania Land Cover

  • Total acreage 28,991,096 acres (45,299 square miles)
    • 92.9% Rural land cover (forests, fields, and water)
    • 7.1% Suburban and urban (cities, towns, roads)
  • Unique Forest Related Land Uses or Conditions
    • 83,184 miles of river and streams
    • 30,000+ acres of true Old-Growth forest
    • 42% (7.4 million forested acres) considered interior forest habitat, 300 feet from a road or edge

Pennsylvania Forest Facts

Forest History

  • Penn's charter called for the reservation of 1 acre of forest for every 5 cleared
  • Highest historic percent forest cover 90% (1630, pre-settlement)
  • Lowest historic percent forest cover 32% (9.2 million acres, 1907)
  • Forest cover relatively constant since 1965, slight decrease starting 2004
  • First sawmill, 1662

Forests cover 59% of Pennsylvania (16.58 million acres)

  • 29% Public Forests (Federal, state and local) 4.58 million acres
  • 71% Private forest owners 12.00 million acres

Forest Composition

  • Mixed oaks and Northern hardwoods the most common forest types
  • Stocking, density of trees, is declining (disease, insects, weather, cutting)
  • Statewide, seedling and sapling stage (<5 inches) forest areas are declining
  • Statewide, forest areas with large trees (>11 inch, hardwoods) are increasing
  • 10 most common tree species in order by total numbers (all size classes): red maple, black birch, black cherry, beech, sugar maple, hemlock, white ash, red oak, chestnut oak, black gum

Private Forest Landowners (PFLs)

  • Population 12.5 million people, 4,770,000 households
  • PFLs: estimated at more than 738,000 private forest owners (~ 1 in 7 households)
  • Average ownership size: estimated at 17 to 21 acres
  • Average tenure: estimated at 7 to 13 years
  • Average age: 57 years old
  • Principle objectives (Most to Least Important): Solitude, Came with the Property, Enjoyment of Owning, Enjoying Wildlife, Estate to Pass On, Hunting, Land Investment, Recreation, Personal Use of Wood (firewood), Timber
  • Written Management Planning
    • 3.6% of PFLs have a written management plan
    • 9% of PFLs who have harvested trees commercially have a management plan


  • Urban sprawl (i.e., forest and farm loss, current estimates 300 acres daily)
  • Invasive plants (e.g., garlic mustard, tree of heaven, Japanese stilt-grass)
  • Invasive insects (e.g., gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, hemlock wooly adelgid)
  • Invasive diseases (e.g., chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, sudden oak death)
  • Forest regeneration (i.e., competitive plants, white-tailed deer)
  • Energy development (i.e., natural gas, biomass)
  • Harvesting practices (i.e., select cutting, high-grading, diameter cutting)
  • Parcelization (e.g., estate planning, subdividing forests)


  • Penn State Natural Resources Extension - Forestry and wildlife information and educational programs Phone: 800-235-9473.
  • Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry - Offers a range of information and technical assistance to woodland owners Phone: 717-787-2869.
  • Pennsylvania Game Commission - Wildlife Diversity Biologists provide guidance to landowners to manage their property for wildlife. Phone: 717-787-4250.
  • Pennsylvania Tree Farm Program - Tree Farm inspectors voluntarily inspect private woodlands providing management advice and recommendations. Landowners meeting the minimum standards become "certified" as sustainably managed forests. Phone: 800-835-8065.
  • Pennsylvania Forestry Association - The nation's oldest grass roots organization encourages management of the Commonwealth's forests. Phone: 1-800-835-8065.
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative of Pennsylvania - Voluntary, industry-driven program to enhance forest management decisions through logger, forester, landowner, and industry outreach. Phone: 888-734-9366.
  • Pennsylvania Forest Stewards - Trained volunteers share forest resource understanding through peer-to-peer education and outreach. Phone: 800-235-9473.
  • Woodland Owner Associations - 24 independent associations across Pennsylvania provide educational opportunities for members and people in the local communities on forest related topics Phone: 800-235-9473.
  • USDA, Farm Services Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) - These two agencies administer USDA Farm Bill programs for woodland owners interested in technical and financial assistance for conservation practices in their woodlands. FSA Phone: 717-237-2113. NRCS Phone: 717-237-2100.
  • Pennsylvania Land Trust Alliance - Provides basic and in-depth guidance and resources on conservation topics and tools including model conservation easements and is the umbrella group for land trusts and conservancies in Pennsylvania. Phone: 717-230-8560

Contact Information

Allyson Brownlee Muth, Ed.D.
  • Director, Center for Private Forests

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802