National Forests Face Threats from People, Politics - and Bugs

May 9, 2013

As the weather gets nicer, millions of Americans will take to hiking in national forests, trading in the company of man for the company of trees. But as more people take advantage of forests, the increased foot-traffic may actually pose a threat to these natural resources.

Umpqua National Forest in Oregon
Credit U.S. Forest Service

Writer Christopher Johnson details how the livelihood of national forests is ironically being threatened by their popularity, in his new book called Forests for the People: The Story of America’s Eastern National Forests.

"To create wilderness takes an act of Congress," he says, "and after this was done, all of a sudden, these wilderness areas were more popular than they were before. There’s just something about that word, “wilderness,” that attracts people."

Chris Johnson's new book on the history of eastern forests
Credit Chris Johnson

Of course, Johnson says, the National Forest system was only created after fierce political battles and the drive of some ardent supporters. But Johnson says pitched debates over policy issues continue to plague forest conservation efforts.

Beyond people and politics, the country's forests are also being threatened by biological invaders, invasive species like beetles and the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer. Wisconsin is currently pursuing efforts to cope with and minimize the damage of this latter insect, which threatens to kill millions of ash trees from the Midwest to the eastern United States.

Johnson, who lives in Evanston, Ill., co-authored the book along with David Govatski, and it is published by Island Press.