Forest cover change (FCC) and forest attrition distance change (FADC) in level III ecoregions. While the southeastern US is experiencing high forest loss, the highest forest attrition is concentrated in other parts of the country. Credit: Yang S, Mountrakis G (2017)
A study published today (Feb. 22) in the journal PLOS ONE says that between 1990 and 2000, the average distance from any point in the United States to the nearest forest increased by 14 percent—or about a third of a mile. And while the distance isn’t insurmountable for humans in search of a nature fix, it can present challenges for wildlife and have broad effects on ecosystems.
The study overturned conventional wisdom about forest loss, the researcher noted. The amount of forest attrition—the complete removal of forest patches—is considerably higher in rural areas and in public lands.
The study looked at the loss of forest by calculating the distance to the nearest forest from every area in the landscape. The loss of a smaller isolated forest could have a greater environmental impact than losing acreage within a larger forest.
The study also found distance to the nearest forest is considerably greater in western forests than eastern forests.