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Deforestation describes the process whereby natural forests are cleared through logging and/or burning. Deforestation typically occurs through logging and/or burning activities aimed either to acquire timber or to replace the land use of a forested area with alternative uses, but wildfire and disease may also cause deforestation. Deforestation can be offset by reforestation through planting projects or natural regeneration. According to the U.N. F.A.O., in 2012 33.3%, or about 304,787,600 hectares of U.S. land is forested, with 24.8% classified as primary forest, which is carbon-dense and offers high biodiversity values.
The U.N. F.A.O. reports that wildfire and introduced plants, animals, and disease are leading causes of deforestation and declines in forest health in the United States. Despite FAO’s reports suggesting that deforestation trends are declining worldwide and that reforestation has led to significant gains in the U.S., avoiding deforestation remains an important conservation objective because forests are critical for biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. Forest ecosystems – including trees, the understory, and soils – act as carbon sinks which store about 57.8 billion tons of carbon in the U.S. alone. When these systems are destroyed, that carbon is released, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation also can cause declines in biodiversity, and associated erosion may negatively impact watersheds and water resources. Large-scale forest clearing has also been shown to disrupt global and regional water cycles.