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Abundance, distribution, trends, and ownership patterns of early successional forests in the northeastern United States




Publication type:

Miscellaneous Publication

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station

Historical Station(s):

Northeastern Research Station


Forest Ecology and Management. 185: 65-74.


Early-successional forests are ephemeral and distinct forest communities, maintained by disturbance and dominated by small-sized trees and shrubs. These structural and compositional conditions form a unique habitat that is preferred by many wildlife species. Various sources have indicated that there have been declines in early-successional forest area and in the populatio& of many wildlife species associated with these habitats across the northeast. Results of the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program from four survey occasions were summarized for 1 1 states in the northeastern United States to identify recent trends in the area of early successional forests. Early-successional forests were defined as saplingkeedling-size and non-stocked-size timberland. The area of total forest land has remained relatively constant in the northeast; however, the area of early-successional forests has declined since the first forest surveys (ca. 1950). Losses were greater in the coastal states than among interior states. The area of early-successional forest among coastal areas is approaching or below conditions that are estimated to have existed under disturbance regimes occurring prior to European settlement of the northeast; for interior areas, the current area of early-successional forest still exceeds estimated historic conditions. The majority of forest land in the northeastern United States have been privately owned by individuals since European settlement; this ownership pattern has affected forest change more than natural disturbances. Population increases in the northeast over the last 50 years have not resulted in the loss of forest land to residential and associated developments. However, the fragmentation of for& ownerships (i.e. parcelization) into ever smaller ownerships has imposed social and logistic restrictions on forest management options. The creation and maintenance of sufficient early successional forests to sustain wildlife populations dependent on this habitat will require active intervention and management


Brooks, Robert T. 2003. Abundance, distribution, trends, and ownership patterns of early successional forests in the northeastern United States. Forest Ecology and Management. 185: 65-74.

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