Forest Ecosystem Health: An Overview

Publication Date: February 2001

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Environment



Although most U.S. forests are in better condition than they were a century ago, many forest ecosystems, especially in the intermountain west, are widely thought to be in poor health. Interest groups disagree over what constitutes a healthy forest, what has caused the problems, and what the solutions are. Nonetheless, most accept that high biomass accumulations -- dead and dying trees, dense undergrowth, and stands of small trees -- can contribute to catastrophic wildfires, pest problems, and lower biological diversity. A variety of tools and approaches have been proposed and debated to address the problems, including salvage and other timber sales, prescribed burning, and other treatments. Legislative and administrative efforts have generally focused on the national forests, to create new forest health programs and management tools or to authorize alternative treatment approaches. This report will be updated as events warrant.