Regional dynamics of forest canopy change and underlying causal processes in the contiguous U.S.


Corresponding author: K. Schleeweis, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service, USDA, Ogden, UT 84401, USA. (


[1] The history of forest change processes is written into forest age and distribution and affects earth systems at many scales. No one data set has been able to capture the full forest disturbance and land use record through time, so in this study, we combined multiple lines of evidence to examine trends, for six US regions, in forest area affected by harvest, fire, wind, insects, and forest conversion to urban/surburban use. We built an integrated geodatabase for the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) with data spanning the nation and decades, from remote sensing observations of forest canopy dynamics, geospatial data sets on disturbance and conversion, and statistical inventories, to evaluate relationships between canopy change observations and casual processes at multiple scales. Results show the variability of major change processes through regions across decades. Harvest affected more forest area than any other major change processes in the North East, North Central, Southeast, and South central regions. In the Pacific Coast and Intermountain West, more forest area was affected by harvest than forest fires. Canopy change rates at regional scales confounded the trends of individual forest change processes, showing the importance of landscape scale data. Local spikes in observed canopy change rates were attributed to wind and fire events, as well as volatile harvest regimes. This study improves the geographic model of forest change processes by updating regional trends for major disturbance and conversion processes and combining data on the dynamics of fire, wind, insects, harvest, and conversion into one integrated geodatabase for the CONUS.