Study finds Appalachian forest mortality rates may be higher than government surveys indicate


  • Randy Showstack


A newly released 3-year survey of the mixed hardwood forest in the Appalachian region of the United States indicates that trees in a stretch of woods from Alabama to Pennsylvania are dying at a rate 2 to 3 times higher than federal and state reports have indicated. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and other agencies estimate the region's average tree mortality rate, a key measure of forest health, as approximately 0.5% annually or 5% per decade, the survey by the Appalachia Forest Action Project (AFAP) claims the rate actually is 2% annually or 20% per decade.

The AFAP report issued in February, “Patterns of Forest Health: A Report on Citizen Monitoring in the Eastern Mountains,” also states that both commercial and noncommercial trees are affected, that the forest can appear healthy although the species composition is undergoing rapid change with greater mortality rates for some species, and that acid rain and ground-level ozone may be the causing for the forest damage. These atmospheric agents can weaken the immune systemsof some tree species and make them more susceptible to disease.