Forests cover almost one-third of the Earth’s land surface, providing organic infrastructure for countless species. We, as humans, sometimes take forests for granted and let deforestation threaten some of the world’s most valuable ecosystems. About 300 million people live in forests around the world, including 60 million indigenous people who depend on the forest for their survival.
The importance of forests to this Earth and all of its inhabitants cannot the underestimated. Forests are essential to our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we used to build homes. Forests also provided homes to animals and have a rich biodiversity. Trees offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion, and mitigate climate change. Not to mention, they can absorb a wide range of pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, helping to purify the air.
In addition to all of these great benefits, forests also provide escape and adventure for many people every year. Those who enjoy hiking or camping can appreciate being surrounded by nature in a quiet getaway in the woodlands. Exploring forests is a great way for people to destress, self-reflect, and appreciate the beauty of mother nature.
In the United States, forests are under the watch of the Forest Service. The U.S. Forest Service is a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency whose mission is to sustain the health, productivity, and diversity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for present and future generations. The agency manages over 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. The agency contributes more than $13 billion to the economy annually through visitor spending alone.
In 2019, according to a USDA report, the Forest Service opened hundreds of thousands of forest acres and sold 75 million more board feet of timber than the 2018 figure. The agency also improved overall forest conditions and reduced wildfire risk on over 4 million acres of land.
Forest Cover by State
As with many other things, the amount of forest varies by each state. Every state in the county has something to offer in terms of nature and the great outdoors. All states have forests, but some have significantly more forest cover than others. The data below is from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Inventory and Analysis Report, pulled by analysis site, Stacker. States are ranked by the percentage of the total land covered by forests, not the total number of acres. The five states with the least forest cover are: North Dakota (60,000 acres or 1.7%), Nebraska (1.6 million acres or 3.2%), South Dakota (1.9 million acres or 3.9%), Kansas (2.5 million acres or 4.8%), and Iowa (3 million acres or 8.4%). Generally, eastern states, particularly in the Southwest and New England, have the most forests.
Maine, the northernmost state of the contiguous United States, is home to about 17.7 million acres of forest. This means about 89.5% of the state is forested. This gives explorers plenty of land to explore especially with Maine’s 158 miles worth of hiking trails.
2. New Hampshire
Relatively unsurprisingly, Maine’s neighbor New Hampshire is the second-most forested state in the U.S. New Hampshire has 4.8 million acres of forest, covering about 84.3% of its land. Small towns are spread through New Hampshire’s vast stretches of forests, home to plenty of wildlife like black bears and moose.
3. West Virginia
West Virginia has 12.2 million acres of forests covering 79% of its land. With six national parks and 37 state parks, West Virginia is a great destination for those looking to explore the woodlands. The Appalachian Trail runs through West Virginia as well.
The third New England state on the list, Vermont, is covered in 4.6 million acres of forests, about 77.8% of the state. With the second-smallest population in the U.S., Vermont is dominated by mother nature. There is plenty to explore in Vermont, especially in the fall when the mountains are graced with the vibrant changing colors of the leaves.
Alabama is covered in 22.9 million acres of forests, about 70.6% of the state’s total land. The state is home to four national forests, Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega, and Tuskegee, and has more than 342 of hiking trails to explore.
6. South Carolina
South Carolina is the sixth-most forested state in the country. With about 13.1 million acres of forests covering 68.2% of the state’s land, there is plenty to explore. The state has over 80,000 acres of protected forests reaching from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
Alabama and South Carolina’s neighbor, Georgia, has 24.8 million acres of forests. This is about 67.3% of Georgia’s land. Georgia has hundreds of miles of recreation trails to explore its millions of forested acres, including those in Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, which has 850 miles of trails alone.
The eighth-most forested state and fourth Southeast state on this list is Mississippi. Mississippi has 19.5 million acres of forest that cover 65.1% of the state’s land. Mississippi has 22 state parks, six national forests, and nine wildlife refuges.
Virginia has 15.9 million acres of forest that cover 62.9% of its land. Virginia has 24 state forests managed by the Virginia Department of Forestry. About 77% of forest land in Virginia is controlled by 300,000 forest landowners.
10. New York
Despite the concrete jungle of New York City, New York is the tenth-most forested state in the country. New York boasts 19 million acres of forests covering 62.9% of the state. New York has over 200 state parks and many opportunities for fishing and hunting. You might also be lucky enough to see a bald eagle while exploring New York’s many woodlands.