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Forest Statistics

The following is from USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station pamphlet NE-INF-141-00 The Granite State's Forests: Trends in the Resource jointly authored with the Division of Forests and Lands.

Area of Forest Land Decreases

The Granite State is the second most forested state in the United States (trailing Maine). Forests occupy 84 percent, or 4.8 million acres. The area of forest land has declined by 134,500 acres (2.7 percent) since 1983 and is now about the same as in 1948.

Forest Trend

Three-fourths of the decline occurred in the southern part of the state, where rapid commercial and residential development has extended into previous forested areas. In the past, additions to forest land resulting from abandoned farm land reverting to forest more than offset losses due to development. Recently, reversion of farm land has continued, but gains from abandoned farms has been less than losses to development.

Land Use

Forest land is an important contributor to the quality of life enjoyed by all New Hampshire citizens. Forests provide wood and other forest products, watershed protection, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, recreation, fall color, and much more. Stewardship of forest resources will ensure these benefits now and in the future.

Forest land is categorized as either timberland or noncommercial. Categorizing forest land is helpful in understanding resource availability and planning forest management. Timberland, is physically capable of growing timber crops and is potentially available for harvesting. These lands support New Hampshire's wood products industry. Ninety-three percent of forest land, more than 4.5 million acres, is classified as timberland. The most recent inventory revealed that timberland area has decreased by 290,700 acres since 1983. More than half of this decrease resulted from the reclassification of timberland into a noncommercial use.

Noncommercial forest land includes reserved forest lands, unproductive forests, and urban forests. Management for timber on these lands is administratively restricted or economically impractical. Examples include designated wilderness areas on the White Mountain National Forest, mountaintops with very thin soils, and forests in urban areas. The area of noncommercial forest land has increased to 315,200 acres.

Forest Land Area Trends

(Thousands of acres at each inventory)

  1948 1960 1973 1983 1997
Timber Land 4,682 4,907 4,692 4,799 4,509
Non Commercial 166 112 293 159 315
Total Forest 4,848 5,019 4,985 4,958 4,824
Percent Forest Land 83.9 87.0 86.2 86.4 84.0
Total Land Area* 5,775 5,769 5,740 5,740 5,740
* Estimates of the total land area have changed because of new measurement techniques and refinements in the classification of small water bodies.

Who Owns New Hampshire's Timberland?

New Hampshire's private forest-land owners are a diverse group of approximately 83,700 individuals and enterprises; they control 80 percent of New Hampshire's timberland. This is divided between forest industry and non-industrial private owners. State, federal, and other public owners hold the remaining 20 percent. The acreage owned by forest industry has dropped by nearly one-third since 1983. Much of this land has gone into public ownership, which has increased by 218,400 acres since 1983. Although large in number, owners with small holdings account for a small portion of the timberland. About one-third of the non-industrial private forest landowners have fewer than 10 acres; they own only 2.3 percent of the timberland.

Timberland Ownership Chart

These small holdings are primarily sites for houses. The number of acres owned strongly influences a landowner's motives and management activities. As timberland becomes fragmented into smaller holdings it is less likely that owners will manage these forests for timber products. The negative effects of fragmentation are a growing concern across the country.

Private Timberland

By Size Class of Owner, 1993

Acres Owned

(Size Class)

Number of Owners

Total Acres

in Class

1-9 28,900 102,200
10-49 32,900 483,300
50-99 14,900 827,500
100-499 5,900 1,042,500
500-999 600 319,000
1,000 + 500 847,600
All Size Classes 83,700 3,622,000

Additional highlights from the 1997 inventory:

  • The area of forestland in New Hampshire has declined by 134,500 acres since 1983 and is now about the same as in 1948.
  • Ninety-three percent of New Hampshire's forestland, more than 4.5 million acres, is considered capable of growing commercial timber products.
  • New Hampshire's private forest-land owners control 80 percent of the state's timberland.
  • The acreage of timberland owned by forest industry has dropped by nearly a third since 1983.
  • The acreage of sawtimber stands, which are dominated by large trees suitable for sawlogs, has increased by 17 percent since 1983.
  • Average volume on timberland has more than doubled since 1948, from 973 to 2,114 cubic feet per acre. However, rate of increase has slowed.
  • The 12 most common tree species account for 95 percent of the total volume, they are: white pine, red maple, hemlock, red oak, sugar maple, spruce, paper birch, yellow birch, beech, balsam fir, ash and aspen.
  • White pine leads all other species in volume, followed by red maple. Hemlock had the largest gain in volume since 1983, increasing by 38 percent.
  • Between 1983 and 1997, annual mortality averaged 64.4 million cubic feet, or .7 percent. During the same period, annual mortality rate in Vermont was 0.8 percent.
  • On an annual basis, net growth of trees was 157 million cubic feet while removals totaled 144.8 million cubic feet.
  • Sixty-six percent of removals are attributed to harvesting, 18 percent to land conversion, and 6 percent to forest land reclassification (reserved or other non-commercial forestland category).
  • The growth of trees has exceeded harvesting since the first inventory in 1948.

For a copy of The Granite State's Forests: Trends in the Resource contact State of New Hampshire, Department of Resources and Economic Development, Division of Forests and Lands, 172 Pembroke Road, Concord, NH 03301, telephone (603) 271-2214.

Also available from the Division of Forests and Lands is the 130-page USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station Resource Bulletin NE-146 titled Forest Statistics for New Hampshire: 1983 and 1997 by Frieswyk and Wildmann. This document is a detailed statistical report on the fifth (1997) forest inventory of New Hampshire conducted by the Forest Inventory and Analysis Unit of Northeastern Research Station. For more information contact: Forest Inventory and Analysis (610) 557-4051 or visit their web page at www.fs.fed.us/ne/fia.