The Northern Forest is one of the nation's great forest landscapes, well known for its charismatic wildlife, breathtaking autumn foliage, outdoor recreational opportunities, and vast forested areas. It stretches from Maine through northern New Hampshire and Vermont and into the Adirondacks and Tug Hill Plateau of northern New York. The Northern Forest covers 26 million acres and is the largest continuous forest east of the Mississippi.
The Northern Forest is made up of a mixture of hardwood and boreal forests. The hardwood forests (which include oak, sugar maple, and beech trees) are found in the southern areas of the region. The boreal forests (which include spruce and fir trees) extend north into Canada. The diversity of ecosystems in this region provides habitat for many wildlife species, including the moose, black bear, pine marten, Canada lynx, peregrine falcon, and the bald eagle.
The abundant natural resources of the Northern Forest have supported people for over 10,000 years. It has long been the home of Native American communities, such as the Iroquois and Algonquian. European settlers took advantage of the Northern Forest's rich woodlands for harvesting timber and taking furs. Lumber and papermaking industries would later tap the rich forest resources too.
Currently two million people live within the Northern Forest area, and 70 million people live within a day's drive. Communities continue to rely on the forest resource for economic opportunity, subsistence, and defining their way of life. The Northern Forest is a globally important supplier of hardwood trees.
Recreational opportunities in the Northern Forest include canoeing, hunting, fishing, skiing, hiking, and wildlife watching. Hikers can follow the Appalachian Trail across some of the region's high peaks. Additionally, visitors can harvest sugar maples for syrup or pick blueberries.
The Northern Forest is also where you will find the headwaters for major rivers in the northeast—including the Hudson, Connecticut, Penobscot, and St. John's—that provide water for a quarter of the people in the United States. The region's 7,000 lakes and 2.5 million acres of wetlands provide valuable ecosystem services.
The Northern Forest is well known for its iconic wildlife, including the moose, black bear, and brook trout. The region is also part of an internationally important bird breeding area. The Northern Forest's mammals include many beloved wildlife, including the moose, Canada lynx, black bear, snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, and beaver.
The Northern Forest has many different bird habitats. On its mountaintops, you may find the Bicknell's thrush, blackpoll warbler, Swainson's thrush, and yellow-rumped warbler. In the conifer forests are boreal chickadees, Canada warblers, pine grosbeak, purple finches, and spruce grouse. The Northern Forest region has many wetlands, lakes, and ponds where the common loon, American black duck, common goldeneye, and bald eagle can be found. The Hudson and Connecticut River valleys are important corridors for migratory birds including the Atlantic brant and green-winged teal. The hardwood forests have black-throated blue warblers, ruffed grouse, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, blue-headed vireo, and rose-breasted grosbeak.
The Northern Forest is under threat due to increasing pressure from development in the areas closest to large population centers, such as Boston and Portland, and along the Connecticut River.
Throughout most of the 1900s, much of the land in the Northern Forest region was owned by timber companies. Although the timber companies were not always the best stewards of the land, they did maintain their property in a forested manner that continued to provide wildlife habitat and ecosystem services.
In the mid-1990s the region began to change as the large timber companies sold their rights to forest lands they had owned for decades. They fragmented larger parcels and sold them off piece by piece to private owners. Each landowner makes separate decisions about the management of their land, sometimes without thinking about the larger needs of the surrounding forest habitat. More than 80 percent of the Northern Forest is now privately owned, and may not have legal protection.
While much of the Northern Forest remains intact, increasing pressure for the money that development brings, along with increasing demand for housing in areas with growing populations, encourages private owners to sell, subdivide, or develop their land.
Climate change may dramatically affect the forest composition in the Northern Forest as some species are no longer able to survive in the new climatic conditions. In addition, opportunities for the forests to help address climate change through carbon sequestration will be lost as the forests are developed or unsustainably managed.
The National Wildlife Federation is a member of the Northern Forest Alliance, which is a partnership of organizations working to conserve the Northern Forest for future generations.
A Blueprint for the Design and Delivery of Bird Conservation in the Atlantic Northern Forest, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
American Bird Conservancy
Changing Timberland Ownership in the Northern Forest and Implications for Biodiversity, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Forests on the Edge: Housing Development and America’s Private Forests, U.S. Forest Service
Northern Forest Alliance
Northern Forest Center
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