When properly managed, working forests can provide a wide range of important ecosystem services such as clean water and wildlife habitat.
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Nontimber forest products—such as ginseng and ramps—are widely harvested in the Appalachian region, and hunting and fishing are among the most important outdoor recreational activities. All of these practices have high cultural and economic value, and their sustainability depends on the capacity of rural and forest landscapes to support them. While landscape capacity meets societal demand for these resources in many areas, they may be overexploited in areas where harvesting activities are poorly regulated, and climate change effects may exacerbate declines. This may be especially true for nontimber forest plants, and these tend to be the least-studied among harvested species. Stream degradation from multiple causes, and toxic dissolved solids in watersheds with surface mines in particular, are associated with loss of fishing opportunities and represent a strong incentive for stream restoration.
The sustainable production of wood—from upland hardwood forests in particular—is a key economic activity across the Appalachian region, supporting rural livelihoods and supplying important products at regional, national, and even global levels. Timber markets also create an incentive to keep land forested, and working forests can supply many additional ecosystem services such as clean water, nontimber forest products, carbon storage, and wildlife habitat. Standing timber stocks and production have remained fairly stable in recent decades, but declines may be experienced over the long term. Urbanization and surface mining are expected to reduce the land area available to support working forests, while detrimental effects of invasive species, climate change, and wildland fire on high-value species may have more moderate long-term influences on forest productivity.
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The capacity of ecosystems to provide services such as carbon storage, clean water, and forest products is determined in part by ecosystem dynamics over time.
Descriptions of landscape cover types and fragmentation yield rich information about how forest, rural, and urban areas interface and mix.