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Land Use

Temperate Forests

Moss, fern, and southern beech trees in Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand. The 3-million-acre forested landscape traverses the mountaintops to the seas, with lakes and rainforests in between. It is said that rainfall in Fiordland is measured in meters. The steep inclines, deep ravines, and nonstop moisture kept all but the hardiest from trying to inhabit the land until it became a park in 1952.

A quarter of the world’s forests lie in the temperate zone, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are deciduous; others are evergreen. Over the course of history, 99 percent of temperate forests have been altered in some way—timbered, converted to agriculture, disrupted by development. However, forests are resilient. They are dynamic systems that constantly recover from impacts, even if regaining their full ecological integrity may require centuries.

The world’s 1.9 billion acres of temperate forests are a net-carbon sink. According to the World Resources Institute, more than 1.4 billion additional acres are candidates for restoration—either large-scale, closed forest or mixed mosaics of forests, more sparsely growing trees, and land uses such as agriculture. With restoration comes additional carbon sequestration.

While temperate forests are not threatened by the same large-scale deforestation that afflicts the tropics, they continue to be fragmented by development. They also are experiencing hotter and more frequent droughts, longer heat waves, and more severe wildfires, as well as worsening insect and pathogen outbreaks. These disturbances can push temperate forests beyond their capacity for resilience. Restoration efforts will need to continue evolving in response, yet restoration is no replacement for protection.


A quarter of the world’s forests: Tyrrell, Mary L., Jeffrey Ross, and Matthew Kelty. “Carbon Dynamics in the Temperate Forest.” In Managing Forest Carbon in a Changing Climate, 77-107. Springer Netherlands, 2012.

[once] the epicenter of deforestation: FAO. State of the World’s Forests. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016.

99 percent…altered in some way: Tyrrell et al, “Temperate Forest.”

1.9 billion acres…net-carbon sink: Pan, Yude, Richard A. Birdsey, Jingyun Fang, Richard Houghton, Pekka E. Kauppi, Werner A. Kurz, Oliver L. Phillips et al. “A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests.” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 988-993.

carbon [sequestered] each year: Pan et al, “Carbon Sink.”

1.4 billion…acres are candidates for restoration: Susan Minnemeyer, Lars Laestadius, Nigel Sizer, Carole Saint-Laurent, and Peter Potapov. A World of Opportunity. Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, 2011.

Atlas of Forest and Landscape Restoration Opportunities: “Atlas of Forest and Landscape Restoration Opportunities.”; Laestadius, L., K. Buckingham, S. Maginnis, and C. Saint-Laurent. “Before Bonn and Beyond: The History and Future of Forest Landscape Restoration.” Unasylva 66, no. 245 (2015): 11-18.

Ireland as opportunity area: Reytar, Katie. “7 Unexpected Places for Forest Landscape Restoration.” World Resources Institute. May 30, 2014.

carbon sink provided by U.S. forestland: Birdsey, Richard, Kurt Pregitzer, and Alan Lucier. “Forest Carbon Management in the United States.” Journal of Environmental Quality 35, no. 4 (2006): 1461-1469.

era of “megadisturbance”: Millar, Constance I., and Nathan L. Stephenson. “Temperate Forest Health in an Era of Emerging Megadisturbance.” Science 349, no. 6250 (2015): 823-826.

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