Our too-thirsty forests: Fire suppression policy has led to an overabundance of trees

Ronald Reagan once justified logging with “a tree is a tree; how many more do you need to look at?” Besides, he warned, “trees cause more pollution than automobiles.” We cringed at his biases. Yet due to forces none foresaw, Reagan’s gaffes may now ring true.

Today, the hottest and thirstiest parts of the United States are best described as over-forested. Vigorous federal protection has stocked semiarid regions of public land with several billion trees too many. And day after day these excess trees deplete a natural resource that has become far more precious than toilet paper or 2-by-4’s: water.

Scientists and water managers report that 39 states face water scarcity. Much of the nation’s freshwater shortfall comes from our population growth, waste, hunger and contaminants. But we must also now implicate the escalating thirst of unnatural forests.

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