By the 1600's, much of Europe, Africa and Asia had been deforested. North America, with its vast lush forests, became a great new source of wood, as well as forest that could be cleared for cropland, pasture and settlements. By 1607, timber was already being exported from the Jamestown colony. Wood, among other uses, was being used to build the ships of the great British navy.

In the 1800's, the Industrial Revolution allowed for a great increase in the production of lumber to meet the demand for it in the construction of homes and businesses. By the 1920's, some industry leaders and government officials became concerned that there was not an "endless supply" of timber in America and began to set aside some forest. This forest was not set aside so much for permanent protection but rather for a future supply of timber. After World War II, consumer demand for wood products escalated. By the 1960's, calls to protect what remained of American forests were heard from groups of environmentalists. This eventually led to some formal protection often granted through enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and Wetlands Protection Act or the federal government designating certain land as "protected wilderness". (Microsoft Encarta, "Lumber Industry")

There are approximately 730 million acres of forest (1/3 of the total land mass) in the United States now. "Forest" here is defined as land at least 1 acre in size with 10% tree cover. 518 million acres is considered potentially commercial timberland- land that is available and suitable for growing and harvesting timber. Tree farms are found on 95 million acres of forestland. (They typically consist of one species of tree, use herbicides and generally do not regenerate into a forest ecosystem to sustain wildlife and protect water.) 35 million acres of this "commercial timberland" has been set aside, or protected from logging, leaving 483 million acres available for logging. 72% of commercial timberland is privately owned. Of the 28% that is publicly owned, over 1/2 is under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service (USFS). (Indiana Department of Education, "Unit 2: Conservation, The Issue of Forest Management", Energy, Economics and the Environment: Case Studies and Teaching Activities for High School )

The USFS, except for its designated "wilderness" land, is operated as "multiple use" land, meaning the land is available for a number of uses such as logging and recreation. The USFS controls 192 million acres in which approximately 100 million acres are currently used for logging and another 50 to 60 million roadless acres could be opened up to roads and logging (Glick, Daniel, "Disturbing the Peace", Wilderness Society 1998). Much USFS forest protection policy has been aimed at setting aside reserves and how to sustain high levels of logging without permanently damaging the forest ecosystems. Roughly 2% of the remaining forest worldwide is in reserves (Chiras, Daniel, Environmental Science: Action for a Sustainable Future).