Timber Resources

Timber Resources

Trees are important because they provide valuable commodities, including wood, paper, and fruit. However, forests are not distributed equally around Earth, and there are economic and social implications of some regions having more timber resources than others.


3 - 12

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...
Leveled by
Selected text level

There are many reasons to be thankful for trees. Besides being beautiful and giving shade, they provide habitats for animals, and they are essential for the production of oxygen, which is vital for life on Earth. Additionally, they supply important products like wood, paper, fruit and nuts. The livelihoods of more than 1.5 billion people worldwide—about 20 percent of the global population—depend on trees.

Unfortunately, trees are not present everywhere—only about one-third of Earth's surface is forested. Forests tend to fall into one of three types based on their location: boreal, temperate and tropical. Boreal forests are located the farthest north, temperate forests grow in the mid-latitudes and tropical forests are found closer to the equator. Countries with the largest forested areas include Russia, Canada, Brazil, China and the United States.

Forests are concentrated in particular places because trees, like other plants, require specific conditions to thrive. Fertile soil, nutrients, sunlight and rainfall are all important for tree growth. In places where the soil is poor, tree growth may be stunted or not occur at all. For instance, trees atop mountains are typically much smaller than those at lower elevations, because soils tend to be poorer on steep slopes. Likewise, places that do not receive much sunlight or rainfall typically have few trees. Temperature also matters—most types of trees do not do well in extremely hot areas like deserts or in frozen landscapes. Trees are a bit like Goldilocks: They want conditions that are just right.

Even when trees do have the necessary conditions, they can be hurt by natural processes such as pest infestations. One serious pest, for instance, is the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae). This menace has destroyed more than 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of forest in the western United States and Canada. The mountain pine beetle kills trees by clogging the trees' connective tissues.

Trees Face a Number of Threats

Another threat to forests is fire. Lightning strikes from thunderstorms can set entire forests ablaze, and heavy winds can quickly spread a fire. Forest fires have become an increasingly frequent problem in the western United States. They are often started by people—sometimes even intentionally. Experts point out that fires have always been part of the natural cycle in forests. However, as drought and high temperatures have become more common, forest fires are becoming larger and more dangerous.

Less common problems affecting forests include landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In May 1980, the explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens in the U.S. state of Washington sent out a shockwave that toppled thousands of trees and stripped others of their branches. The eruption also triggered a series of volcanic mudflows. They ripped trees from the ground and scattered them across the landscape.

Human activities take a serious toll on forests. Some forests are cut down for timber, to make room for new trees, or to simply clear the land for another purpose. When new trees are planted, they are often selected because their resources—wood or fruit, for example—can be harvested and sold. In other cases, forests are cut down to make room for livestock. Clear-cutting happens when an entire area of forest is cut down. It is occurring in many regions, and it can be devastating for forest ecosystems. Swaths of razed forest are more likely to experience erosion because tree roots are no longer holding the soil in place. Furthermore, clear-cutting reduces the diversity of animals by destroying habitat and forcing animals to flee to find new shelter. Clear-cutting is also harmful to the millions of native people around the globe who live in or near forests. Many of these people rely on forests for their food, shelter and even their livelihoods.

Trees are not distributed equally around the planet. Some regions have more forest resources than others, and this inequality has important economic and social effects. To begin with, in areas that lack forests, there are no forest products to be harvested and sold. People in those areas also miss out on secondary benefits. They miss out on revenue from tourism and fees from hunters going after large game animals like deer and moose. Aside from financial considerations, forests serve as cool and calming refuges—for people as well as animals.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
André Gabrielli, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources