Nature's Biggest Comebacks

Eastern Forests of the United States

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The Weeks Act created nearly all National Forests in the East, close to 20 million acres.

Our scientists have chosen the top 10 comeback stories in nature. These are the places, ecosystems and species that have been brought back from the brink of disaster. See what made the cut from the last century — and what we hope will be on our list in the next.

Eastern Forests of the United States

Did you know that large swaths of the eastern United States are actually more forested today than they were hundreds of years ago?

Maple, oak, cedar, pine, hemlock and more once stretched from Maine to Florida and east to Texas and the Great Lakes.

But by the late 1800s, many of these forests had been chopped down for timber and to make way for farms and villages. It’s estimated that less than 48 percent remained at the turn of the century.

The slowing of the timber industry in the 1920s gave lands an opportunity to reforest. And the Weeks Act, passed in 1911, helped significantly to bring these forests back. To date, the act has helped protect nearly 20 million acres of forestland in the East and created 48 national forests. In recent decades, working forest conservation easements have helped keep millions of additional acres of private land forested. And today, modern foresters are harvesting with future sustainability in mind.

Old growth remains rare, and as suburbs expand into these re-grown acres, our forests are increasingly fragmented by roads. But the ability of the eastern forests to rebound despite near exponential population growth in our cities is truly an amazing comeback story.

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