Iowa lost woodland acres last year for the first time in nearly four decades, according to an analysis by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Paul Tauke, State Forester for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the report show Iowa’s forest acres have dropped below the 3 million mark.

“In 1974, we were at about 1.6 million acres. Up until 2011, the survey indicated we were pretty much gaining woodland acres every year. But, the 2012 data indicates a decrease of 40,000 acres,” Tauke says. This marks the first time since 1974 that Iowa has lost woodland acres.

Tauke says he’s seen more tree clearing by land owners in the last three years than the previous 20 years. He credits high commodity prices, which have prompted many farmers to bulldoze trees and use that land for growing crops.

Tauke notes trees offer shade and reduce energy costs for homeowners, as well as “providing a tremendous benefit in reducing erosion to improve water quality and providing wildlife habitat.” Tauke, whose career began in 1988, says it’s the first time he can recall more trees being removed than being planted in Iowa.

He notes that Iowa’s wood-using businesses have $4 billion in annual sales and employ 18,000 people. “So, if this is a longer term drop, the impact to the woodland resource could be significant,” Tauke said. “It could have a significant impact on at least the wood-using sector of our economy.”

At one time, about 18 percent of the state was wooded. Today, about 3 percent of Iowa is woodland.