Forests Provide Clean Drinking Water for the South

Report provides new level of detail about water from National Forest System lands

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery Group

beautiful leaf with drops


For over 19 million people in the South – roughly the population of Florida – clean water begins in the region’s national forests. That’s according to a report by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station published in late 2014. The report provides information at a level not previously available on the amount of surface drinking water national forest lands provide to communities in the South, and features an appendix of maps that show in detail the water flowing from national forests in the South in relation to surface water intakes for nearby cities and towns.

The Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) worked together to produce the report’s analysis, tables, and the maps, which not only include detailed data on public water system intakes, but also number of customers served and percent of water originating on National Forest System lands for each of the 33 national forests managed by the Southern Region. The Southern Region manages over 13 million acres of forest land in the South, some 6 percent of total forest land in a region where most forests are privately owned.

“We identified specific communities and populations that depend on water originating from National Forest System lands and provided data quantifying the extent of that dependence,” said Peter Caldwell, research hydrologist at the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. “In all, National Forest System lands in the South contribute 8 trillion gallons per year to the total water supply of these communities.”

The report illustrates the extent to which people in the South depend on forested lands to provide them with clean reliable sources of drinking water. A combination of federal, state, and private forests cover over 30 percent of the region’s total land area and provide 36 percent of total water yield. More than 2100 individual communities rely directly on national forest land for drinking water, including large population areas such as Houston, Atlanta, Knoxville, and Birmingham.

Maintaining forest cover is an important way to protect water quality and regulate water flow. Most of the forest lands in the South are privately owned and are vulnerable to conversion to urban and other uses that result in costly tradeoffs including increased water treatment costs, increased frequency and severity of flood events, and degraded aquatic ecosystems.

The detailed maps in the report appendix can aid the partnerships needed to ensure the future availability of quality drinking water from forested lands in a region already experiencing water stress in some areas.  Partnerships among state, federal, and nongovernmental organizations are essential to ensure clean and dependable water supply in the future by keeping forest land in forests.

Access the full text of the report.

For more information, email Pete Caldwell at

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Landscape Ecologists to Go East for Annual Meeting

US-IALE April 3 -7, 2016 -- Asheville, North Carolina -- Early registration due February 15

by Stephanie Worley Firley, Eastern Threat Center

12.02. dome AshevilleAsheville, North Carolina, is a nationally known destination for arts and entertainment, outdoor recreation, and world-class food and beverages. In recent years, the city has landed on multiple “top ten” lists as a best place to live, play, and retire.

With this recognition comes rapid change — a flourishing tourism industry and an influx of new residents leading to increased development and associated economic and ecological pressures in the city and surrounding areas.

These shifting dynamics will provide a fitting backdrop when Asheville hosts landscape ecologists who will examine the theme of “Landscape Change” during the annual meeting of the U.S. Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (US-IALE) next spring, organized by the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center.

“We’re thrilled to organize the annual US-IALE meeting, which has not been held in the eastern United States since 2012,” says Bill Hargrove, a research ecologist with the Eastern Threat Center and co-chair of the meeting’s organizing committee. “With the simple theme of ‘Landscape Change,’ we’ll strive to capture the defining characteristic and the inherent nature of our modern world. We’ll discuss the challenges of many aspects of landscape change, and we expect to discover new opportunities for studying these challenges and collaborations to address them.” The meeting will take place April 3-7, 2016.

The field of landscape ecology includes a range of subjects studied at large scales, and the meeting’s program will reflect this variety. Presentations and discussions during 22 special symposia and 32 contributed sessions will cover topics such as family forests, climate change, bioenergy, invasive species, phenology, pollination ecology, infectious disease, amphibians, data mining, and much more. Half- and full-day workshops will provide attendees with hands-on training from peer experts, a poster session will allow for sharing and dialogue in a less formal setting, and scientific excursions will offer unique ways to explore issues associated with landscape change in and around Asheville.

The program will also include a workshop and other activities designed just for students — an essential component of US-IALE membership. “US-IALE recognizes the importance of the next generation and puts them front and center,” says Eastern Threat Center research ecologist and meeting co-chair Kurt Riitters, who also served as the president of US-IALE from 2012 to 2014. US-IALE honors its student base with awards for outstanding presentations and travel offsets and events for networking with landscape ecology professionals. “The US-IALE annual meeting is an ideal opportunity to broaden one’s perspective and make new connections – to deliver on the promise of ecology as an interdisciplinary science,” says Riitters.

Make plans now: “Early bird” registration for conference attendees and presenters is due February 15. Overnight accommodations at the conference hotel are available for a discounted group rate through March 11. For more information and the latest program updates, visit the meeting website or contact the organizing committee at

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Drought, Fire, and Forests

New assessment provides critical information for managing U.S. forests in the future

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery

The new assessment, Drought Impacts on U.S. Forests and Rangelands, provides critical information for the recently re-authorized National Integrated Drought Information System and meets the National Climate Assessment need for scientific information on drought.

The 2015 wildfire season was the costliest on record, with about $1.71 billion spent by the Forest Service on fighting fires. During one particular week in the summer of 2015, fire-fighting cost $1.6 million per hour. Most of the fires of 2015 hit western states like drought stricken California, where fire risk remains high due to 4 years of drought that’s resulted in the deaths of millions of trees.

As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change under climate change, it’s likely that drought – and associated disturbances such as insect outbreaks and wildfires – will only get worse across many areas of the U.S. Large stand-level changes in forests are already underway in many parts of the West, but all U.S. forests can be impacted by drought.

In the South, the 2011 drought set off timber fires in both Georgia and Texas. In 2007, over a third of the region was classified in “exceptional” drought and the city of Atlanta declared a water emergency. That same year, Georgia experienced its largest wildfire on record when the Georgia Bay Complex burned 441,705 acres of forest.

How can forest managers address the impacts of short-term and long-term drought conditions and manage their lands for a hotter and drier future? A newly published report by the U.S. Forest Service provides a national assessment of the impacts of drought on the nation’s forests and rangelands and gives the scientific foundation required to develop strategies that managers can use to increase the resiliency of their forests.

“Management actions can either mitigate or exacerbate the effects of drought,” said Jim Vose, the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientist who served as one of lead editors of the report. “This synthesis establishes the scientific foundation needed to manage forests for drought resiliency and adaptation.”

Forested land alone comprises nearly one-third of the total land area of the U.S.—the single largest classification of land cover in the country. Although the assessment is national in scope, it identifies and discusses key regional concerns such as large-scale insect outbreaks and increased wildfire risk in the western U.S.

“This is not to say that drought doesn’t affect forest resources of the East,” says Vose, project leader of the SRS Center for Integrated Forest Science. “The key difference between the western and eastern U.S. is the scale, frequency, and pace of change. The less obvious impacts in the East could have equal or greater consequences because of the large human populations living near forests and relying on them for many key purposes, including clean water.” For example, forested watersheds are critical for the water supplies of many cities, including New York City and Atlanta.

Major findings from the report include:

  • Drought projections suggest that some regions will become drier and that most will have extreme variations in precipitation.
  • Even if current drought patterns remained unchanged, warmer temperatures will amplify drought effects.
  • Drought and warmer temperatures will increase risks of large-scale insect outbreaks and larger wildfires, especially in the western U.S.
  • Drought and warmer temperatures will accelerate tree and shrub death, changing habitats and ecosystems in favor of drought-tolerant species.
  • Forest-based products and values – such as timber, water, habitat, and recreation opportunities – will be negatively impacted.
  • Forest and rangeland managers can mitigate some of these impacts and build resiliency in forests through appropriate management actions.

Learn more about drought impacts on southern forests and possible strategies to increase resilience.

Edited by Forest Service scientists in partnership with Duke University and published by the Southern Research Station, Drought Impacts on U.S. Forests and Rangelands provides critical information for the recently re-authorized National Integrated Drought Information System and meets the National Climate Assessment need for scientific information on drought.

More than 70 scientific experts from the Forest Service, other federal agencies, research institutions, and universities across the U.S. participated in the synthesis. The key issues addressed in the synthesis were identified from a series of virtual workshops with scientists and stakeholders.

Access the full report.

For more information, email Jim Vose at 

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Posted in Economics & Policy, Fire, Forest Products, Forest Watersheds, Insects and Diseases, Threats
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