Outlook for Mid-South Forests: The Next 50 Years

Subregional report from the Southern Forest Futures Project

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Delivery Group
Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. Photo by Jim Guldin.

Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. Photo by Jim Guldin.

The Southern Forest Futures Project (SFFP) started in 2008 as an effort to study and understand the various forces reshaping the forests across the 13 states of the South over the next 50 years. Chartered by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) along with the Southern Group of State Foresters, the project examined a variety of possible futures and how they might affect forests and their many ecosystems and values.

Because of the great variations in forest ecosystems across the South, the Futures Project produced separate findings and implications by subregion, including the newly published report for the Mid-South, the westernmost of the five subregions located within Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The report breaks the Mid-South into four sections: the Ozark-Ouachita Highlands, the Cross Timbers, the High Plains, and the West Texas Basin and Range.

“The four sections of the Mid-South region offer vistas of unparalleled ecological variety, species diversity, and scenic beauty,” says Jim Guldin, lead author of the report and project leader of the SRS Restoring Longleaf Pine Ecosystems and Southern Pine Ecology and Management research units. “It’s a huge area where the landscape varies from the mountains of northern Arkansas to windswept high plains prairies to West Texas deserts. The Mid-South supports more — and more varied — ecosystems than anywhere else in the South.”

Davis Mountains in West Texas. Photo by Ron Billings, Texas Forest Service.

Davis Mountains in West Texas. Photo by Ron Billings, Texas Forest Service.

Over the next 50 years, the Mid-South will face challenges that include population increases, the likelihood of increased drought coupled with increased demand for water and water supply stress, sea level rise along the Gulf of Mexico, and invasive native species. Report chapters provide background and address issues for each of the four sections of the Mid-South. The report opens with key findings for the entire region, including the following:

  • The rapidly increasing population of the Mid-South places increasing stress on natural resources; predicted increases in demand for water, warmer temperatures, and decreases in precipitation are likely to increase water supply stress over the next 50 years.
  • Warming temperatures, increasing drought, and rising human populations will increase the threat of wildfires, which are expected to occur more frequently and are likely to cover larger areas.
  • Management recommendations for Mid-South forests and woodlands may need to be modified and refined to address increased drought and threats from insects, diseases, and native plant invasions.
  • Forests and woodlands would benefit from more prescribed burning, but predicted climate change effects will reduce the number of days suitable for prescribed burning; in addition, concerns about smoke from prescribed burning will rise with increased population in wildland-urban interfaces.
  • The combination of warmer temperatures and less water on the landscape will affect the geographic distribution and population numbers of plant and animal species. Those with limited geographic ranges, low genetic diversity, and special habitat requirements may be at higher risk for decline and even extirpation at local levels.
  • In the Mid-South, native plant species such as mesquite, juniper, and eastern red cedar present more of a challenge than nonnative invasive plants.
  • Unlike nonnative plants, invasive insects and diseases currently threaten Mid-South species such as ash , soapberry and red bay; it is likely that other nonnative pests not yet known will become important by the end of the 21st century.

Understanding the challenges presented in the report and the implications they could have for management and policy in the region is critical for maintaining the diversity, health, productivity, and sustainability of the forests, woodlands, and grasslands of the Mid-South.

For more key findings and analyses, access the full text of the report.

For more information, email Jim Guldin at jguldin@fs.fed.us

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New Report and Interactive Map Detail Best Management Practices for States

Partner Highlight: National Association of State Foresters

Adapted from NASF news release
Setting a streamside management zone (SMZ) is one of the best management practices used by forest managers. The blue painted tree marks the edge of the SMZ. Photo courtesy of Bugwood.org.

Setting a streamside management zone (SMZ) is one of the best management practices used by forest managers. The blue painted tree marks the edge of the SMZ. Photo courtesy of Bugwood.org.

In recognition of Earth Day, the National Association for State Foresters (NASF) has released a report on forestry best management practices (BMPs) for water quality, along with an interactive map detailing practices in each state.

State forestry agencies have been developing BMPs since the 1970s, building a reliable set of standards that help protect local water quality when undertaking silvicultural activities.

“Best management practices are an effective way of protecting water quality and preventing pollution,” said Jim Karels, Florida State Forester and NASF President. “Much of the nation’s drinking water originates from forests and these measures ensure that those lands continue to provide such an important societal need.”

The research project analyzing data submitted by all 50 states was conducted by a team of researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and commissioned by NASF. The research confirms that state-managed best management practices programs are effective and working as intended to protect water quality.

State forestry agency BMPs cover activities on nearly 500 million acres of state and private forestland. These forests provide a wide range of public benefits, including filtering more than 50 percent of the nation’s drinking water. State forestry agencies can use the research findings to continue to evolve and improve their best management programs by comparing how other states approach this responsibility.

An interactive, state-by-state map has been developed to display the research findings and recommendations from all 50 state forestry agencies for BMP implementation. The map is the most recent, complete and comprehensive map of research studies in this field, and provides the forest sector access to the standards and regulations that guide the responsible management of woodlands in each state.

Landowners and forest product manufacturers who participate in forest certification can use the map to address water quality protection requirements in certification standards.  Policy makers can gain a comprehensive understanding of how provisions of the federal Clean Water Act are supported by each state forestry agency.

The project was funded by NASF, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc.’s Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant Program.

The National Association of State Foresters is comprised of the directors of state and territorial forestry agencies and the District of Columbia. NASF seeks to advance sustainable forestry, conservation, and protection of forestlands and their associated resources.

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Urban Forestry South Tests New Urban Forest Sustainability and Management Audit System

Members of the Agnes Scott College audit team conduct a beta-test of the urban forest sustainability and management audit system. Photo by Jim Abbott.

Members of the Agnes Scott College audit team
conduct a beta test of the urban forest sustainability
and management audit system. Photo by Jim Abbott.

An audit system developed by the U.S. Forest Service can help urban forest programs benchmark their resources and program capacity, and provide direction for urban forest management programs and plans.

Urban Forestry South, a science delivery center of the Forest Service Southern Research Station Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit, recently beta tested their new Urban Forest Sustainability and Management Audit (UFSMA) System at Agnes Scott College, a small women’s liberal arts college in Decatur, Georgia.

“As a member of Arbor Day Foundation Tree Campus USA® program, Agnes Scott was a great location to try out this new system,” said Ed Macie, science delivery team leader for Urban Forestry South. “This audit system is designed to provide a framework for either internal (ad hoc) audits by program managers or for independent evaluations by an external lead auditor and audit team.”

The primary objectives of the audit system are to:

  • benchmark changes in urban forest program capacity over time;
  • provide program direction that increases the level of professionalism and the application of best management practices in urban forest management;
  • increase the health of the green assets managed by the program; and
  • optimize management for identified ecosystem services.

The audit system can be used to evaluate municipal, college, or corporate campus urban forest management programs. The audit checklist can also be used in a less formal internal process to develop a cursory “snapshot” of an urban forest management program for the purpose of identifying the program’s strengths and evaluating its perceived deficiencies.

“The beta test at Agnes Scott College was very successful and resulted in a strong recognition of the value of the campus’s urban forest program by campus administration and leadership,” said Macie. “As a result, recommendations for program changes are being presented to the College Board of Trustees and an implementation plan is being drafted per the audit’s recommendations.”

Urban Forestry South plans to continue testing the audit system this year with municipalities and other college campuses with Arbor Day Foundation Tree City® and Tree Campus USA® designations.

For more information, email Ed Macie at emacie@fs.fed.us.

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