WNC Receives Mixed Report Card on Forest Sustainability

A report card recently published by SRS and the University of North Carolina at Asheville gives Western North Carolina (WNC) mixed grades on forest sustainability.

The Western North Carolina Report Card provides an assessment of current economic, ecological and social conditions in the region relative to the sustainability of the areas forests, focusing on 18 counties in WNC and covering 7,480 square miles or 4.8 million acres. The report card is a collaborative project between the Forest Service and the University of North Carolina at Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center, with SRS and National Forests of North Carolina collaborating to represent the Forest Service.

The report card is organized around criteria and indicators that are recognized internationally as standards for measuring forest sustainability. Criteria are categories of conditions, including biodiversity, ecosystem health and socioeconomic benefits; indicators are measurable variables within the categories. The report card describes the status of indicators as improving, worsening, uncertain, stable, and stable/at risk.

The report describes the following indicators as improving:

  • Lands managed for conservation:  Since 2005, 60,000 acres of natural areas have been put into some form of conservation, an increase of about 5 percent.
  • Timber volume, growth and removals:  From 1984-2006, annual removals averaged less than 1 percent of the total inventory of growing stock trees, while average annual net growth was 3.9 percent. Total tree volume on timberland increased by 38 percent during this period.
  • Water and air resources:  Pollution has been reduced in many waterways, but development and habitat degradation continue to threaten aquatic environments. Passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 reduced emissions of sulfates and nitrogen oxides, fine particulates, and organic compounds, which in turn reduced ozone levels and improved ambient air quality.
  • Economic condition:  Overall, economic activity in WNC has grown steadily since 1970, especially in recreation and tourism, arts and crafts, and other sectors.

Authors of the report describe the following indicators as worsening:

  • Land conversion:  4.8 percent of the land (acres) in WNC was developed from 1976-2006. Development converted an average of 17 acres of land per day.
  • Forest fragmentation:  With the exception of public lands, forest fragmentation increases with urban encroachment, thus limiting the habitat for many native animal and plant species and making the forest more susceptible to non-native invasive species.
  • Species at risk:  Of 35 vascular plant and 31 vertebrate species, seven plants and two vertebrates are critically imperiled (species critically at risk globally because of extreme rarity or because of some factor(s) making it especially vulnerable to extinction). The rest are imperiled (species at global risk because of rarity or because of some factor(s), making it very vulnerable to extinction).
  • Natural communities (such as grassy bald or montane alluvial forest) at risk:  13 natural communities in WNC are imperiled and five critically imperiled.

The report card is an ongoing assessment of WNC forest sustainability and will be updated periodically.

Access the full text of the report at http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/39419

To request that a copy of the Western North Carolina Report Card on Forest Sustainability, please send you complete mailing address with the title, author and publication number (GTR-142) to pubrequest@fs.fed.us .