The Latest on Tennessee Forests


” FIA survey data show that hardwood types continue to dominate Tennessee forests. Photo by James Newby.

Tennessee Forests, 2009, a new resource bulletin published by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), provides results from the eighth complete survey of Tennessee’s forest resources, showing that forests continue to cover about half of the states 26 million acres with a slight gain in forest land during the period 2005 to 2009.

“The small gains in forest land for the period surveyed continues what may be a leveling off of the trend of increasing forest land in the state since 1971, which was largely due to forests regenerating on unused agricultural fields,” says Chris Oswalt, SRS Research Forester who wrote the report with fellow FIA researchers. “This may be a precursor to forecasted declines due to fragmentation, parcelization, and associated land use changes. Currently, the area of farm land reverting back to forest is greater than the area of forest being lost to development pressure.”

The survey also showed a steady decline in forest industry ownership of land, from an estimated 1.3 million acres in 1999 to only 374,000 acres in 2009. This is largely due to the increasing trend of forest industry divesting their holdings.

Conducted by the SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) unit in coordination with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry, the report provides data and information forest land managers and policymakers can use to help shape the future health and sustainability of Tennessee forests. Other trends discussed in the report include:  

The survey showed exotic hardwoods such as paulownia (or princesstree) rapidly expanding in Tennessee forests. Photo courtesy of
  • Hardwood forest types continue to dominate the Tennessee landscape; one-half of the 20 most dominant species are either oak or hickory type, with the oak-hickory forest type comprising 73 percent (10.3 million acres) of the 14 million acres of Tennessee forest land in 2009.
  • In the 2009 inventory, private landowners (including industry) owned an estimated 84 percent (11.8 million acres) of the forest land in Tennessee, while 16 percent was publicly administered by local, State, or Federal agencies.
  • Although the 1999 to 2002 southern pine beetle epidemic was the worst in Tennessee since the 1970s, the survey found that many of the impacted pine forests have either been replanted or have naturally regenerated to mostly hardwood-type forests.
  • Tennessee forests are aging. Early successional acres (forest stands with mostly young small diameter trees) declined over the period from 1961 to 2009. More recently, however, the area of forests in the zero to 10-year age class started increasing. These young forests provide unique habitat and will become more important as older forests decline.
  • In 2009, field crews identified an estimated 46,000 acres of a forest type designated as “other exotic hardwoods,” a 190 percent increase since 1999. The rapid expansion of exotic hardwoods (nonnative species such as tree-of-heaven, paulownia, and mimosa) and of invasive plants in general indicates a growing problem for Tennessee forests.

 For more, access Tennesee Forests, 2009.

For more information, email Chris Oswalt at

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