Futures Report Charts Changes for Southern Forests


High elevation forest in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Photo by Zoe Hoyle.

The Southern Forest Futures Project started in 2008 with a series of public meetings across the South to gather perceptions and input about the future of the regions forests. Project leaders then used expert analysis and models to forecast and interpret changes in southern forests under multiple scenarios over the next several decades.

The project’s goal is to provide forecasts and background information that decision and policy makers, planners, landowners, forest managers, and others can use to make informed decisions.

Early this year, the U.S. Forest Service and the Southern Group of State Foresters published the Southern Forest Futures Project Summary Report, which condenses findings from a comprehensive 17-chapter Technical Report to be published later this summer.

The participants in the public meetings held throughout the 13 southern states in 2008 helped identify the topics to be addressed in the project. A team of more than 50 scientists, researchers, foresters and other experts with the Forest Service, state forestry agencies and universities also took part in the project.

Cypress trees in bottomland forests of lower Coastal Plain. Photo by Bill Lea.

The Summary Report addresses the following 10 key findings:

The interaction of population growth, climate change, timber markets, and invasive species will define the South’s future forests.

Urbanization is forecasted to result in forest losses, increased carbon emissions, and stress to other forest resources.

Southern forests could sustain higher timber production levels, but demand is the limiting factor and demand growth is uncertain

A strong market for biomass energy could bring wood demands that are large enough to trigger changes in forest conditions, management, and markets.

A combination of factors has the potential to decrease water availability and degrade quality; forest conservation and management can help mitigate these effects.

Invasive species create a great but uncertain potential for ecological changes and economic losses.

An extended fire season combined with obstacles to prescribed burning would increase wildland fire-related hazards.

Private landowners continue to control the future of forests in the South, but ownership patterns could change and modify the future.

Threats to species of conservation concern are widespread but are especially concentrated in the Coastal Plan and the Appalachian-Cumberland sub regions.

Increasing populations would increase demand for forest-based recreation while the availability of land to meet these needs is forecasted to decline.

Later this year, the Forest Service will release separate reports that detail the findings and implications for forest management and conservation issues for the following five sub-regions of the South: Piedmont, Coastal Plain,  Appalachian/Cumberland, Mississippi Alluvial Valley and Mid-South.

For more information, email John Greis at jgreis@fs.fed.us or Dave Wear at dwear@fs.fed.us

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