FIA Update on Alabama’s Forests

Forest area steady in 2016, laurel wilt a growing concern

In the forests of Alabama you’ll find longleaf pine woodlands, bottomland swamps, sinkholes, and springs. You’ll see fox squirrels, indigo snakes, gopher tortoises, and pitcher plants.

alabama-cheha-state-park
Hardwoods comprise most of Alabama’s live trees by volume. Top tree species include sweetgum, water oak, tulip poplar, white oak, and red maple. Photo by Andrew Hartsell, USFS.

The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program of the U.S. Forest Service collects field data on forest resources across the state, visiting around 700 of the more than 5,600 plots each year. The surveys are done in cooperation with the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Andrew Hartsell, SRS research forester, compared the most recent 2016 survey data with those collected in 2015 and published a summary as a Resource Update.

The data show that Alabama’s forest area decreased only slightly between the two measurements, less than 0.1 percent.

“Alabama has 23.1 million acres of forest land. We estimate that there were 16.98 billion live trees in Alabama in 2016, which is consistent with the data from 2015,” says Hartsell.

Close to 70 percent of Alabama’s land area is forested. Much of that — 6.4 million acres — is in the Southeast survey unit. The most densely forested lands are in the state’s Southwest-North and West Central units.

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Alabama is divided into six FIA survey units. Image courtesy of Andrew Hartsell, USFS.

FIA survey crews recorded 122 different tree species. Loblolly pine, sweetgum, water oak, red maple, and tulip poplar were the most common.

Almost 40 percent of Alabama’s forests are classified as loblolly-shortleaf pine forest type. Oak-hickory forest type comprises about 30 percent.

When looking at the volume of trees, hardwoods are still on top. They make up 52 percent of the live tree volume, or 20.5 million cubic feet.

“Since 2015, Alabama has seen an increase in net volume, average annual net growth, and annual growth in both hardwoods and softwoods,” states Hartsell.

Average annual mortality has decreased, along with hardwood and softwood removals.

“Growth is exceeding removals right now, with growth at 2.1 million cubic feet and removals at 1.2 million cubic feet,” says Hartsell. “The declining trend in removals since 2011 may become significant if it continues into the future.”

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Alabama’s diverse forests provide food and habitat for woodland species like the fox squirrel. Photo by Andrew Hartsell, USFS.

Forest health specialists across the state are keeping an eye on laurel wilt disease. The disease, caused by a fungus carried by the non-native redbay ambrosia beetle, is spreading across the Southeast and wiping out trees in the laurel family. Sassafras, redbay, swamp bay, pondberry, and avocado are all susceptible.

Laurel wilt was detected in five Alabama counties at the time of the report’s publication. The disease has since been found in eight counties, in addition to nine adjacent counties in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.

Alabama has more than 4.6 billion sassafras and redbay trees, found most abundantly in its North Central survey unit. The good news is that laurel wilt disease has not been found in this area.

Current treatment options for trees with the disease are limited to chipping or burning the infested wood and injecting high value trees with fungicides.

The spread of laurel wilt disease can be prevented by limiting the movement of firewood. Buy firewood where you plan to burn it, and don’t take any unused firewood home with you.

Read the full text of the update.

For more information, email Andrew Hartsell at ahartsell@fs.fed.us.

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