Southern Forest Outlook: Synthesis of Regional Trends and Futures

SFO results are expected to provide insights on a range of outcomes and uncertainties and inform robust decision making and policy discussions. USFS image.

The USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station and Southern Region, in partnership with the Southern Group of State Foresters, is leading an update to the Southern Forest Assessment Library, with a new regional assessment called the Southern Forest Outlook, or SFO.

The SFO update will inform forest sector decision makers, partners, and the interested public about observed trends, anticipated futures, and critical issues based on syntheses of existing research, data, and 50-year projections.

Changing land use, forest product markets, forest management practices, and broad scale disturbances mean increasing uncertainty for southern forests and the ecosystem services they provide. While much of the assessment library remains relevant, public input has highlighted fire, water, and markets as critical forest issues in the South. New projection models and research allow for new insights into these critical issues.

John Coulston, SRS supervisory research forester, Daniel McInnis, USDA Forest Service Southern Region shared stewardship coordinator, and Stephanie Laseter, SRS biological scientist and liaison for the Station and the Southern Region, are leading the SFO.

“The findings from these landscape-level assessments will help the Forest Service and our partners adapt forest management plans and activities to address changing conditions,” says Ken Arney, regional forester for the Southern Region. “The Southern Forest Outlook will help all forest landowners in the South better address the critical issues of fire, water, and forest products markets.”

The SFO is organized by the following components: projection and trend updates, issue analysis, and reporting. Issue analyses will be question driven and focus on three primary issues:

  1. Fire in a changing ecological and social landscape, led by research meteorologist and Center Director Scott Goodrick, Center Director Danny Lee, and Shardul Raval, Director of Southern Region Fire and Aviation Management.
  2. Timber market conditions and futures, led by senior research economist Jeff Prestemon.
  3. Water and forest interactions, led by research hydrologist Peter Caldwell and senior research ecologist Jim Vose.
SFO researchers will tackle questions about anticipated changes in prescribed fire windows and how future demand for wood energy might affect forests, prices, and harvest. Photo by Johnny Boggs, USFS.

The issue analyses will be integrated with an analysis of projected changes in land use and forest conditions led by Coulston. Each issue will have a technical report that summarizes the status, trends, and expected future conditions.

The team has drafted a study plan outlining their research questions and methods. Many of the research questions build upon key issues identified in the Southern Forest Futures Project. Through forums with members of the Southern Group of State Foresters, National Forest System leaders, and other partners, the team reviewed previous assessments to identify where updates are needed.

The SFO team is seeking comments on the draft study plan by September 11, 2020. Comments will be reviewed and addressed, then a final study plan will be released.

“These assessments are an important part of the work we do with the Southern Region and Southern Group of State Foresters,” says SRS director Rob Doudrick. “These aren’t a one-and-done product, but a continual assessment of new information, data products, and issues. The Outlook is the latest chapter in this library, and it’s exciting to see it underway.”

Learn more about the Southern Forest Outlook.

Submit comments on the draft study plan by September 11, 2020 to Stephanie Laseter at

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.


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