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Draft Study Plan

March 30, 2009

The US Forest Service, Southern Research Station and Southern Region, in partnership with the Southern Group of State Foresters, have launched the Southern Forest Futures Project (Futures Project). This effort builds directly on the Southern Forest Resource Assessment (2002) which identified several forces of change reshaping forests and the potential implications of these changes for economic conditions and ecological services. The Futures Project now examines how these and other emerging factors could reshape forests over the next half century and beyond. While SFRA forecasted some conditions, it focused primarily on understanding trends and conditions. The SFFP focuses now on forecasting future change and its potential implications to address the following goal:

…to inform forest management choices, policy discussions, and science programs with the best possible understanding of the long term implications of changes in southern forests

This document details the technical plan for conducting the Futures Project utilizing a three tier analysis approach. The plan is designed to address the simultaneous needs for a coherent regional outlook on forest futures and a more detailed analysis of ecological, economic, and social effects. The three tiers, forecasting analysis, meta-issue analysis, and subregional analysis are described in turn below.

Forecast Analysis: The first tier of analysis will address a number of alternative scenarios describing potential futures. These scenarios will be drafted by a team of experts using the input from public meetings as a starting point. Each scenario will describe a distinct set of possible, and internally consistent, social, economic, and biophysical forces and how they may play out over the next 50 years. Quantitative models will then be used to forecast the implications of these discrete scenarios. Note: Quantitative analysis of forest futures will be organized around a technical forecasting system, the US Forest Assessment System or USFAS (Wear 2005). This forecasting system simulates future forest conditions and structure in response to land and resource markets as well as climate and other disturbances for all states in the South (see figure).

Meta-Issue Analysis. This second tier of analysis will be used to address broad issues at the regional level using a knowledge-synthesis approach similar to that used in the Southern Forest Resource Assessment. That is, for each regional meta-issue developed through the public input process (see Wear, Greis, and Walters 2009), scientists/analysts will be enlisted to compile the best available information to address the various aspects of the issues. They will use forecast results and a deductive approach to describe the possible effects of scenarios on the evolution of these issues and gauge the uncertainty associated with effects.

Subregional Analysis: Every subregion of the South has unique ecological and social attributes and specific issues of concern regarding forest ecosystem and economic changes. What's more, most ecological and forest resource research is specific to particular ecosystem types. In this third tier of analysis, a team for each sub-region will interpret findings from the other two tiers. These teams will evaluate the "downscaled" results of the scenario-based forecasts (tier 1) and the findings of the regional meta-issue analyses (tier 2) to further describe specific implications for each sub-region. In a few limited cases, additional expertise will be secured at the sub-regional level to address very specific sub-regional issues not addressed by the other tiers.

map of the southern United States subdivided into five subregions

For the Futures Project, the South has been divided into five large sub-regions (see figure). These divisions are roughly based on aggregations of similar ecological units and each has separate social/cultural/economic identities as well. However, individual sub-regions are not homogenous, so the sub-regional teams will strive to address the diversity of conditions and concerns within their sub-region. The five sub-regions are:

  • Coastal Plain—the southeastern coastal plain from Virginia, down the Atlantic Coast and across the Gulf Coast to the Mississippi Valley.
  • Piedmont—the Southern Appalachian Piedmont from northern Virginia through Alabama to the Mississippi Valley.
  • Appalachian-Cumberland—including the Southern Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau and ecological sections to the north of these mountains. This includes the entire states of Kentucky and Tennessee as well as portions of Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia.
  • Lower Mississippi Valley—from Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Mid South—all land to the west of the Mississippi Valley and extending to the western boundaries of Texas and Oklahoma.

Note: In addition, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are initiating a forest resource assessment as a first step toward forecasts of future Islands forests. An Islands Team will eventually be formed and a parallel approach to evaluating the Islands forest future will be linked to the Futures Project.

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Last Modified: 05/17/2011