Silvicultural options in forests of the southern United States under changing climatic conditions
Changing climatic conditions add a measure of uncertainty to sustainable forest management in forest ecosystems of the southern United States. Increasing temperatures and decreasing patterns of precipitation especially in the Mid-South suggest that water stress, drought, and changing patterns of natural disturbance events will challenge managers in the twenty-first century. Efforts to manage southern forest stands in the face of changing climatic conditions will require a diversity of approaches including tactics to promote genetic diversity in natural and planted stands, encouragement of species diversity as new stands develop, and considering ways to promote diverse stand structures that encourage recruitment of new age cohorts within stands on a regular basis. With predicted changes in climatic conditions, forest ecosystems across the South will respond in different ways, depending upon whether or not they are currently being managed. Unmanaged stands will change in unpredictable ways that reflect the absence of management. But in managed stands, silvicultural treatments are available for foresters to apply to respond and adapt to maintain productive forests adapted to those changing conditions. Finally, one approach often advocated to deal with this uncertainty is a strategy for assisted migration, in which species are established in locations beyond their current range, where predicted climatic conditions are likely to occur at some point in the future within which those species will survive. This is basically an exercise in artificial regeneration, but will likely be more complicated than simply planting a few exotic seedlings and hoping for the best. The technical and practical challenges of planting species at the margins or beyond their natural range include a lack of research support especially for species not commonly planted in the region. Moreover, planting is costly, and because of that, intensive practices are more likely on institutional and government lands rather than family forests. In the end, all of these concepts fall within the practice of silviculture, and are tactics with which the profession is
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