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1 Introduction

The South's forests are expansive, diverse, and vital. Many forces-ranging from development to environmental change to timber management-continue to shape them. Although change has been constant, the rate of change is accelerating and has raised questions about the sustainability of southern forests and the broad complement of values they provide.

Sustainability is a sweeping concept-ensuring opportunities for the future as resources are used today. Pursuing sustainability requires broad and long-term commitment and ongoing monitoring, study, and action. The first step is to understand and anticipate the forces of change that will directly shape forested ecosystems and the social factors that are likely to drive those changes. Ultimately, society must manage change to achieve sustainability.

The Southern Forest Resource Assessment documents and analyzes the many factors that are affecting the forests of 13 Southern States (Figure 1.1). Our goal has been to answer several specific questions about southern forests and their uses, and in the process, to create a comprehensive base of information about them. This undertaking is complex given the multiple factors that influence forests, the diversity of the region's people and biota, and the history of land and resource uses.

see figure caption below for description plus link to source chapter page with data if available

Figure 1.1-The region examined by the Southern Forest Resource Assessment.

The South has a strong regional identity that is shaped in large part by its agrarian past and the predominantly private ownership of its land. With more than 5 million private owners controlling

89 percent of southern forests, forest area and conditions are influenced by diverse landowner interests and objectives. An ever-changing patchwork of forest uses and conditions has resulted.

Not surprisingly, interest in these forests extends far beyond landowners to all who use their varied goods and services. As organizers of this Assessment, we have tried to convene these many interests, elucidate and analyze their concerns with science and data, and present findings in a useful way (Figure 1.2). Monitoring change at a broad, multi-State scale and describing cumulative changes is a logical and important role for government in the area of private forestry.

see figure caption below for description plus link to source chapter page with data if available

Figure 1.2-Flow chart of the Southern Forest Resource Assessment Process.

This Assessment was organized around 23 questions that summarized public concerns about southern forests and their uses (Table 1.1). These questions were refined during a process that involved considerable public review in venues ranging from large meetings to one-on-one discussions. More than 750 people participated in the meetings; hundreds more provided written input. Once the questions were finalized, a rapid scientific assessment process was developed and employed to address each using available knowledge and data. Each question was addressed by subject experts who comprised the Assessment Team, and their work is presented as individual chapters in the Assessment's Technical Report. Data used in the Assessment has been assembled and made available through a public Web site. This report synthesizes and provides some interpretation of the detailed information contained in the Technical Report, but does not provide an exhaustive compilation of all of its findings.

Table 1.1-Major questions addressed during the Southern Forest Resource Assessment. Each question is addressed in a chapter of the technical report. The chapter label is used to refer to these Chapters in this summary document.


Assessment question


What are the history, status, and projected future of terrestrial wildlife habitat types and species in the South?


What are the history, status, and projected future of native plant communities in the South?


What are the likely effects of expanding human populations, urbanization, and infrastructure development on wildlife and their habitats?


What are the historical and projected future impacts of forest management and access on terrestrial ecosystems in the South?


What conditions will be needed to maintain plant and animal species associations in the South?


How have land uses changed in the South and how might changes in the future affect the area of forests?


What are the attitudes and values of southern residents toward forests and their management and how have they changed over time and do they differ by demographic groups?


How do current policies, regulations, and laws affect forest resources and their management?


What motivates private forest landowners to manage their forest land and how are their management objectives formed?


What role do forests play in employment and local economies in the South?


What are the supplies of and demands for forest based recreation and other noncommodity uses of forests in the South?


How do forests and their uses influence the quality of life in the South?


What are the history, status, and projected future demands for and supplies of wood products in the South?


What are the status and trends of forest management practices in the South?


How might existing and new technologies influence forest operations and resultant conditions of forests?


What are the history, status, and projected future of southern forests?


How have biological agents including insects and disease influenced the overall health of the South's forests and how will they likely affect it in the future?


How have abiotic factors including environmental stressors such as air pollution influenced the overall health of the South's forests and what are future effects likely to be?


What are the history, status, and likely future of water quality in southern forested watersheds?


What are the history, status, and likely future of forested wetlands in the South?


How have forest management activities and other forest uses influenced water quality, aquatic habitat, and designated uses in forested watersheds?


What are the implementation rates and effectiveness of BMP's in the South?


What are the history, status, and likely future of aquatic habitats and species in the South?

The Assessment effort was designed by participating agencies as a two-tiered approach. The Summary Report and the Technical Report represent the first tier, a broad comprehensive assessment of resource questions. The second tier will begin by identifying small areas within the South for additional study at finer scales. Findings from the broad scale assessment will be used to identify areas where forces and implications of change are currently strongly focused or are expected to be strongly focused. The number of subregional assessments sponsored by the Assessment will depend on availability of funding and other resources. Specific questions to be addressed will be determined by the issues faced in each area and will be defined at a later date. In addition, the findings of the Assessment coupled with the identification of small areas may prove useful for focusing the efforts of future researchers.

In the sections that follow, we examine how several forces of change have shaped and may continue to shape the forests of the South. Forces of change include social, biological, and physical forces. We then examine the history, status, and possible future of southern forests in four different dimensions: social and economic systems, forest area and conditions, terrestrial ecosystems, and aquatic ecosystems. We conclude by examining the broad implications of these findings and list major knowledge gaps and scientific uncertainties.

Throughout the sections that follow, the Technical Report is the source of all of our findings. Accordingly, individual sections that follow refer to the specific chapters in the Technical Report from which the findings are drawn, using the naming convention shown in Table 1.1. For example, SOCIO-1 refers to the first chapter in the Social and Economic Systems section, which addresses the question: "How have land uses changed in the South, and how might changes in the future affect the area of forests?" Each section is keyed to the chapters that are primary sources of findings. The individual chapters provide in depth analysis of the issues and extensive citations to primary references on each topic and should be reviewed for more detailed information.

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created: 21-NOV-2001