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American Forest Foundation Blog

Southern Forest Futures Project Portrays Growing Threats to Family Forests

May 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm by Paul Trianosky

Paul Trianosky is the Director of Southern Forest Conservation for AFF.

This week the USDA Forest Service issued a new report on the future of Southern forests, aptly titled the Southern Forest Futures Project (SFFP).

I was privileged to have been among the reviewers of the Summary Report, which hints at areas of both concern and opportunity for Southern forest landowners.

The report is something of a sequel to the Southern Forest Resource Assessment, released in 2002.  While the assessment focused on the status and historical trends in Southern forests, this SFFP focuses on potential future scenarios that can be influenced by both proactive policy and cooperative, on-the-ground action. 

Through descriptions of potential opportunities and vulnerabilities, this report will serve as a useful guide for those of us interested in positively shaping the future of family forests.

One of the most troubling findings of the report is the projection that we could lose as much as 23 million acres of Southern forests by 2050—an area equivalent in size to Indiana.  This loss of woods will mostly be a result of urbanization, but also caused by such factors as pests and pathogens, and a shifting climate. 

On a more positive note, we have an opportunity to prevent much of that loss through thoughtful forest policy and incentives that will help landowners maintain their forestland, along with all the economic, aesthetic and ecological benefits they provide.

One important area to watch will be the emerging wood-based bioenergy industry, which could be a vital new market to Southern forestland owners if it is developed in a way that promotes good forest management.

Southern forests are nearly 90 percent privately owned, with most of that owned by families and individuals.  Given my own roots as a county forester and Tree Farm Inspector,  I know that the solutions to these accelerating problems are in our hands.

The American Forest Foundation will be working directly with landowners, and a multitude of public and private partners, to develop solutions that help prevent forest loss and extend sustainable management on the landscape. 

Visit http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/futures/ to read results from the Southern Futures Forest Project, and read a state by Paul Trianosky here: http://www.affoundation.org/future-of-forests-in-doubt-without-proactive-partn.  

The results of this three-year effort are being released halfway through the United Nations-designated International Year of Forests.  Visit http://www.celebrateforests.com/ to learn more.

Photo credit: Flickr's faul

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