Southern forests are being shaped by several trends, including population growth, urbanization, changing landowner characteristics and extreme weather and fire events. Major topics identified by all Southern states include:
As part of their Forest Action Plans, states in the South also identified priority issues or areas where they plan to focus forest management strategies. States used various approaches for involving stakeholders and the general public and for identifying priority landscapes as well as in the development of their strategies.
Addressing urban forest management, enhancing opportunities for working forests and developing methods to restore forested ecosystems.
It is a priority across the South to conserve working forests in order to maintain the economic, environmental, and social benefits these lands provide. Restoring particular forest types—like longleaf pine— that have been in decline or specific landscape types is essential to maintaining environmental services such as clean, abundant water and wildlife habitat. The vast majority of forest land in the South is under private ownership. States included significant discussion of the impact of changing forest resource markets on the ability or willingness of owners to continue to maintain their lands in forest. They also highlighted changing ownership patterns as a challenge to conserving working forests. Changing landowner values and shifting public perceptions may also present challenges to actively managing forests for both economic and environmental benefit.
Identifying strategies for dealing with forest pests, wildland fire and extreme weather events.
Population growth and urbanization present challenges to maintaining healthy, productive, and resilient forests, while at the same time increasing the demand for forest ecosystem services. Each state and territory in the southern region identified some aspect of urbanization or urban forest management as a priority issue or threat, mentioning the detrimental effects of forest loss and fragmentation and the unique challenges of managing forests in an increasingly urban environment.
Supporting traditional forest markets while strengthening the value of clean air and water, wildlife habitat, places to recreate and ways to mitigate climate change.
Fire is a critical component for maintaining many types of Southern forests, and people have used fire to manage forests in the South for thousands of years. Excluding fire from these ecosystems can result in increased fire risk and a loss of biodiversity. However, a number of factors make it increasingly difficult to continue to use fire for forest management. As urbanization progresses, people and structures mingle with traditionally forested areas, creating concerns about liability. With urbanization also comes increased air pollution, heightening the importance of smoke management and even preventing prescribed burning in some areas. Finally, public perceptions can spur greater political restrictions on the use of fire. In this way, a number of priority issues combine to make fire management increasingly difficult.