Private landowners hold 86 percent of the forested land in the southern U.S., with two-thirds of this area owned by families or individuals. The average size of family-owned forest holdings is small: only 29 acres (although 60% of family-owned forests exceed 100 acres in size). Two-thirds of these private landowners harvest and sell trees from their land.
In recent history, much of the South’s forests were owned by big timber production industries. . . .
The executive director of the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit education and advocacy group dedicated to protecting southern forest ecosystems, points out that pressure on the region’s forests is tremendous: disturbance to forest cover in the southern U.S. was four times more than that of all South American forests between the years 2000 and 2012 (see Science Daily, November 14, 2014).
The Global Forest Watch interactive map depicts the vast scale of transformation of the region’s forests via logging, clearance, and development over the past two centuries. Natural forests in the South are being cut at increasing scales and scope for both timber products and urban development. While about 20% of southern forests are in managed pine tree plantations, half of the region’s timber products come from logging of natural forests. Data gleaned from the Global Forest Watch map show that the South has lost 18 percent of its overall forest cover in the decade and a half since the beginning of the 21st century.
Recently released studies chartered by the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region and Southern Research Station, in collaboration with Southern State Foresters, analyzed the situation and trends, and portray a variety of possible futures for southern forests and their many ecosystems and values. We recommend you read the report of the Southern Forest Futures Project (SFFP) and especially Chapter 6 of the SFFP technical report, which examines the dynamics of forest ownership, forecasts of future change, and implications of these changes for forest management and conditions.
We also suggest consulting the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Forest Products – An Economic Engine “storymap,” which describes changes and trends in timber production in the southern U.S.
Note: Information for this article was compiled from several online articles: “A Bleak Future for the U.S. Wood basket? Southern Forests under Threat” by Morgan Erickson-Davis as part of the Global Forest Reporting Network’s Mongabay series of e/news reports (April 6, 2016); and “Who Will Own Southern Forests in the Future: Findings about Family Forests and Industrial Ownership” by Zoe Hoyle, USFS Southern Research Station Delivery Group (March 31, 2016, posting).