Record droughts, rising temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, insect and plan invasions, and more intense storm events all pose threats to the health of Southern forests. Scientists project that increases in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns will cause these disturbances to become more common, occurring with greater intensity or duration.
The use of sound management practices can prepare and protect trees and other forest resources from increasing risks. Management strategies using the best current science will enable you as a landowner to better protect your land and resources and conserve the region’s forests into the future.
Risks to Healthy Forests
Invasive and aggressive plant and insect species may increasingly outcompete or harm your forest and any native species you have on your property. Wildfire intensity and frequency is expected to increase across the region. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and fluctuating temperature and precipitation levels will impact timber resources. Higher CO2 levels generally increase growth rate in trees, but decreased water and nutrient availability could offset these increased growth rates. Heat stress may also limit the growth of some southern pine and hardwood species. Intensified extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and ice storms, are also expected to lead to increased timber damage or loss. Shifts in rainfall patterns will lead to periods of flooding and drought that can significantly impact water resources such as lakes, rivers and ponds. Increases in heavy downpours and more intense hurricanes can lead to greater erosion and more sedimentation in waterways.
Warmer temperatures, along with changes in spring and summer rain, are projected to lead to increased periods of drought throughout the Southeast. Forests are more susceptible to damage from pests such as Southern pine beetles and Ips bark beetles during droughts. Higher winter temperatures are likely to increase the distribution and intensity of pine beetle outbreaks in the following growing season. Stress from drought, and/or higher temperatures, in combination with pest outbreaks, have the potential to cause large-scale forest dieback.
Management Strategies to Minimize Forest Threats
Practicing sound forest management can increase the resilience of your forest for years to come. Practices such as reducing forest fuel loads can reduce wildfire risk, for example. Thinning your forest increases water and nutrient availability and therefore promotes growth of the remaining trees and forest health. Planting forests of mixed species with varying traits, or single species with mixed genetic traits will contribute to resiliency. In addition, various site preparation activities, including fertilization, can help minimize future threats. Always contact a professional forester to assist you with proper management and care of your forest.