Southern Forest Resource Assessment: Responses

Southern Forest Resource Assessment: Responses

Stocker, Lisa B

In a letter to the cochairs of the Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA), Society of American Foresters (SAF) President David Smith stated that the SERA is a valuable study that confirms the important role of professional resource managers in achieving and continuing the sustainable management of our southern forests. Some of the most important factors in keeping these forests healthy and abundant, he says, will be maintaining forest management options, developing and enhancing economic opportunities for forest products, and delivering sound professional advice.

The southern region is composed of some of the nation’s most productive, economically important, and ecologically diverse forestland. Therefore, those directly involved in the management of that land-forestry consultants, universities, government and nongovernment agencies, and private forest industry-as well as local communities, landowners, and consumers have an interest in and are affected by the findings of the SFRA.

Many SAF members who live and work in the South are actively engaged in the issues addressed by the report. Therefore, we decided to solicit their views on the SFRA process and draft findings, with the help of SAF Council members and policy committee chairs in the southern region. Their responses are included in the following section.

One member describes overall implications for institutional investors. Two others comment more specifically on the wetlands chapter of the SFRA. A member of the committee on forest policy discusses regulatory implications. The chair of the Wildlife and Fish Ecology (C5) Working Group presents a perspective on southern wildlife communities. Appalachian SAF members provide insight into the fragmentation and urbanization issues encountered in North Carolina, while the Texas SAF executive committee takes up the question of pine plantation effects on ecology.

This SFRA response series clearly demonstrates the breadth of issues addressed in the report and reconfirms the important role SAF members have in the southern region. We encourage others to share their views of the SFRA and its implications for forest management and practice with Journal readers, through letters to the editor ( as well as full articles.

-Lisa B. Stocker

Chair, SAF Committee on Forest Policy

Response: A Complicated Environment for Institutional Investors

Kate Robie

Many trends and conditions described in the Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA) will affect financial returns from timberland and the general climate for timber investment. Institutional investors– pension funds, foundations, endowments, and large family trusts-are a rapidly growing forest ownership group in the South. They are acquiring timberland so they can benefit from its favorable investment traits: attractive rate of return, good cash flow, low volatility of returns (and thus low investment risk), and countercyclicality-timberland’s tendency to generate positive returns when returns on financial assets are negative.

Institutional investors hire timber investment management organizations (TIMO) to acquire and manage their portfolios. TIMOs are charged with structuring and managing investments to meet the clients’ objectives, nearly always including maximum investment return over the long run-seven to 10 years minimum, often much longer.

Returns on timberland accrue in part from biological sources. Timber growth-more wood volume over time, plus more value per unit of volume as diameter increases-provides a substantial portion of the total return. Returns also come from timber price appreciation, land price appreciation, and the net of nontimber cash flows, such as hunting lease income, pine straw sales, land management costs, and fees paid to TIMOs by investors.

Investment outlook. SFRA suggests that ownership by TWO clients will continue to grow significantly. This implies that the South will remain attractive to institutional timberland investors, barring major changes in regulatory climate, timber productivity, and strong stumpage markets-factors that have been cornerstones of past investment success.

Given investors’ interests, more land will be managed with rate of return as the dominant-although not sole– objective. Because institutional investors typically are patient and not heavily reliant on regular cash flow from their timberland, more timber will be withheld from the market when prices are low.

There may be higher demand for the various forest certification systems, as an increasing number of institutions seek to document that their investments are socially responsible.

If the strong institutional interest in timberland outlives the current buyer’s market for property, we may see heightened competition among TIMOs for timberland acquisitions. Depending on how much market activity comes from TIMO transactions, timberland prices could inflate more from competition among TIMOs than from changes in the investment’s fundamentals.

Features and trends that characterize the region as a whole will not necessarily apply to specific areas, because forest conditions and stumpage markets tend to be highly localized. Some parts of the South, however, appear to be growing more attractive for investment than they have been in the past. For example, SFRA anticipates that markets will become stronger outside the traditional core production areas, thanks to overall higher demand for wood and to processing technology that allows more use of smaller, lower– quality timber. Institutional investors who are ahead of this trend may realize stronger returns.

Supply. Institutional investment is unlikely to be constrained by capacity: According to SFRA, 89 percent of southern timberland overall is in private hands. Of this, only 12 percent is owned by “other corporations,” which include TIMO clients. Even though holdings of the forest industry– TIMOs’ most important source of large acquisitions-have declined, industry still owns about 22 percent of the South’s private timberland. The rest is held by farmers and other individuals. Capacity for investment should remain ample, but in some areas the increased parcelization forecast by SFRA may cause a slight upward trend in land management costs and in the transaction costs associated with property acquisition.

Growth and value. According to SFRA, there are many opportunities to increase timber productivity in the South through use of silvicultural treatments, thereby boosting the growth component of investment returns. TIMOs can be expected to analyze these opportunities carefully, looking for treatments whose cost is justified by projected increases in return.

The land value component of timberland investments should continue its upward trend as several factors combine to increase scarcity. SFRA describes an ever-growing regional population in urban centers but also in many rural areas. It anticipates a slight decline in total forested acreage, the result of forest losses to development in the eastern part of the region, somewhat offset by agriculture-to-forest conversions in the western part. Upward pressure on land prices should be especially strong in eastern areas within reach of big cities.

An increasingly urban population is expected to support more regulation of forestry as well as funding for environmental regulation in general. Although additional regulation could increase management costs, regulatory restrictions on harvesting could also constrain timber supply and put upward pressure on prices.

Demand. Timber production and industry presence in the region are expected to remain strong and to cause rising timber demand. However, the report does not address the long-term effect of recent industry consolidation, which clearly has weakened competition in many local markets.

SFRA describes a crosscurrent of forces that will have strong bearing on future price trends. Its base scenario assumes demand for southern timber will rise 1.6 percent per year over the 40-year analysis period, stemming from expectations for gross national product, population growth, and trends in international timber markets.

This demand assumption is one of several that drive forecasts for the level of timber harvest, investment in forest management, forest productivity, and land use. Many of these variables are difficult to forecast and quite sensitive to one another; for example, less growth in forest productivity would lead to substantially higher timber prices if other factors remain the same.

SFRA states unequivocally, “The South is an economically, culturally, and ecologically complex region, and multiple forces of change are simultaneously affecting forest conditions…. Although change has been constant, the rate of change is accelerating….” Although the South is likely to remain attractive to institutional investors in years to come, the manner in which these forces will combine to affect investments-particularly timber prices-is uncertain.

One thing does seem sure: TIMOs and their clients will be operating in a more variable and complicated environment. Successful selection and management of investment-grade timberland will require more skill and thoughtful analysis than ever.

Kate Robie ( is principal, TimberLink LLC, 255 River Springs Drive, Atlanta, GA 303282021.

Response: Water Quality, Wetland, and Aquatic Systems John F. Godbee Jr. and Jim Shepard

The Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA) represents a comprehensive and laudable effort by scientists, regulators, and practitioners to assess the health and sustainability of our southern forests. A critical component of their work was examining how well forests protect water quality, wetlands, and aquatic systems and the interaction of these functions with wildlife and plant communities.

Strengths of the report. SFRA accurately reported the dynamics of landuse change and the its effects on water quality, wetland acreage and functions, and aquatic species. The diversity of wetland forest types, management regimes, and the implications of past and present practices were reviewed. Bottomland hardwoods were correctly identified as the most common wetland forest type in the region. The report accurately characterizes typical forestry practices in these bottomland hardwood forests as clearcut harvesting, followed by natural regeneration and recovery to a mature forest within 50 years. Little emphasis, however, is given to the responsible management of pine plantations in forested wetlands through, for example, the joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers (EPA 1995).

The wetlands chapter correctly noted that silvicultural practices can cause water quality problems and loss of wetland functions. The report also quoted several recent university research projects that called such effects minor and short lived and found that sediment trapping may be temporarily enhanced by timber harvesting.

The authors provided a reasonably accurate description of how silviculrural practices have temporary effects on wetland functions in general and on wildlife habitat. They note that having a landscape mosaic that includes wetland forests at different stages of development due to ongoing timber management provides the diversity of habitat needed by the rich array of plants and animals that inhabit southern wetland forests. They also correctly noted that, although forest management activities along streams can have a significant impact on certain aquatic species, the implementation of best management practices generally reduces the role that forest management plays in the viability of aquatic species.

Concerns. Our most substantive concern is SFRA’s reliance on the US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) to estimate wetland losses. The authors cite NWI as their source for the 102,239 acres of southern wetland forests “lost” to silviculture between 1986 and 1997. The implication is that these acres were wetland forests in 1986 but had been converted to uplands by 1997 through the application of silvicultural practices.

The assessment should have examined more critically NWI’s (2000) most recent report. NWI has been publishing national statistics on wetland losses for nearly two decades, with reports for the 1780s to 1980s, the 1950s to 1970s, and the 1970s to 1980s. Interestingly, the 2000 report is the first that identifies silviculture as a cause of wetland loss. This appears to suggest that new silvicultural practices developed since 1986 have caused the conversion of wetland forests to upland forests.

Perhaps that is indeed the case; a more likely explanation, however, lies in NWI’s definition of a conversion from wetland forest to upland forested plantation. NWI views the presence of ditching as sufficient to convert a wetland forest to an upland. However, the Clean Water Act, the primary federal law that regulates wetlands, allows 11 minor drainage” in a wetland. Determining whether a particular ditch is minor drainage is difficult without hydrologic data, yet NWI makes such distinctions based solely on aerial photography. The conversion data are therefore highly suspect.

The summary report also appears to place disproportionate emphasis on the role of wetland mitigation and restoration efforts and the Wetlands Reserve Program in stabilizing wetland acreage. Although these programs are important components of agricultural and development activities, they represent a relatively insignificant portion of the South’s wetland forests.

Going forward. SFRA emphasizes an ever-increasing reliance on credible, objective evidence rather than anecdotal or hearsay information. Throughout the assessment is a strong recognition of the increasing knowledge base and the broad level of support from the forestry community in adopting sound resource management policies. The report also acknowledges that much is yet to be learned. As members of the conservation community, foresters must continue to push for responsible implementation of silvicultural practices. Additional research support is also needed to better understand the relationships between forest management and aquatic systems. Greater emphasis should be placed on forming partnerships to promote good forestry, not only with those who seek the same objectives but also with those who have competing interests. Finally, we should insist that the best science become integral to the policy-setting process.

The Southern Forest Resource Assessment, while not perfect, has taken credible steps in understanding and promoting sustainable forest management.

Literature Cited

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA). 1995. EPA/COE Memorandum of Understanding concerning Application of Best Management Practices to Mechanical Silvicultural Site Preparation Activities for the Establishment of Pine Plantations in the Southeast. Washington, DC.

NATIONAL WETLANDS INVENTORY (NWI). 2000. Status and trends of wetlands in the conterminous United States, 1986 to 1997. Washington, DC: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

John E Godbee Jr. ( is manager, Forest Certification and Environmental Compliance Programs, F&W Forestry Services, Statesboro, GA 30459; Jim Shepard is manager, Sustainable Forestry and Wetlands Research, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement Southern Regional Center, Gainesville, Florida.

Response: Local Regulation of Private Forests

Michael J. Mortimer

Even though no southern state has enacted a comprehensive forest practices act, forest practices regulations do indeed affect southern timberlands, 90 percent of which are privately held. As the Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA) suggests, local regulations of private forest land have increased not only in number but in scope as well. Further, the report identified several areas of regulation that warrant future scrutiny. This paper discusses the significance of those findings.

Local regulations. Forest regulations, or protective regulatory laws, as the SFRA labels them, have been relatively stable at the state level across the South but have proliferated at the local level. SFRA notes that, from 1992 to 2000, the number of local ordinances regulating forest practices more than doubled, from 141 to 346. The report indicates that 264 local governments in 10 states are now active in forest practices regulation. Reasons cited include reaction to urban sprawl, exurbanization, social conflict, community mobilization, and protection of public investments.

The regulatory thrust of the ordinances varies considerably, covering such areas as timber harvesting, individual tree protection (in developing areas), environmental protection (e.g., water quality), special feature protection (e.g., scenic or aesthetic sites), and public property protection (e.g., roads, bridges, and culverts).

SFRA projects that growth in the number of ordinances regulating public property and special features may taper, but regulation in the remaining categories is expected to continue increasing.

States with large, multijurisdictional programs also tend to have the largest numbers of local regulations. The Chesapeake Bay Protection Act, for example, accounts for an estimated 78 percent of Virginia’s local forest-related ordinances, making it the state with the second highest number of such ordinances in the South (only Georgia has more).

Responses to regulation. Forestry professionals and state forestry agencies have responded to the increase in local regulation by emphasizing ethical and stewardship-based forestry to discourage the additional regulation and implementation of nonregulatory means, such as best management practices (BMP).

Many state legislatures have acted to limit the effects and scope of local ordinances, as well as protect the rights of private forest landowners from other threats. “Right to practice forestry” laws, for example, are designed to limit local government attempts to regulate forest practices, curtail nuisance litigation seeking to impede forestry operations, and require compensation for lost property values due to regulatory takings.

As the report notes, legal interpretations of the laws will determine their impact. In Virginia, for example, the state supreme court ruled in 2000 that Virginia’s “right to practice forestry” statute did not preempt the ability of local governments to regulate forest practices.

Areas of future regulatory concern. SFRA’s outlook notwithstanding, it is likely that both state and local governments will seek to intensify regulation in several areas. These may include harvesting levels, monoculture versus forest diversity, the use of chemicals, rare species habitat, water quality, and the extent of cumulative effects.

Those new areas of regulatory concern may prompt renewed conflict between regulators and the owners of the predominantly private forests of the South. Largely dormant for some time, the question of how far forest regulations can go before infringing on constitutional rights is not conclusively settled, particularly in a state constitutional context.

SFRA concludes that forest regulations could increase costs for forest landowners and that local ordinances particularly have the potential to sow confusion among forest landowners with their often-conflicting requirements. These problems may be exacerbated by population trends and the shift of timber demands to the South, with consequences to the southern economy. SFRA forebodingly notes, “Without successful amelioration measures it will become impractical to practice forest management in increasingly large areas of the South.”

Many of the urbanization problems identified in SF RA will manifest themselves in the enactment of more local ordinances as cities and counties attempt to slow forest fragmentation and loss in forest cover. Making it more difficult for forest landowners to manage their properties as working forests, however, may have quite the opposite effect from that sought by local governments.

Fundamental issues. Many questions remain, some identified by SFRA, others prompted by it. What is the underlying rationale for the proliferation of local ordinances? What are the costs to landowners and to the public associated with meeting the requirements of the various local regulations? How effective are local ordinances in achieving their aims, particularly when compared with state-level regulations? What are the processes by which local ordinances are enacted, and with what expertise? And what remedies are available for forest landowners to challenge inappropriate regulations?

The Society of American Foresters’ position statement titled “Public Regulation of Private Forest Practices,” which is under revision, addresses many of those questions. Suggestions for governments intent on regulating forest practices are included, as well as the fundamental position of the Society-that we neither endorse nor oppose forest practices regulation. Nonetheless, what SFRA has identified as future challenges for forestry in the South requires the attention of SAF professionals, with particular emphasis on local ordinances.

Michael J. Mortimer ( is assistant professor of forest law and policy, Department of Forestry, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061.

Response: Forrests, Forestry, and the Status of Wildlife Communities

T. Bently Wigley

Widlife communities have long been ecologically culturally, and economically important to Southerners. Given the ongoing changes in human demographics and land-use patterns, the high interest in the status and future prospects of biological diversity in the South is understandable. The Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA) has provided an excellent summary of the challenges.

At-risk species. The South is not without forest-associated species that are imperiled-red-cockaded woodpecker, flatwoods salamander-or, like the Carolina parakeet, already extinct. However, SFRA finds high levels of diversity in the South, and 86 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species are considered secure. Furthermore, perhaps 50 percent or more of the species described in SFRA as imperiled actually are peripheral to the geographic scope of the assessment (e.g., from West Texas or southern Florida) or are not associated with forested ecosystems.

Early-successional associates. Many species thought to be in decline in the South, such as the northern bobwhite and the ruffed grouse, are associated with early successional habitats. Southern forests, of course, have a long history of natural and human-related disturbance, and many forests have been converted at least once between forest cover and agriculture. As SFRA indicates, even presettlement forests in the South were not “pristine wilderness.” Thus, it should be no surprise that some plant and animal species are adapted to disturbance. However, because natural disturbance has often been suppressed, and active management is declining on some ownerships, there is a need in many locations to suppress hardwood understories, open forest canopies, and create early successional forests. That provides opportunities for all forest ownerships to contribute to biological diversity in the South.

Habitat diversity. Public forests clearly provide important habitats for many species, particularly those associated with older forest age classes and some unique structural features, such as large deciduous trees, snags, and coarse woody debris. However, actively managed forests, which increasingly are found on private lands, typically contain a variety of habitats at the landscape level and large numbers of species, including those of high conservation priority (Wigley et al. 2000). Such contributions to regional biological diversity are important because private lands constitute about 90 percent of southern forests.

Landscape patterns. Fragmentation and the resulting diminished connectivity and size of forest patches are cited in the SFRA as a major habitat quality concern in the South. There is mounting evidence that associated effects-elevated levels of nest parasitism, invasions of exotic species-are most common and acute where forests have been converted to other land uses. In contrast, silvicultural activities in highly forested landscapes appear to enhance heterogeneity, and fragmentation effects seem muted and temporary. For example, Tappe et al. (in press) recently found that abundance, species richness, and diversity for migrant and resident bird species were generally highest in watersheds with high levels of management activity and habitat heterogeneity. Many of the habitats in the watersheds studied were pine plantations.

Improved research. Clearly, more information is required if we are to continue making progress integrating forestry and wildlife objectives. For instance, some herpetofaunal species common to the Appalachians, particularly Plethodontids (woodland salamanders), appear sensitive to open stand conditions and may require special consideration if we are to maintain viable populations in managed landscapes. However, in other regions, such as the Coastal Plain, managed forest landscapes have been shown to support high levels of herpetofaunal diversity (Leiden et al. 1999), perhaps due to the contributions of seasonal isolated wetlands and differences in species composition.

Until we more fully understand the proximal factors that drive wildlife responses to environmental change, some forest management practices designed to enhance conservation of biological diversity should be implemented adaptively. For example, retention of terrestrial buffer zones is commonly recommended to conserve amphibians and other wildlife associated with seasonal wetlands. But empirical data supporting this strategy are limited, and results of a recent manipulative study (Russell et al. 2002) failed to detect significant responses of herpetofauna to harvesting around isolated wetlands. Through further research and adaptive management, other, more cost-effective strategies could emerge.

Humans have long used and will continue to use and develop the southern landscape. SFRA has noted that human uses, particularly urban development, are bringing increasing pressure on biological diversity in the region. Managed or not, forests obviously have an important role to play in maintaining wildlife communities in face of this increasing pressure. The challenge for wildlife and forestry professionals is to identify forest management strategies that will help landowners meet their economic objectives while also contributing to regional biological diversity. If southern natural resource professionals continue their long tradition of communication and collaboration, there is every reason to expect that this challenge can be met through science-based, sustainable forestry programs.

Literature Cited

LEIDEN, YA., M.E. DORCAS, and J.W. GIBBONS. 1999. Herpetofaunal diversity in Coastal Plain communities of South Carolina. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 115(4):270-80.

RUSSELL, KR., H.G. HANLIN, T.B. WIGLEY, and D.C. GUYNN JR. 2002. Responses of isolated wetland herpetofauna to upland forest management. Journal of Wildlife Management 66(3):603-17.

TAPPE, PA., R.E. THILL, M.A. MELCHIORS, and T.B. WIGLEY. In press. Breeding bird community composition and structure in four watersheds under different management scenarios in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. In A symposium on ecosystem management research in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains, ed. J.M. Guldin. General Technical Report. Asheville, NC: USDA Forest Service.

WIGLEY, T.B., WM. BAUGHMAN, M.E. DORCAS, J.A. GERWIN, JX GIBBONS, D.C. GUYNN JR., RA. LANCiA, YA. LEIDEN, M.S. MITCHELL, and KR. RUSSELL. 2000. Contributions of intensively managed forests to the sustainability of wildlife communities in the South. In Sustaining southern forests: The science of forest assessment. Asheville, NC: USDA Forest Service.

T. Bently Wigley (wigley@clemson. edu) is manager, Wildlife and Watershed Programs, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, PO Box 340362, Clemson, SC 29634-0362.

Response: The Urbanization of North Carolina

Robert E. Bardon. Christo her E. Moorman, and Rick A. Hamilton

The recently released Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SERA) identifies urbanization as a critical threat to forest sustainability in the Southeast. The problem is acute in North Carolina, which lost 1,001,000 acres of commercial forest, or 5.9 percent of total forest area, from 1982 to 1997-more than any other state in the nation (NRCS 1999). SFRA predicts an additional loss of 5.5 million forested acres in the state by 2040. Coincidental is the loss of the state’s agrarian heritage and the consequent shifting of political influence from the traditional farming base to urbanites with little or no link to rural landscapes.

Adverse impacts. One result of urbanization in North Carolina is the loss of timber. Urbanization, combined with emerging environmental policies, is predicted to cause a 32.2 percent decrease in available timber supply, and accessible commercial forestland may drop from 11.6 million to 7.2 million acres (Governor’s Task Force on Forest Sustainability 1996).

Rapid urbanization not only compromises or destroys forest ecosystems but also alters the uses and perceived values of the forests. Forests are valued less for timber production and more for nontimber amenities. As urbanization increases, our forest ownerships are becoming more fragmented and smaller. Nationally, an area equal to 2 million acres per year is being broken into tracts smaller than 100 acres each (Birch 1996). North Carolina mirrors that national trend. Ironically, forest fragmentation makes it more difficult for our forests to provide the nontimber amenities desired by the public.

Urbanization is the most prominent and permanent cause of wildlife habitat loss and degradation across much of the Southeast, SFRA reports. Remnant tracts of forest in the urban matrix become increasingly isolated from other forestland. Songbird nest predators and nest parasites more easily infiltrate small, isolated stands. Wind exposure and temperatures increase, and soil moisture decreases, possibly reducing the quality of these forests for amphibians. Invasive, exotic plants gradually overrun the isolated stands and ultimately reduce habitat quality for sensitive wildlife like neotropical migrant songbirds.

Road building accompanies urbanization. North Carolina’s past governor even ran on a political platform of promising to build a four-lane road within 20 minutes of every resident. Salamanders, snakes, turtles, foxes, and bobcats dispersing among forest fragments frequently are killed as they cross the increasing number of roads. Public forests (e.g., parks and nature preserves) retained within urban landscapes typically experience high levels of recreational use, which often degrades the forest and associated habitats. Downstream of urban areas, forest creeks run warmer and experience higher volume flows following heavy rains but lower flows between storms; salamanders and other aquatic animals are washed away, struggle to survive in the warm waters, or die during periods of drought. Feral and domestic pets kill birds and small mammals in forests adjacent to suburban areas.

Managers’ flexibility to harvest timber, do prescribed burns, and use other practices in forests along the suburban– rural interface is limited by increasingly restrictive water quality standards, ordinances, concerns for aesthetics, smoke restrictions, and public ignorance of the benefits of forest management to wildlife. Communities are more frequently asking legislative permission to regulate forestry in extraterritorial jurisdiction zones via ordinances. Raleigh, for example, is seeking legislative approval to regulate forest harvesting in a 10- to 15-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction zone.

Responses to the problem. Several long-term policies have been proposed and others are already in place to mitigate the impacts of urbanization in North Carolina:

* The governor’s office is pursuing its Million Acre Initiative to set aside “green” land. The state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund and other programs are partially supporting this effort.

* Land trusts, which now number 21 statewide, are seeking additional landowners to set aside land in perpetual conservation easements.

* The Forest Legacy Program, which requires perpetual working forest easements, is enlisting forest owners by purchasing development rights on qualifying ownerships.

* The Nature Conservancy is partnering with the state Wildlife Resources Commission to purchase riparian forests, which will then be transferred to state ownership as game lands.

* Many local governments are authorizing agricultural districts to protect and preserve working farm and forest landscapes.

* Riparian buffer rules are being implemented for major watersheds, with accompanying restrictions on timber harvesting, development, and agriculture.

* Several groups are seeking to expand the state’s “use-value” property tax incentive beyond managed farm, forest, and horticultural uses to include wildlife and conservation uses; this would reduce the burden of property taxes driven up by rapidly increasing land values in urbanizing areas. Another proposal is to reduce the qualifying forest minimum from 20 to 10 acres.

The best way to slow the loss of forestland to urbanization is to implement policies that improve economic returns to managed forests. Small, isolated tracts of forestland within the urban matrix will not provide habitat for specialized wildlife, nor are they economically viable for intensive timber production. Conserving large, contiguous tracts of managed forestland can help maintain the full breadth of the state’s biodiversity. The real challenge is to retain both ecological and economic productivity on these setaside “green acres.”

Literature Cited

BIRCH, TW. 1996. Private forestland owners of the United States, 1994. Resource Bulletin NE-134. Radnor, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station.


NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS). 1999. Summary Report, 1997 Natural Resource Inventory (revised December 1999). Available online at; last accessed January 2002.

Robert E. Bardon (rebardon@unity.ncsu. edu) is extension specialist and associate professor, Christopher E Moorman is extension specialist and assistant professor, and Rick A. Hamilton is extension specialist and department extension leader, Department of Forestry, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695– 8003.

Response: Ecological Effects of Pine Plantation Management

Marty Harris, Bill Kuhn, Gary Price, Pete Smith, Weihuan Xu, Jim Stevens, and Ken Addy

The Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA) is an exhaustive report covering many issues surrounding southern forest management. One of those issues is pine plantations– their ecological effects and the associated landscape management and management intensity.

Ecology. We believe that the increased pine plantation acreage will have limited effects on upland ecology in the South, for several reasons. First, although SFRA foresees a substantial increase in pine plantations in the next 40 years in the southern states, the report also indicates that natural forest will remain dominant, and most of the natural upland ecosystem will be preserved.

Second, ecologically sound management practices for pine plantations will further reduce the potential negative ecological impacts. Forest certification programs, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), will address most of the issues surrounding pine plantation management. For example, although SFRA notes that large-scale pine plantations have reduced species richness, the 2001 SFI Standard Objective states, “The average size of clear-cut harvest areas shall not exceed 120 acres, except when necessary to respond to forest health emergencies or other natural catastrophes,” thus limiting the sizes of plantations. Most member companies have gone beyond the standard and limited maximum clearcut harvest unit size to 300 acres. (A harvest unit is multiple harvest areas.) These same standards are being promoted by industry to small nonindustrial timberland owners.

Height and age diversity on the landscape scale are addressed by SFI Standard Objective, which states, “Program Participants shall adopt a `Green up’ requirement, under which past clear-cut harvest areas must have trees at least 3 years old or 5 feet high at the desired stocking level before adjacent areas may be clear-cut.” Consequently, biodiversity should be enhanced as harvest areas decrease and height and age diversity increase. This SFI objective alone provides for both horizontal and vertical diversity not seen in typical plantation systems. Smaller plantations provide better habitats for wildlife and enhance biodiversity.

Finally, urban sprawl, while having its own ecological implications, is making the management of pine plantations less intensive, because it is difficult to apply herbicides or burn near urban areas. Forestland near urban areas that may have been clearcut in the past is now being thinned for real estate value.

Landscape management. SFRA focuses on the stand-level management of pine plantations. Although it is important to consider stand-level impacts, the focus should be at the landscape level. At global and national levels, the high productivity of actively managed southern pine plantations reduces the fiber production pressure on more environmentally sensitive lands, such as tropical forests, old-growth forests, and critical wildlife habitat. At regional and local levels, intensive management of a small percentage of forestland allows society to use a larger percentage of forestland for producing other environmental benefits and for recreation. Without the high productivity of pine plantations, more forestland would have to be used for producing timber.

Management intensity. Intensive pine plantation management for fiber production also has other benefits, as indicated in SFRA. One is the creation of early successional habitats for some wildlife species when a plantation is established. In addition, intensive pine management is the best way to trap carbon in terrestrial ecosystems.

There are, however, some negative impacts associated with intensive plantation management. SFRA is concerned about the “heavy use” of chemicals. The SFI Standard Objective 4.1.2 requires participants to “minimize chemical use required to achieve management objectives,” to “use the narrowest spectrum and least toxic pesticides necessary to achieve management objectives,” and to “use Integrated Pest Management where feasible.” Herbicides, when used correctly, are targeted forest management solutions.

In addition, SFRA notes a negative effect on wildlife habitat under intensive management practices. This is an assumption that needs to be reexamined. Because most pine plantations are surrounded by or fragmented by streamside management zones or other land uses, wildlife effects are difficult to sort out. SFRA, in fact, says that more study is needed to determine effects at the landscape scale. How many species respond to different management systems is a subject that needs to be addressed so that forest managers and the public can make sound decisions.

On the whole, we find that SFRA is a good document that attempts to answer the main questions surrounding forest management. We believe that, on the landscape level, the positive ecological impact of pine plantation management outweighs its negative ecological impact. Most of the problems that SFRA cites can be addressed through ecologically sound management practices and through implementation of forest certification programs.

Marty Harris is manager, decision support, Temple-Inland Forest Products Corporation, 800 North Temple Drive, Diboll, TX 75941; Bill Kuhn is procurement and tree enterprise manager, Southern operations area, Louisiana Pacific, New Waverly, Texas; Gary Price is consulting forester, NBlevins, Texas; Pete Smith is partnership coordinator and Weihuan Xu is principal economist, Texan Jim Stevens is manager, East Texas Plant Materials Center, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nacogdoches, Texas; Ken Addy is manager, Lands and Forests, Louisiana Pacific Corporation, Conroe, Texas.

Copyright Society of American Foresters Oct/Nov 2002

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