Above: In 2018 Hurricane Michael impacted an estimated 2 million acres of forestland in Georgia and 3 million in Florida. It was the single largest timber-related catastrophe in our nation's history.
As the dynamic climate continues to shift in the Southern United States, the forestry industry faces a growing list of challenges. In response, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) convened a group of experts from the region’s eight states to tackle this urgent issue head-on. SFI Implementation Committees (SICs) from eight states in the region came together to discuss innovative strategies for mitigating the impacts of climate change on forestry. Together, they identified and prioritized top risks facing the industry, and brainstormed solutions to overcome them. This collaborative effort offers a hopeful glimpse into a more sustainable future for Southern forestry and showcases the resilience of the industry in the face of a changing climate.
The committees developed a matrix that assesses the risks of climate change impact on two scales: the likelihood of impact and the severity of impact if it happens. Both scales are assessed on five points, with the likelihood of impact being assessed from very unlikely to very likely, and severity of impact being assessed from negligible to severe. Five of the assessed climate change impacts rated as Major or higher.
1 EXTREME WEATHER - SEVERE/VERY LIKELY Extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe across the region, leading to extensive timber loss.To support resistance to these impact events, forestry operators should consider shorter thinning rotations, edge feathering of stands, and a shift toward thinning to higher Trees Per Acre (TPA). A robust salvage plan and proactive support for salvage operations are crucial incase of an impact event.
2 INCREASED WILDFIRES - MAJOR/VERY LIKELY Wildfires have become more frequent in drier areas of the Southern region. Forestry operators should increase controlled burn frequency, increase diversity in tree size and age, maintain barriers and increase thinnings to decrease density of stands and mitigate potential fire impact. In addition, maintained property access is essential for firefighters to ensure prompt response to impact events.
3 DROUGHT /MORTALITY - MAJOR/VERY LIKELY Drier areas of the Southern region are at substantial risk of timber loss due to drought and mortality. To promote healthy stands, forestry operators should manage to desired trees per acre, increase thinnings, ensure proper species selection for the site, and establish diversity in tree size and age.An additional strategy is to protect trees from the point of planting by utilizing containerized seedlings and encouraging improved tree genetics.Assessing drought vulnerabilities and landscape changes regularly and having a developed salvage harvest plan is essential.
4 INCREASED INVASIVES, PESTS & PATHOGENS - MAJOR/LIKELY Invasive species, pests and pathogens can decimate forest tracts, making then a risk not only for tree mortality but for overall forest maintenance costs. Strategies for mitigating their risk include planting proper and diverse species for the site, treating seedlings, promoting improved genetics, implementing regular invasive eradication plans and regularly monitoring working forests over their growth cycle. Identifying the infection of the forest early is critical to reducing spread not only within your own forests but also more broadly into neighboring areas. For maturing tracts, it’s critical to maintain their health through increased thinning, prescribed fires and diversity in tree size and age.
5 HEAVY RAINFALL - MAJOR/LIKELY While extreme weather conditions pose a tremendous risk to timber loss, heavy rainfall poses risk to forestry operators themselves. It’s critical to use Best Management Practices (BMPs) by utilizing culverts, water bars and turnouts to direct excess water, and have a calculated budget for road infrastructure for access. Operators should consider timing of harvests compared to rainfall periods, and loggers should perform close-outs during harvest instead of waiting until the end. Be sure to be knowledgeable of the capabilities of your harvest equipment when it comes to rainfall and ground conditions, and logging trucks should be cautious of road conditions.
Additional Strategy for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Scientific research points to several factors leading to increased climate change, with greenhouse gases being a primary point of concern. Forestland is a crucial mitigation agent for CO2 emissions, meaning that forestry operations must ensure minimal emissions in addition to replanting and maintaining their forest ecosystems. SFI enumerates four key steps that operators must take to reduce their carbon footprint, including:
utilizing chemical site preparation over pile and burn,
switching to a slow-release fertilizer,
utilizing efficient harvest machinery in terms of both fuel and size, and
ensuring load efficiency for haulers that requires the fewest trips and lowest fuel consumption.
Looking Forward This collaboration between SFI and forestry operators is essential to the future of climate-smart forestry. By taking a proactive approach to managing forests, we can reduce the risk of forest damage and loss of productivity, and ensure that our forests continue to provide important ecological, economic and social benefits for generations to come.
■John Casey is a strategic communications consultant with a primary focus on journalism, politics, and public policy.
Georgia Forestry Magazine is published by HL Strategy, an integrated marketing and communications firm focused on our nation's biggest challenges and opportunities. Learn more at hlstrategy.com