FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 28, 2010
JOINT EFFORT IDENTIFIES FRIENDS/FOES OF SOUTH CAROLINA FORESTS
Water, population, climate among the factors in SC
Identical assessments underway nationally
(Columbia, SC) In a first-of-its-kind study, eleven factors expected to impact South Carolina’s 13 million acres of forests emerge giving business leaders, government officials, and natural resource experts a clearer picture of how to maintain a major facet of the state’s economy.
The document marks the beginning of an ongoing process which will help achieve national forestry goals including slowing forest loss, lessening the effects of climate change, protecting communities from wildfire, creating jobs, and supporting markets for forest products.
The project, called the Statewide Forest Resource Assessment, is part of a national effort underway in all 50 states and nine US territories. It’s funded by the USDA Forest Service however it’s up to each state/territory to rally the brain power for its individual assessment. In South Carolina, this was a function of the Forestry Commission, which recruited many “stakeholders” from across disciplines. Forty-two people participated, including many personnel from the Forestry Commission, Department of Natural Resources, Clemson University, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Additionally, private landowners and corporate representatives provided critical input.
“During this project we met with conservation groups and other partners and identified the key issues facing South Carolina’s forest resources,” explains Russell Hubright, the forest management chief with the Forestry Commission.
For State Forester Gene Kodama, agency head for the Commission, it’s a matter of protecting a resource which fuels the number-one manufacturing sector in the state. “One of the most tangible benefits is the economic impact of forestry, contributing over $17.4 billion to the state’s economy and providing nearly 45,000 jobs,” Kodama says.
Ultimately, the 42 stakeholders identified eleven areas which summarize not only the threats to the forest resource, but also long-standing benefits. The panel prioritizes them in this order:
Water Quality and Quantity
Surface water which is free from pollutants and sediment and provides habitat requirements for wildlife is considered to be of high quality. South Carolina has an abundant supply of freshwater, but is not immune to water quantity issues as evidenced by recent legal actions involving neighboring states.
Impervious surfaces such as roads, roofs, driveways, streets, and parking lots increase not only stormwater volume, but also the rate of flow. Maintenance and expansion of urban canopy cover is an effective tool that can be used to reduce the impact of runoff.
Forest managers in South Carolina conduct prescribed burns on about 525,000 acres each year. Experts agree that nearly twice this amount needs to receive this treatment, but obstacles such as smoke management and liability concerns, fragmentation of forestland, and changing attitudes about prescribed burning make increasing the amount of acreage burned a major challenge.
Carbon credits, biomass, and other products of the forests of South Carolina are expected to become more important as issues such as climate change and energy independence gain momentum. Savvy landowners will position themselves to take advantage of emerging markets. Additionally, current markets for forest products should be expanded to provide economic incentives for landowners to actively manage their forestland.
Nearly 3,000 wildfires occur each year in South Carolina, two-thirds of which originate from escaped debris burns or are deliberately set. With the growth in the state’s population, more of these fires damage not only timber and wildlife habitat, but also homes and other structures.
In many cases, forest regulation can be a disincentive for forest landowners to actively manage their forests and may be an incentive to convert their forestland to another use.
Forest Health Threats
The three most significant threats to South Carolina’s forests currently are southern pine beetle, Sirex wood wasp, and cogongrass.
South Carolina’s forests play a major role in filtering the air of pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter. In addition, trees sequester carbon dioxide and emit oxygen through the process of photosynthesis.
Fragmentation and Parcelization
As South Carolina’s population grows, forested tracts of land continue to become fragmented by the addition of roads, power lines, and buildings. Many larger tracts are also being subdivided into parcels that make traditional forest management difficult. This trend has implications for the long-term sustainability of the forest resources of South Carolina.
The population of South Carolina is predicted to grow from four million in 2000 to more than five million by 2030. As the population grows, more forestland will be converted to housing and commercial development.
Increased incidents of drought, storms, severe wildfire, and insect and disease outbreaks are possible if climate change predictions hold true.
While broad in scope, the localization of the assessment lends it a lot of credibility, according to Scott Hawkins, public information director for the Forestry Commission.
“This approach allows South Carolina-based expertise to determine those highest priority conservation targets and will better guide local, state and federal investments when it comes to decisions which will impact our forests and the industries they support, Hawkins says.”
The South Carolina assessment, like its sister studies in other states, will be revisited and updated every few years.
The South Carolina Statewide Forest Resource Assessment is available for reading at www.trees.sc.gov.
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For more information, contact Scott Hawkins in the SCFC Public Information Office at (803) 360-2231.
The SC Forestry Commission’s mission is to protect and develop South Carolina’s forest resource
For every $1.00 invested by SC in the Commission, the industry produces more than $1,300.00 of economic impact.