Southern Forest Outlook

Recent changes in land use, forest disturbances, forest management, and forest product markets define increasing uncertainty about the future of the sector. While much of the assessment library remains relevant, new data, research results, and projection models allow for new insights into certain critical issues. We have selected three critical issues for the Southern Forest Outlook (SFO) based on their relevance and the availability of new scientific information or substantial change in conditions.

The update to the Assessment Library will use an approach that builds on previous efforts, utilizes a public-facing process, and anticipates the need for ongoing updates. Our focus is on maintaining, expanding, and updating reports, projections, and data sets to continue to support information needs of natural resource decision makers and the interested public in the South. The SFO will produce products on a rolling schedule. This will substantially reduce the cost of assessment activities in any given year, increase the timeliness of products, and allow us to focus efforts and resources on the most critical issues.

The update would involve the following components:

  1. Projection and trend updates will be based on new data for the past 10 years from authoritative sources. Updating SFFP projections will use the latest models and projections for the 2020 Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment.
  2. Issue analysis: SFRA and SFFP addressed a large number of issues identified through extensive public meetings and much of these analyses remain relevant. Through meetings with partners we have identified three issues to be addressed by the SFO: (1) Timber market structure and futures, (2) Forest-water interactions, and (3) Fire management. We will leverage projection and trend updates to inform the issue analysis. Further, we will work to (1) clarify questions with partners and publics (2) recruit teams best prepared to undertake the work, and (3) conduct science synthesis and data analysis to best address these questions.
  3. Summary Report: Information contained in the projection updates and issue analyses, combined with information from previous reports, will be used to summarize the status, trends and expected futures of Southern forests. Key findings will define the scope and impact of most critical issues facing decision makers in the broad forest sector.

Defining the Issues and Research Questions

This table provides an overview of the public input sessions used as context for research question development, and review
Input Location Dates
Southern Forest Resource Assessment public meetings 5 public sessions across the South August, 1999
Southern Forest Futures Project public meetings 14 public sessions across the South, 3 webinars January–April 2008
SRS Stateline meetings 12 meetings across the South 2012–current
SRS-NFS Region 8 Greenline meetings 3 meetings across the South 2018–current
SGSF Water Resources Committee Auburn, AL January 2020
SGSF Fire Committee Webinar February 2020
SGSF Service, utilization, and marketing committee Webinar March 2020
SGSF Executive Board Webinar June 2020
SGSF Management Chiefs Webinar June 2020


Scenarios define a range of potential futures. The concept is that the scenarios capture the range of long run trends. It is unknown whether COVID-19 will impact long run trends outside the range of the scenarios. PI-s will conduct a sub-analysis designed to determine whether the scenarios, as defined, are appropriate or if a separate scenario is required.

Issue Research Questions

Issue research questions were drafted by the issue leads as informed by the SFFP, previous public meetings, the scientific literature, and discussions with SGSF committees.

  1. How are demographic changes influencing wildfire response and prescribed burn implementation and what is the impact of not burning?
  2. What are the anticipated changes in fire regimes?
  3. What are the issues with fire in the wildland urban interface (WUI) and what are the anticipated changes given changes in land use, climate, and forests?
  4. What are the differences between wildfire and prescribed fire in terms of smoke impacts and carbon consequences?
  5. What are the anticipated changes in prescribed fire windows?
  1. How will markets for forest products change under alternative population, climate, and income futures?
  2. How do rates of change in and severity of large scale disturbances affect salvage opportunities, and what are the options for managing salvage on public v private forests?
  3. How do relative abundance (inventory) of hardwood vs softwood timber products change under alternative futures?
  4. How would different trade policies influence markets for softwood products?
  5. How will future demand for wood energy affect forests, prices, and harvest?
  6. What is the outlook for forest sector jobs under alternative futures?
  7. What are the long-term implications for the southern forest sector, given COVID-19 and the economic recession?
  1. How has our understanding of forest-water interactions changed since the SFFP?
  2. How will changes in climate, land uses, and forest conditions impact streamflow and groundwater recharge in the future?
  3. What are the likely implications of these changes on drinking water supplies, flooding, aquatic ecosystems, and tradeoffs among ecosystem services?
  4. How might these projected changes in climate and water resources interact with other large disturbances such as fire, sea level rise, insect and diseases, and hurricanes?
  5. What management actions are available (now and in the future) to minimize impacts and increase resiliency anticipating climate change and population rise?


Each SFO issue analyses will link to broad climate and socioeconomic drivers; and Land use change and shifts in forest conditions to maintain key feedback loops.

Issue Leads

Southern Forest Outlook
Co-leads: John Coulston, Daniel McInnis, Stephanie Laseter
Forest and land use assessment Water Fire Markets
John Coulston Pete Caldwell Scott Goodrick Jeff Prestemon
Daniel McInnis Jim Vose Danny Lee  
    Shardul Raval