assessment of sustainability of our forests

Southern Forest Resource Assessment

led by the USDA Forest Service's Southern Region and Southern Research Station in collaboration with the USEPA, US Fish & Wildlife, TVA, and state forestry agencies of the Southern United States

Broad Category: Forest Extent, Conditions, and Health

Question Manager: Jennifer Moore

Question HTLH-3: How have abiotic factors including environmental stressors such as air pollution influenced the overall health of the South's forests and what are future effects likely to be?


Describe the historical, current, and predicted future conditions of southern forests with respect to the effects of abiotic stressors, including: acid deposition; ozone; climate change; soil compaction, erosion, and nutrient status; wildfire occurrence and fire exclusion; hurricanes and other severe weather events; and drought. 

Methods of Analysis: 

Identify and characterize stressors and forest types/individual species upon which their effects have been studied.  Describe the spatial extent, magnitude, and implications of the effects where data and/or previous research are available.  Exposure and/or vulnerability of forest types/individual species may be described where information about effects is not available.  Discuss interactions between stressors if possible.

All analyses will be based on existing literature, data sources, and model outputs if possible.  Unique data analysis may be necessary for some specific points; these analyses will be completed if data, other resources, and timelines allow. 

Where available, descriptions will include southwide maps of stressor effects at the finest spatial scale possible.   Where data or other resource limitations prevent detailed spatial or quantitative analysis, stressor impacts will be summarized qualitatively.  Historical, current, and future descriptions/analyses are limited by the availability of reliable, temporally and/or spatially consistent, current data sources.

Data Sources:

FIA database and related publications

FIA/AVHRR forest types

Preliminary reports from U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (

Published output from the PnET forest process model

National Acid Deposition Program databases

EPA AIRS database (acid deposition and ozone)

State of Science reports

Forest Service national-level fire database

Existing assessment publications such as the SAA, MAIA, Ozark-Ouachita Highlands, etc.

Published literature related to any of the stressors and their impacts on southern forest ecosystems


Descriptive analyses of the abiotic stressors and vulnerability of or effects on southern forests (quantitative & qualitative)

Maps to represent extent and spatial importance of stressors, vulnerability and/or effects

Tables and/or figures to illustrate quantitative descriptions

Collaborators and Sources:

Bruce Bayle, John Pye, Steve McNulty, Susan Fox, Bob Mickler, Cindy Huber, Dave Wergowske, Laura Hudnell, FHM/FHP personnel, FIA personnel

Links to Other Questions:  

Acid deposition effects on forest hydrology may be addressed in AQUA-1b (Watersheds, Aquatic/Riparian Ecosystems, and Forested Wetlands)

Fire effects may be shared with TERRA-2e (Landscapes/Terrestrial Ecosystems)

Fire effects (with regard to fire exclusion/prescribed burn issues) could be covered by SOCIO-3d (Social/Economic Factors)

Unresolved Issues: 

  1. Should the conclusion/answer to this question be whether or not southern forests are healthy and to what degree are abiotic stressors contributing to their status?
  2. If the broader question exists for the region, but reliable data exists only for specific sites or small regions within the south, should a specific point be answered as completely as possible for that area?
  3. Extent to which effects of severe weather events can be addressed quantitatively across the southern region
  4. Extent to which effects of soil compaction, erosion, and nutrient status can be addressed quantitatively across the southern region
  5. How detailed an analysis should we devote to natural/abiotic stressors (hurricanes, catastrophic wildfires, and other severe weather events) that have always occurred and probably always will?

Unresolved Data-Specific Issues:

  1. broad-scale fire data
  2. broad-scale storm data
  3. broad-scale datasets for soil compaction, erosion, or nutrient status
  4. spatial data related to impacts/effects of acid deposition other than foliar damage

Cited and Other Relevant Literature:

McNulty, S.G., J.M. Vose, and W.T. Swank. 1998. Predictions and Projections of Pine Productivity and Hydrology in Response to Climate Change across the Southern United States. In: The Productivity and Sustainability of Southern Forest Ecosystems in a Changing Environment. Springer-Verlag Publisher. pp. 391-406.


Immediate first steps:

- organize subject matter, contacts, and data needs

- make all literature/data source contacts

- finalize draft work plan

- submit draft work plan to planning team for web publication

March 2000:

- finalize work plans

- begin literature search

- prioritize analysis tasks  by completion time needed for each ‘specific point’

- delegate analysis tasks where possible

May 2000:

- receive all data sources

- organize/process data

- acquire/develop metadata and submit to planning team for web publication

- begin analysis tasks, starting with most complex

- begin literature review & summarization

- progress reports on delegated analysis tasks

July 2000:

- finalize dataset compilation

- collect & review results of delegated analysis tasks

September 2000:

- prepare for conference on evaluating sustainability

- finalize analysis tasks

October 2000:

- finish analysis tasks & literature summarization

January 2001:

- develop work plans for small area assessments

March 2001:

- draft report for small area assessments

June 2001:

- complete final report, including small area assessment section(s)



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 modified: 7-MAR-2000