WRI’s Southern Forests for the Future project seeks to raise awareness of the threats facing the forests of the southern United States and lay the foundation for increasing the acreage that is conserved or managed in a sustainable manner.
The forests of the southern United States are a national and global treasure. They constitute 29 percent of the forestland in the United States. Stretching from east Texas to Virginia and from Kentucky to Florida, these 200+ million acres are one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world. They provide people with a wide range of benefits or ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, timber, watershed protection, and recreation.
However, these forests are under tremendous pressure. For example, thirty-one million acres are expected to be lost to suburban sprawl by 2040 as the region’s population booms. In some areas, mining for coal and other resources denude large areas. These growing pressures threaten to undermine the forest’s ability to sequester carbon, support a rich array of biodiversity, and provide people with other benefits and services they depend upon and value.
Through Southern Forests for the Future, WRI seeks to tackle the challenges facing southern U.S. forests by:
Increasing public awareness about the threats facing southern forests and the value they provide. Many people fail to grasp the extent of southern forest degradation because continuous but dispersed change often goes unnoticed. To address this, WRI is conducting research to create time-series maps that reveal trends and changes in southern forests. WRI has developed a new web portal, seesouthernforests.org,report assessing the benefits of southern forest, key causes of forest loss, and implications for human and environmental well-being.
Identifying and developing a portfolio of options that align economic incentives with keeping forest as forest. A key factor underlying forest loss is that economic incentives are not aligned with keeping forest as forest. Recognizing this, WRI will conduct research to identify a portfolio of incentives that could encourage private landowners to retain their forests and manage them sustainably to provide a range of ecosystem services. WRI will convene a regional workshop to discuss and refine a draft portfolio of incentives with academics, economists, NGOs, family and industrial forest owners, and others. After incorporating feedback, WRI will publish a research report that describes each incentive option.
Pilot testing options and rolling out those demonstrating most promise. WRI will pilot test several of the incentives from the portfolio of options in order to iron out design “kinks” and demonstrate their feasibility so they can be replicated elsewhere in the region. During the pilot tests, we will collaborate with regional stakeholders and organizations.