UF/IFAS strategies give forest owners, managers disaster-coping methods
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Scientists believe climate change means more erratic weather patterns for the future, and that doesn’t bode well for forests in the Southeastern U.S.
Two things trees don’t need are damaging hurricane-force winds and wildfires, and they believe those climate change-related weather patterns portend more of both.
University of Florida researchers, including postdoctoral research associate Andres Susaeta, built a computer model that simulates various climate scenarios in hopes of minimizing the potentially cataclysmic damage to forests on privately owned forest land.
“Climate change is likely to affect forest productivity and exacerbate the impacts of big disasters on forest ecosystems in the South,” Susaeta said.
To help tree owners and managers minimize losses after disasters, Susaeta, working with Professor Douglas Carter and Assistant Professor Damian Adams, created a model that emphasizes two strategies: vary the number of trees planted per acre, and plant slash pines instead of loblolly pines.
Susaeta, Carter and Adams are all in forest resources and conservation, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Privately owned forest land is big business in Florida, covering more than 16 million acres. More than 300,000 private landowners own more than 60 percent of Florida’s forest lands, and 89,000 Florida jobs depend on forestry, Adams said.
On a wider scale, the South ─ which, as defined by the researchers, includes 13 states, from Texas and Oklahoma east to Virginia and south to Florida ─ provides 57 percent of the nation’s industrial wood, used for pulp, among other things. Individuals own about 68 percent of the South’s private forestland, so UF/IFAS scientists focused their research on those trees, Susaeta said. Companies such as Rayonier own the rest.
Researchers chose to model loblolly pine, the dominant commercial species in the South, because it is more susceptible than slash and longleaf pines to breaking, uprooting and deteriorating by insects and diseases, the study said.
In addition to providing revenue for private landowners and retaining carbon, forests serve as ecosystem hosts and emit oxygen.
“If we can reduce the risk of trees being destroyed by disasters, forests are likely to continue providing these services,” Susaeta said.
Those disasters include diseases such as canker, which will likely impact southern forests over the next 50 years, threatening their viability, the study said. Pest outbreaks pose another stress to timberland. For example, the southern pine beetle caused $1.5 billion in damage between 1970 and 1996. Expected droughts will increase wildfire potential in the South, as well.
Hurricane risk is also expected to increase because of climate change. In 2005, Katrina and Rita combined to damage about 5.5 million acres of timberland. The storms caused between $2 billion and $3 billion in wind damage to forests in southern coastal states, Susaeta said.
The trio’s paper appears in this month’s issue of the Journal of Environmental Management.
Writer: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Andres Susaeta, 352-846-0877, email@example.com
Damian Adams, 352-846-0872, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cutline: Three UF/IFAS researchers created a model in which they simulated strategies that forest owners and managers can use to effectively mitigate damage caused by to trees by disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires and pests. Credit: UF/IFAS file photo.