Southern forests are disappearing

Published 1:48 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2023

People around the world celebrated International Day of Forests (IDOF) on March 21, a time established by the United Nations to highlight the importance of forested areas.

“[International Day of Forests] was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of forests,” said Matthew D’Onofrio, media contractor for the Dogwood Alliance Organization. “Areas of land dominated by trees play a vital role in supporting biodiversity, mitigating climate change and providing food.

This year’s theme was “forests and health” and while studies show that living near green spaces can lower heart rate and blood pressure, green spaces also contribute to vital ecosystems.

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But these results have not halted the deforestation of almost 25 million acres of forest land each year in the U.S., cited the Dogwood Alliance.

“In Alabama alone, this is a problem,” said D’Onofrio. “According to Global Forest Watch, the state lost 7.78 million acres of tree cover from 2001 to 2021.”

Alabama wetland forests face numerous threats: from industrial logging to agriculture and urban development. These areas are sometimes referred to as the Treasures of the South, with an estimated worth around $34.4 billion15 times more than that for the services they provide, as compared to the value of the timber.

The number of locally extinct animal species in the South has doubled in the last decade. Without protection in place, communities will lose not only protection from natural disasters, like flooding, but access to clean air and water will also be impacted.

According to Dogwood Alliance, more than half of U.S. forests are less than 40 years old, and less than 7% are 80 years old or older.

“Since 1953, the government has paid landowners to plant pines,” said D”Onofrio. “We’ve lost over 35 million acres of natural forest and gained over 40 million acres of pine.”

The Dogwood Alliance website confirms that Southern forests are logged at four times the rate of South American rainforests.

Sharleen Briggs with the Butler County Extension Office said she believes the landowner’s decision about what to do with their timberland is a very personal choice and local forestry agents can advise them on the best uses for their property. 

“Whether you want to cut your timber or preserve it, a local forestry agent can help you,” Briggs said.

The Alabama Treasure Forest Association website highlights how land management affects not only the environment but the wildlife in Alabama’s forests.

“The primary goal of the Alabama Treasure Forest Association (ATFA) is to teach others about responsible forest management,” the association’s site explains. “We hope that someday all forest lands in Alabama are managed according to the Treasure Forest Philosophy. These forests directly affect every Alabamian’s quality of life.”

Not only do forests provide habitat for wildlife, but forests also clean the air, purify the water and protect valuable topsoil, according to ATFA.

The Treasure Forest Program was established by the Alabama Forestry Committee in 1974, and since then, the air and water quality has improved in Alabama. The site also states the many species of wildlife are larger and healthier.

For more information on forest land management in Alabama visit www.treasureforest.org.