The Future Forest

Forest beautyChange is inevitable as they say, even to long-lived life forms such as trees.  Our area presently have a fairly uniform oak-hickory type forest (average age 60 to 110 years) in the upland ridges, and young mixed hardwood forests in the hollows and drains.  Several forces are at work that could change the look and function of our forests.


Tree Changes: Gypsy moth is predicted to reach our area probably within a decade.  These insects produce high populations of very hungry caterpillars, whose favorite food is oak leaves.  In places, 90% of the oaks may die out and be replaced by yellow poplar, red maple, blackgum, and trees less tasty to the gypsy larvae.  A younger, more diverse forest will result, but one that lacks abundant acorns which are important to wildlife.  Other exotic pests that are already impacting certain tree species include the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, the Emerald Ash Borer, and Thousand Cankers disease on walnut.


Wildlife Changes: The population of migratory song birds will probably continue to decline as a result of habitat destruction in Central and South America, habitat fragmentation in the US, and parasitizing of nests by the brown-headed cowbird. With increased clearcutting as a harvest method, quail, a game species that has been diminishing, could make a comeback.  Populations of deer, turkey, wood duck, and other wildlife that depend heavily on acorns for winter food, could decrease if oak populations are reduced due to the Gypsy Moth.


Forest Use Changes: The number of forest landowners has doubled in the last 10 years, and will continue to increase, resulting in more owners having fewer acres each. And the trend is that the smaller owners do not want to grow trees for timber, but rather use the forest more for nature enjoyment or recreation.  So in the future, fewer high quality logs may be available to sawmills, causing a spike in the price of hardwood products such as flooring and furniture.  But technology may allow the utilization of lower quality trees of many different species, creating less dependence on highly valued species such as oak, walnut, ash, yellow poplar, and sugar maple. City folks will also over time place more value on the forest as a place to get away and enjoy nature.  Both of these trends may initiate future laws regulating forest practices on private land.


The future of a forest depends on how the owner uses it, which should always be based on sound management information.  If you own forest land and need assistance with managing it properly, contact your local state Forestry agency.


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