Quantcast

Top Ten Counties Losing Forests in the South

World Resources Institute

World Resources Institute (WRI) released a new map Nov. 1 that identifies the hotspots where urban and suburban development are putting forests at risk in the southern U.S. Areas experiencing the most forest loss to development between 2001 and 2006 (the most recent years for which data are available) were counties near Houston, Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C. Counties around San Antonio, Jacksonville, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., round out the top ten (Table 1).

Here are some additional highlights:

  • Harris County near Houston, Texas, lost more forest to development than any other county in the South during this time period.

  • Among southern states, Georgia experienced the most forest conversion to such development, nearly twice the amount of runner-up Texas.

  • Development in Georgia, Texas and Florida alone accounted for almost 50 percent of all forest loss in the South due to development.

  • In total, these top ten counties converted approximately 123,000 acres of forest to development over five years, an area three times the size of Washington, DC.

Table 1. Ten counties in the U.S. South experiencing the most annual deforestation due to urban and suburban development (2001-2006) Rank County (metro area) State Forest acres converted per year (2001-2006)

RankCounty (metro area)StateForest acres converted per year (2001-2006)
1Harris (Houston)Texas5,230
2Gwinnett (Atlanta)Georgia3,033
3Fulton (Atlanta)Georgia2,801
4Wake (Raleigh)North Carolina2,407
5Montgomery (Houston)Texas2,153
6Mecklenburg (Charlotte)North Carolina2,139
7Bexar (San Antonio)Texas1,897
8Duval (Jacksonville)Florida1,693
9Jefferson (Birmingham)Alabama1,687
10Cobb (Atlanta)Georgia1,644

Covering nearly 214 million acres, the forests of the southern U.S. stretch from Texas to Virginia, and from Kentucky down to Florida. These forests are the nation’s wood basket, supporting 600,000 jobs. They also provide a multitude of other benefits or ecosystem services such as watershed protection, carbon storage and recreation. As profiled in WRI’s Southern Forests for the Future, suburban expansion is the biggest threat to the quality and quantity of these forests.

The new map shows a continuation of trends from the 1990s. But trends since 2006 may be different. It is likely that forest conversion patterns in the region have changed since the economic downturn started in 2008. Given that housing starts have declined over the past few years, we would expect to see a reduction in forest conversion once the data become available.

Therein lies one of the challenges in monitoring changes in the nation’s forests. It can take years for data on forest cover change to be processed and made publicly available. A forest cover monitoring system that makes information available more frequently would enable decision-makers and forest stakeholders to better understand what is happening to forests in a more timely manner.

But a more fundamental question raised by the WRI analysis is how can the South break the link between growth and forest conversion? Paradoxically, expanding suburban areas are clearing the same forests that they depend upon for clean freshwater, recreation and the beautiful vistas that make living in those regions so attractive in the first place.

Robust markets for sustainably managed forest products such as timber and pulpwood are an important start. Many woodland owners need to earn financial benefits from working their forests. Without such a revenue stream, selling land for real estate development may become an attractive alternative when the housing market rebounds.

Likewise, innovative approaches for financially rewarding woodland owners for the benefits their forests provide need to become more mainstream. These approaches could include payments for watershed services, working forest conservation easements, habitat credits and others, as recently profiled by WRI.

Through these and similar approaches, the South may be able to have its growth and its forests, too.

For more information, click here.

—————

When developing the map, WRI performed a county level analysis on the National Land Cover Database 2006 Land Cover Change dataset which was produced by the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium, a coalition of federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and others. WRI analyzed forested areas in 2001 that by 2006 had become developed or characterized by a high percentage of buildings, asphalt, concrete and similar constructed infrastructure.

More maps on forest cover loss/gain are available on the Southern Forests for the Future website.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A dead sea lion on the beach at Border Field State Park, near the international border wall between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Sherry Smith / iStock / Getty Images

While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.

Read More Show Less
People crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on July 20, 2017 in New York City sought to shield themselves from the sun as the temperature reached 93 degrees. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

by Jordan Davidson

Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Salmon fry before being released just outside San Francisco Bay. Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux

By Alisa Opar

For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.

Read More Show Less
AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Protesters hold a banner and a placard while blocking off the road during a protest against Air pollution in London. Ryan Ashcroft / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images

By Bridget Shirvell

On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.

Read More Show Less
Coal ash has contaminated the Vermilion River in Illinois. Eco-Justice Collaborative / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.

That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.

Read More Show Less

picture-alliance / AP Photo / NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

The Group of 20 major economies agreed a deal to reduce marine pollution at a meeting of their environment ministers on Sunday in Karuizawa, Japan.

Read More Show Less