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Wednesday, May 18, 2011 - 9:29am

Ga., Southern Forests Face Multiple Threats

Population growth and development are the main threats to forest land in the South.

In a new study, federal forestry officials say Georgia and surrounding states can expect to lose 23 million acres of land over the next five decades—more than 20 percent. But it’s not only urbanization as a reason--weather patterns, bioenergy use and invasive species are also dangers.

And one other factor that’s big in Georgia—changes in land ownership.

The director of the Georgia Forestry Commission, Robert Farris, says acreage of forestland broken into smaller pieces presents a challenge.

“It makes it much more challenging to work with those numbers of people and numbers of tracts from every perspective--from management to harvesting to invasive species to working with that many landowners.”

Farris says ensuring it’s economically viable for owners to keep their land is key to combating the issue. He says Georgia lawmakers have helped in that regard the last couple of legislative sessions with amendments made to the Forest Protection Act.

More than 90 percent of Georgia’s 24 million acres of forests is privately owned.

Farris says it's a delicate balance between development and land preservation. But that balance can be struck.

“I think it’s important to remember that our forests and forest industry is a major sector—one of the largest sectors in our economy. And that’s a case where you can have your cake and eat it too.”

Georgia’s forest industry is worth $27 billion a year.