SC Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy

Overarching Issues

South Carolina’s rapid population growth and the resulting change in public perceptions about forestry affect all aspects of managing the forest resources of South Carolina.  In addition, climate change, if it occurs to the extent that some have predicted, will influence the state’s forests and urban trees.

Population Growth


South Carolina has one of the fastest growing populations in the nation (Strom 1998).  As the graph below indicates, the population of South Carolina rose from less than 2.5 million in 1960 to more than 4 million in 2000 (Census Scope 2000).

Population Growth in South Carolina from 1960 – 2000

This trend is expected to continue.  Projections are for South Carolina’s population to grow to over 5 million by 2030 (Census 2005).

In addition to an increase in the number of residents, the median age of the state’s citizens is expected to rise in coming years.  “In 2000, 12.1 percent of South Carolina's population was 65 years of age or older. By 2030, the 65 and over population is expected to make up 22.0 percent of the state's population” (Census 2005).  These older citizens generally have more time available to give to causes and are more vocal and politically active than their young neighbors.  They are often times supporters or authors of proposed ordinances that affect forest management.

Effects on Forest Resources

This population growth is impacting the forest resources of our state in several ways. People moving to South Carolina from other parts of the country account for most of the population growth not native South Carolinians having more children (Slade 2008).  These new residents often have different views on forestry than people who have lived in the State all of their lives.  For example, anecdotal information indicates that many of the newcomers are intolerant of smoke from prescribed burning.  They also tend to be less familiar with timber harvesting operations, so they may advocate for regulations against logging.  Many of these newcomers are more accustomed to older, natural hardwood forests versus the young pine plantations that are actively managed and commonplace in South Carolina.

How this growth is occurring has a negative effect on forests.  Much of this growth is in the form of urban sprawl, which results in conversion of forestland to residential use (Macie & Hermansen 2002).  One definition of sprawl is when the rate of land consumption exceeds the rate of population growth for an area (Theobald 2001).  This unplanned, uncontrolled growth consumes a disproportionate amount of land.  In the Charleston area, for example, from 1973 to 1994, a one percent increase in population resulted in a six percent loss in forest and farm land (Allen and Lu 1998).  “Among forces of change, urbanization [has] the most direct, immediate, and permanent effects on the extent, condition, and health of forests” (Wear and Greis 2002).

Population Growth – 1900-2005



Much of the land that is being developed for commercial and residential use is highly productive.  “South Carolina ranked 9th among 50 states in the rate of conversion of prime agricultural and forest lands to development between 1992 and 1997” (Ulbrich and London 2008).  Once this conversion occurs, these properties are no longer available for the production of forest products and become unsuitable for most species of wildlife.  In addition, carrying out forest management practices, such as prescribed burning and timber harvesting on forestland near these residential areas, becomes more difficult (Wear et al. 1999).

Losses of wildlife habitat and timber production are only two of the consequences of population growth in South Carolina.  This growth also results in a loss of many of the benefits of managed forests such as aesthetic and recreational value and water quality protection.  The increased impervious surfaces associated with development results in higher amounts of stormwater runoff as well as increases in ambient air temperature (SCFC 2010).

Population growth also increases the risk of human-caused wildfires. “With more people, there is increased risk of fires caused by people…debris burning, equipment use, smoking, campfires and arson” (USFS 2010).  In addition, controlling wildfires on forestland near residential or commercial development is more difficult than controlling wildfires that occur in rural areas.  Firefighters place higher priorities on human lives and structures than they do on trees, consequently they must adjust their tactics when developed areas are nearby.  For example, firefighter may be severely limited in using backfires because houses would be placed in danger by the use of that technique.

Current Activities

Several programs are mitigating the effects of population growth on South Carolina’s forest resources.  Through the South Carolina Forestry Commission’s Urban & Community Forestry Program urban forestry specialists work with municipal and county planning organizations to develop tree ordinances, conduct tree inventories, and provide other technical assistance.  This advice helps to reduce the negative effects of development and promotes healthy urban forests (SCFC 2010a).  The Forest Legacy Program, coordinated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, seeks to protect environmentally sensitive forestland through the use of conservation easements or fee simple title (USFS 2008).  The Assessment of Need (AON) for South Carolina’s Forest Legacy Program is attached as Appendix 2.  The AON has been updated and received public review as part of the public comment opportunities with the SC Forest Assessment.  The only significant modification to the AON was the reduction in size of Forest Legacy Areas throughout the state to provide a more focused approach to forest conservation.  For additional information on this process and the basis to the boundary adjustments, please refer to the AON.

The Forestry Commission’s Forest Stewardship Program involves foresters working with landowners to develop management plans designed to optimize the productivity of their forestland to meet the landowner’s objectives (SCFC 2010b).  Also, the Forestry Commission manages approximately 93,000 acres on five state forests on a sustainable basis to provide forest products, recreation, and wildlife habitat.


Literature Cited and References

Allen, Jeffery and Kang Shou Lu.  1998.  Modeling and predicting future urban growth in the Charleston area.  Strom Thurmond Institute. Clemson University.  Available online at
Census Scope. University of Michigan. 2000.  South Carolina population growth. Available online at

Macie, Edward A. and Hermansen, L. Annie.  Human influences on forest ecosystems.  Nov. 2002.  USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, Asheville, NC.

Marsinko, Allan and William Zawacki.  1999.  Current status and changes in forest land use and ownership in South Carolina. Strom Thurmond Institute. Clemson University. 16p.

SC Forestry Commission (SCFC). 2010.  Benefits of urban trees.  Available online at

SC Forestry Commission (SCFC). 2010a.  What is community forestry?  Available online at

SC Forestry Commision (SCFC).  2010b.  South Carolina Forestry Commission:  Forest Stewardship.  Available online at

Slade, David. 2008. SC population growth in top 10. Post and Courier: Dec. 23, 2008.  Available online at

Strom Thurmond Institute. Clemson University. 1998. The South Carolina Prime Lands Initiative.  Available online at

Theobald, D.M.  2001. Quantifying urban and rural sprawl using the sprawl index.  Paper presented at Annual Association of American Geographers Conference. New York.

Ulbrich, Holly H. and Donna S. London.  2008. Strom Thurmond Institute. Managing residential growth in South Carolina.  Available online at

US Census Bureau.  Population Division. 2005.  South Carolina 2030 population projections. Available online at

USDA Forest Service (USFS). 2008.  Forest Legacy Program: Protecting private forest lands from conversion to non-forest uses.  Available online at

USDA Forest Service (USFS). 2010.  Wildland fires near properties at risk. Available online at

Wear, David N. and John G. Greis. 2002. Southern forest resource assessment: summary report. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-54. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 103 p.  Available online at

Wear, D.N.; R. Liu; J.M. Foreman; and R.M. Sheffield. 1999.  The effects of population growth on timber management and inventories in Virginia.  Forest Ecology and Management 118 (1999) pp 107-115.  Available online at:

Public Perceptions about Forestry


A challenge for the forest industry and public forestry agencies has been and always will be public perception.  Thoughtful, sound management of forested lands involves activities which can appear destructive or downright dangerous to public safety, as in the case of prescribed fire.  Overcoming the layman’s attitudes toward such practices as, clearcut timber harvesting, thinning, monoculture species planting, and prescribed fire has been a continual challenge for those in the forestry community.  Public attitudes are shaped by many sources, some of which may be the media, school curricula, special interest groups or the like, and are uninformed and inherently problematic.


The Southern Forest Resource Assessment (SFRA) sought to address concerns raised by professionals and the lay public about the current state and the future of the forests in the American Southeast.  This SFRA report contains a chapter on southern residents’ values and attitudes about the forest resource which illustrates the perceptions across socioeconomic strata of the forest resource.  This resource is an integral part of the culture, economy and environmental aesthetic (Wear et al. 2002).

The following key findings reflect the challenges seen in South Carolina for promoting forestry and its affiliated industries to a population whose connection to forest lands is merely one of proximity.   

It is this disconnect between the purpose of forestry and the general public’s values attached to forested lands that may stand as one of the hurdles for the future of forestry and timber-related industry in South Carolina.  If the demographic trend is toward urban centers, will an industry birthed in a natural resource stand the test of public opinion?  The above findings suggest a strong association of the forests with something that must be protected, not managed in a regime that includes final harvests and regeneration.


Current Activities

From its inception, the South Carolina Forestry Commission has dedicated its efforts in part to education.  Promoting state-of-the-art silvicultural techniques, offering various services, disseminating timely information on forestry legislation and tax code incentives, and keeping a finger on the pulse of the state’s timber market for the benefit of landowners have all been the Forestry Commission’s collective stock-in-trade for decades.  However, public entities tend to benefit mainly those who are familiar with what they have to offer.  Owners of forested land often are well aware of the information, services, and expertise the USDA Forest Service and the SC Forestry Commission offer.  If landowners are not aware of the assistance available, they often know enough to at least turn to these agencies for help.  The perception of the people working in the profession is that the general population lacks a sufficient understanding of the purpose and goals of forestry. 

Tomorrow’s policy decisions will be made by today’s young people.  Programs, such as the Forestry Commission’s Wood Magic Forest Fair, aim to impart a commodity-based value of forestry to hundreds of South Carolina’s fourth graders each year.  It is a comprehensive environmental education program that is correlated to state curriculum standards in science and language arts.  To help measure the effectiveness of this program, teachers are asked to administer a pre-test to the students before they attend Wood Magic and a post-test after the program.  The results of these tests are compiled and examined to determine the educational success of Wood Magic.  A summary of these results indicates a clear positive shift in attitudes and understanding of forestry practices ( (SCFC 2010).

While these results demonstrate a pro-industry shift in understanding by the end of the program, the results also suggest deficit prior to attending this field trip.  The children’s’ attitudes prior to Wood Magic are being shaped and informed by their environment.  It is reasonably safe to assume these influences include teachers, parents, popular media, and general experience.  Shaping attitudes about South Carolina’s forest resource must entail reaching back through all of these channels in order to foster a general appreciation for the state’s number-one manufacturing sector in the decades ahead.  


Literature Cited and References

South Carolina Forestry Commission (SCFC).  2010.  South Carolina’s Wood Magic Forest Fair.  Available online at

Tarrant, Michael A.; Robert Porter; and H. Ken Cordell.  Sociodemographics, values, and attitudes.  2002.  Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-54. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station.



1anthropocentric - assuming human beings to be the final aim and end of the universe

2biocentric - centered in life; having life as its principal fact

Climate Change


Weather data from the last 30 years indicates that the earth’s atmosphere is warming, which is  most likely due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are being released into the atmosphere (The National Academies 2008). Much of this pollution is caused by the burning of coal for electricity generation and by the consumption of diesel fuel and gasoline for transportation.  In fact, fossil fuel consumption results in 79 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (Hockstad et al. 2009).  The resultant warming of the atmosphere results in changes in long-term weather patterns as well as a possible increase in the incidence of droughts, flooding, and severe weather (USFS 2008).  Once known as global warming, this change in the atmosphere is now referred to as climate change.

Current Status

The effects of these changes in long-term weather patterns have not been quantified in South Carolina as of this writing.  There is considerable debate among scientists as to the degree to which these effects will be felt in our state in the future. 


One of the climatic changes that is being predicted is an increased incidence and severity of droughts.  Even short-term droughts reduce the productivity of forests both for wood products and for wildlife habitat.  Not only do the canopy trees grow more slowly under these conditions, but the shrub and herb layers of the forest also decrease in nutrient capacity for wildlife.  Prolonged droughts can make trees more susceptible to insect and disease attacks and result in increased mortality.

In addition to the stress that droughts place on trees and other plants, climate change can increase the reproductive capacity of bark beetles (Dix 2009).  Larger populations of insects may develop which will enable these pests to successfully attack trees whose vigor has been reduced by a lack of rainfall.

If the current warming trend continues, the natural ranges of both plant and animal species may change.  The range of some tree species may move northward and to higher elevations.  This change will affect ecosystems as these new species begin competing with the trees that formally dominated this landscape.  In addition, invasive species could become more of a problem in some areas.  The spread of these non-native species may be facilitated by longer growing seasons (USFS 2009).

Climate change predictions include the likelihood of more numerous and more severe wildfires (Hilbruner 2009).  Longer growing seasons result in a larger amount of fuel on the forest floor.  Droughts cause these fuels to dry to historically low levels which makes them more available for intense combustion.

Some studies suggest that warming of the atmosphere will result in a significant rise in sea levels in some parts of the world.  If this occurs in South Carolina, this could have at least two effects on our forest resources.  The most direct effect will be an intrusion of salt water into formally brackish or fresh water ecosystems.  This change will have a major effect on the plants and animals that inhabit these areas.  Those species that are less salt-tolerant will suffer reduced growth and higher levels of mortality.  An indirect effect of the rise in sea level would be increased pressure on the forest resources from the human population along the coast.  As coastal residents are forced to move inland, more and more forest land will be converted into housing and commercial development (Landner 2009).

In addition to (or because of) the effect of climate change on trees, many species of wildlife will be affected as well.  Fragmentation of wildlife and fish habitat is likely to occur if temperatures continue to increase and droughts become more frequent and/or severe.  Bird populations may fluctuate dramatically in response to changes in food supplies.  In fact, fish and wildlife species that are not able to adapt to climate changes will be forced to either move or face extinction (Solomon 2009a).

In contrast to all of these negative effects that are predicted, some scientists assert that several positive effects of climate change are possible.  One of these effects is longer growing seasons that will result in more growth per year for some species of trees.  Higher levels of CO2 will “very likely increase photosynthesis for forests, but this increase will likely only enhance wood production in young forests on fertile soils” (Backlund et al. 2009).  Nitrogen deposition will also probably cause increased forest growth where adequate water is available.

Role of Forests

Trees and forests play a key role in moderating the effects of climate change.  U.S. forests currently offset about 10 percent of the carbon dioxide (700 million tons) that is produced by the burning of fossil fuels.  Under diligent management, forests have the potential to offset an additional 1200 million tons and the use of forest-derived biofuel may offset 600 million tons more. Carbon can also be stored in forest products that do not decay rapidly as well as in standing trees (Solomon 2009).  Managing forests sustainably helps keep the amount of carbon in these areas relatively constant (Buford 2009).  In addition to helping with carbon sequestration, forests can “to a substantial degree, mitigate the dire effects of atmospheric pollution” (Malmsheimer et al. 2009).  In short, sustainable forest management can enable our forests to “play a positive and significant role to help address global climate change” (Broekhoff et al. 2009).

Current Activities

Current activities that are mitigating the effects of climate change in South Carolina include the Forest Stewardship Program which is funded by the USDA Forest Service and is coordinated at the state level by the SC Forestry Commission.  Through this program, foresters work with landowners to develop management plans designed to optimize the productivity of their forest land to meet the landowner’s objectives (SCFC 2009).  In addition, several cost-share programs are available to assist private landowners with the cost of reforestation (SCFC 2009a). 

The SC Forestry Commission also provides professional advice to other state agencies that own land.  This technical assistance often results in a higher level of productivity for the forest land that these agencies manage.  The Forestry Commission manages over 93,000 acres of state forest property with help from a forest planning model.  This GIS-based computer model maximizes the economic return from these lands while providing for wildlife habitat, recreation, and aesthetics.

Literature Cited and References

Backlund, Peter; Anthony Janetos, and David Schimel.  2008. The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity.  U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3. p. 1-10.

Broekhoff, Derik; John Nickerson, and Heather Raven.  2009. Forest Project Protocol Version 3.1 Climate Action Reserve.  114 p.

Buford, Marilyn. 2009.  Climate change, biobased products, and bioenergy.  Available online at

Dix Mary Ellen. 2009.  Climate change and bark beetles.  Available online at

Hilbruner, Michael. 2009. Climate change and fire.  Available online at

Hockstad, Leif et al. ES-20 Inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks: 1990 –2007. US EPA, April 2009. pp. ES-1-21.

Langner, Linda. 2009. Climate change, people, and ecosystems. Available online at

Malmsheimer, Robert; Patrick Heffernan, Steve Brink, Douglas Crandall, Fred Deneke, Christopher Galik, Edmund Gee, John A. Helms, Nathan McClure, Michael Mortimer, Steve Ruddell, Matthew Smith, and John Stewart.  2008. Forest Management Solutions for Mitigating Climate Change in the United States. Journal of Forestry 106 (3):  115-173.

SC Forestry Commission (SCFC). 2009. South Carolina Forestry Commission:  Forest Stewardship.  Available online at

SC Forestry Commission (SCFC). 2009a. South Carolina Forestry Commission:  Cost Share Programs. Available online at

Solomon, Allen. 2009. Climate change, carbon, and fire.  Available online at

Solomon, Allen. 2009a.  Climate change and wildlife, fish, and birds.  Available online at

The National Academies. Understanding and responding to climate change: Highlights of National Academies reports. 2008 edition. Available online at

USDA Forest Service (USFS). 2008. What is climate change?  Available online at

USDA Forest Service (USFS). 2009. What we know about climate change effects on forests and rangelands.  Available online at

SC Forest Resource Assessment Page