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How to manage forests in hurricane impact zones

Forest Service researchers have developed an adaptive strategy to help natural resource managers in the southeastern United States both prepare for and respond to disturbance from major hurricanes. In an article published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, John Stanturf, Scott Goodrick, and Ken Outcalt from the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) unit in Athens, GA, report the results of a case study based on the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The past 10 hurricane seasons have been the most active on record, with climatologists predicting that heightened activity could continue for another 10 to 40 years. In early April, Colorado State University meteorologists predicted a very active 2007 hurricane season for the Atlantic coast, with 17 named storms, including 5 major hurricanes. The analysis included a 74 percent probability of a major hurricane hitting the U.S. coast before the season ends on November 30.

"Coastal areas in the southern United States are adapted to disturbance from both fire and high wind," says Stanturf, project leader of the SRS disturbance ecology unit based in Athens, GA. "But those adaptations only go so far in the face of a major hurricane. Forest owners and natural resource managers need strategies to deal with hurricane damage to coastal forests."

In early fall 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused what may be the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, with over 5.5 million acres of timberland in the coastal states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama affected. Using available data on the damage from these storms, the researchers constructed an adaptive strategy that distinguishes event risk (hurricane occurrence) from the vulnerability of coastal forests and outcome risk (hurricane severity).

"There really isn’t any way for managers to reduce the risk of a hurricane occurring or the severity of a hurricane when it hits," says Stanturf. "The long-term
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Source:Southern Research Station - USDA Forest Service


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