Georgia's 24 million acres of forest land are a rich and renewable resource that provides myriad benefits to citizens across the state. Yet challenges to the land and the professionals who manage it abound. The vision of the Georgia Forestry Commission ensures those benefits for present and future generations - healthy, sustainable forests providing clean air, clean water and abundant forest products. The Georgia Forest Action Plan provides a science-based foundation that analyzes forest conditions and trends in the state and delineates priority rural and urban forest landscape areas, and provides the GFC and its valued partners with a solid road map for navigating the challenges ahead.
Water quality is the public's primary issue of concern. Urbanization and nonpoint
sources of pollution are the greatest threats to Georgia's water quality. Urbanization removes acreage from forest cover, resulting in increased storm runoff and intensified streamflow that causes stream bank erosion, sedimentation and flooding. Currently, more than 6,000 miles of streams do not meet state water quality standards due to nonpoint sources of pollution. Magnifying the threat is the problem that Georgia does not have systems in place that measure stream and aquifer water output or pollution capacities, making water projections impossible to gauge. Specific regional water priority issues are detailed in the Forest Action Plan.
The urbanization of Georgia is a serious threat that could undermine forest sustainability in decades to come. Georgia is home to four of the nation's fastest growing counties and the state's population is projected to increase by an additional 46 percent in the next 20 years. From 2001-2005, Georgia's canopy cover declined by a total of 398,330 acres and impervious surfaces increased by 106 acres a day. Much of this growth occurred in metro Atlanta, though the Savannah, Columbus and Macon areas reflected significant changes as well. Population increases and the loss of tree cover to impervious surfaces impact every forest benefit. Proactive management tools and technical support systems are needed to adequately protect Georgia's forest resources.
Forest fragmentation and parcelization are additional challenges caused by urbanization. These phenomena are created when forests are converted to other land uses and when the number of forest landowners increase, but the land parcels shrink in size. Contributing factors include urban sprawl, inheritance issues, tax implications, timber land divestitures, investment concerns or other financial pressures. Taxation issues also play a part as land values rise but income from forest uses does not. The global recession and economic pressures of global competition have compounded these issues. Likewise, these situations can lead to a decreased value for forest management, and an increased occurrence of water quality degradation, wildlife disruption and forest pest incidence.