An estimated 350 million acres of forest covered the southern United States in the year 1600. Today, about 40 percent of this total acreage has been converted for agriculture or lost to suburban sprawl, mining, or clear-cutting for timber and pulpwood.
SeeSouthernForests.org, a new website created by the World Resources Institute (WRI), uses satellite images through Google Earth, along with additional photographs, data, history, and news, to illustrate current deforestation trends while at the same time laying the groundwork for more sustainable forest-management practices.
The site’s interactive satellite maps show themes such as forest cover and composition, biodiversity protection, timber production, ownership, drought conditions, and recent fires.
Because continuous, dispersed deforestation can long go unnoticed and unaddressed, SeeSouthernForests.org uses images collected over the past 30 years to track forest change through time and to provide a big-picture view, allowing viewers to see the full extent of deforestation as never before. For example, the color-coded map of forest cover in 1873, when compared with the same map from the early twenty-first century, shows the significant deforestation in Florida and Georgia that has occurred in less than 150 years.
WRI hopes its new website will not only raise awareness of forest loss but also spearhead a movement to increase the acreage of conserved lands. Through sustainable management, such as public and private land protection, the project aspires to help protect an additional 20 percent of forest cover by 2020.