Forest Trail Explorer

US Forest Service and Southern Research Station

Risks, Hazards, and Stressors

Conversion to Developed Land

It is estimated that 214,265 acres of land area (an area about the size of Yadkin County) forested in 2006 will be converted to developed land by 2030 in 25 of the 27 counties covered by this Index. Continued development leads to several challenges, including the amount municipal governments must spend to provide services to residents. For example, continued development leads to an increase in landslide risk from the erosion of steep slopes, more frequent flooding from altered terrain and... more »

Ecosystem Threats

The forests of Western North Carolina are threatened by a wide variety of environmental stressors and disturbances, such as insects, disease, invasive species, drought, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, and ice storms. A stressor is any kind of event or action which, at certain levels, causes stress to organisms; for example, a period of drought. A disturbance is a relatively discrete event in time that disrupts ecosystem, community, or population structure and changes resources, substrate... more »


Historically, fire was caused by lightning, but now most forest fires are caused by humans. Careless or accidental use of fire or a heat source and the deliberate setting of a fire represent a constant threat to ecosystems. Fire patterns from 1970-2007 tended to follow major population clusters and corridors.
Forest fire and its exclusion in the last century have been key elements in the development of Western North Carolina’s forests. Following heavy cutting beginning in the 1890s and lasting... more »

Floodplains and Flood Hazards

What are Floodplains?
Floodplains are low-lying areas adjacent to rivers, lakes, and oceans that are periodically inundated by floodwater during the over-banking of nearby water systems. Floodplain lands and adjacent waters combine to form a complex, dynamic, physical, and biological system that supports a multitude of water and societal resources. Floodplain lands host locations of a variety of human activities, including commerce, agriculture, residence, infrastructure, and also locations for... more »

Forest Fragmentation

North Carolina’s forests are changing. In recent decades, the pace of development in rural, forested areas has increased significantly, with the trend expected to continue to rise over the long term. The USDA Forest Service estimates that over the next two decades the density of residential housing will increase on nearly a third of private lands neighboring National Forests in North Carolina. As land is converted from forest to developed uses, forest habitats are broken into ever-smaller... more »

Land Use Change

The term Land Use refers to the economic use to which land is put. For example, is the land being used for commercial purposes (stores, office buildings, apartments, etc.) or for industrial purposes (factories, assembly plants)? Land Use Change is the conversion of forest into agricultural or developed land. Land use change can be a factor in carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere, and is thus a contributor to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that... more »

Landslides and Landslide Hazards

Landslides are the result of natural geologic processes that have worked to shape the landscape among the mountains of North Carolina, and are hazards endemic to mountainous regions all throughout the world. The frequency and severity of landslides is considerably less here than in many other areas, such as in California, primarily due to specific factors guiding our geology, climate, and vegetation, with damaging landslides occurring nearly every year. Of the 3,290 landslides documented since... more »

Severe Weather

Drought and flooding, both naturally occurring stressors, are a function of the amount of rain, snow, ice, and fog present in addition to soil characteristics. For forests, growing periods with little water can lead to decreased growth, poor resistance to other stresses, and impaired physiological functions in trees. For example, extreme drought predisposes oaks to the oak decline disease complex involving root disease (Armillaria) and insect infestation. Resulting reductions in hard mast (... more »

Soil Degradation and Sedimentation Due to Transportation

Causes and Effects of Soil Loss
Soil loss is caused by a variety of factors, including erosion from wind and water, mechanical tilling, logging, agricultural practices, and poor water management. Erosion and sedimentation, the major effects of soil loss, are widespread and can be devastating.
Erosion is a natural process on hill slopes. The rate of erosion is determined by several factors, including soil type, rainfall, and length and percent of slope. Generally, human-induced changes... more »
Eroding road