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Timber salvage continues, damage to species varies
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane Katrina has flooded the timber market with trees as landowners try to salvage some of their investments. The storm of the century also provided insights into which species might hold up best in future hurricanes.
Bob Daniels, forestry professor with Mississippi State University Extension Service, said landowners with smaller tracts of timber have not been able to salvage as many trees as the owners of larger tracts.
“A recent report by the Mississippi Institute for Forest Inventory stated that industry and corporate landowners may salvage between 80 percent and 90 percent of their damaged timber. Federally owned lands are expected to salvage about 75 percent of their Katrina trees,” Daniels said. “Nonindustrial private landowners may not harvest more than 20 or 25 percent.”
The report further stated that 26 new wet storage facilities have been established since Katrina to handle long-term wet storage. Each is at maximum capacity, with about five months of solid wood production in storage.
Glenn Hughes, a forestry professor based at the Coastal Research and Extension Center, said the hard times anticipated with the timber market after Hurricane Katrina have arrived.
“A complicating factor in selling damaged trees has been the amount of wood placed on the market in south Mississippi by trees harvested from the DeSoto National Forest. These trees flooded an already saturated market,” Hughes said. “Loggers are hurting because of restrictions on the amount they can deliver to the mill, and landowners are hurting from the low prices.”
For now, Hughes recommended owners hold onto undamaged timber in anticipation of the huge restoration effort that will come to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
“It could be 12 months before demand kicks in full, but once companies and landowners settle their insurance issues and New Orleans dries out, there will be a tremendous demand for wood,” he said.
In addition to coping with the results of 2005's hurricanes, landowners also are evaluating what they should learn from the storms about future timber management.
“We've been able to look at the three commercial species -- slash, loblolly and longleaf pines -- and see how much they each were damaged and the type of damage they sustained,” Hughes said. “We evaluated adjacent stands that were planted and thinned at the same time.”
Hughes said thinned pines sustained some of the greatest wind damage from Katrina. Of the tracts observed, 16 percent of the loblolly trees were undamaged, compared to 52 percent of the slash and 64 percent of the longleaf pines, the latter two tracts remaining manageable.
“We also could see a difference in the type of damage. With loblolly and slash, the trees were snapped and when trees are snapped, they lose a lot of their value immediately,” Hughes said. “The longleaf pines mostly were leaning or uprooted. That gives landowners more opportunities to salvage these trees.”
Additionally, Hughes said unthinned stands of loblolly pines fared well in most cases.
“But the minute you open them up (thin them), they became more susceptible to wind damage than long-leaf pines,” he said. “Older, more open longleaf pines suffered significant damage.”
Hughes said landowners may view these results and harvest trees sooner and thin less.
“It's something of a catch-22. Older trees are worth more, but each year you carry a tree over, you run the risk of damage from another major hurricane,” he said.
Hughes said although many people will be attracted to longleaf pines because of their endurance in Katrina's wind, they are not for everyone.
“Most of the longleaf seedlings produced now are containerized. They need good site preparation and more management involvement from the landowner,” Hughes said.
“Katrina illustrated that no species is immune from hurricane damage. Landowners can reduce the risks by diversifying the ages of their trees,” Hughes said. “People south of Hattiesburg should consider alternatives to loblolly pines.”