La. forestry industry still tallying storm damage

By Bruce Schultz (LSU AgCenter)

Louisiana forestry’s $1.5 billion in losses from hurricanes was double the amount of revenue the industry generates annually, according to an LSU AgCenter forestry expert.

Speaking recently (March 10) at the 2021 Virtual Forestry Forum, Michael Blazier, LSU AgCenter forestry specialist, said the damages would be more if lost revenue, infrastructure damage and lost production during the storms are considered.

Blazier said Hurricane Laura that hit on Aug. 27 inflicted damage to 800,000 acres of timber in 22 parishes, with the worst in Vernon Parish. The resulting loss in saw timber, about 3 million board feet, could have supplied 25 sawmills for a year, he said.

“Hurricane Delta just aggravated the situation,” he said, adding that the Oct. 9 storm caused the most timber damage to Winn Parish.

Blazier said wildfires will be a big concern this year because of all the downed timber.

Dave Cupp of the Walsh Timber Co. said harvesting downed trees is a slow, dangerous job. Most of the industry has moved to mechanization, he said.

“You just don’t see anybody on the ground anymore,” he said.

He said the fallen timber has numerous quality issues, and much of it has been rejected by mills.

Cupp said downed saw timber is good for only about four to six weeks, and downed trees that could be used for lumber are salvageable for three to four months. “Whatever has occurred now is probably going to be it. It’s too old now.”

He said the closing of a mill at DeQuincy left a big void for selling timber in southwest Louisiana.

Cupp said mills further north had all the inventory they needed after the storm. Converting the trees to wood chips to be used as fuel for power generation would have been possible, he said, but the low natural gas prices makes that unfeasible.

Hallie Dozier, LSU AgCenter urban forestry specialist, said rapid-growing trees such as water oaks and laurel oaks are easily toppled in storms, making them bad choices for shade trees near homes.

“They’re extremely damaging when they fall,” she said.

She also advised against southern red oaks, poplar and southern pecan trees being located near homes.

She said pine trees are also prone to falling in high winds. “I don’t want a pine tree anywhere near my house. I’ve seen them cut houses in half.”

Dozier said southern magnolias and live oaks hold up to storms well, along with small trees such as dogwoods and crepe myrtles.

A study done after Hurricane Katrina showed that live oaks trees survived long-term flooding well, unlike magnolia, sweet olive and pine trees.

Robbie Hutchins, LSU AgCenter area forestry specialist, said damage estimates for the 2020 hurricanes did not include urban forestry areas.

Ricky Williams, state forester for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, described several federal programs that are available to help restore forests. He said the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Forestry Association also have resources to help.

Williams said timberland owners also could get certified in the Louisiana Master Farmer Program to help with their operations.

Jonathan Bordelon of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said the 2020-21 deer season resulted in the highest harvest in 10 years, but he said southwest Louisiana deer hunting was significantly less than the 10-year average, and Vernon Parish declined by 25 percent. He said Hurricane Laura resulted in deer mortality, but none was found for Delta.

Bordelon said the forest understory in many areas has been damaged, blocking needed sunlight for vegetation growth.

A second forestry forum will be held online on March 23 to cover topics of forest management and tax advice. Registration for each meeting is $15. Visit https://bit.ly/3jGTdtv to register online.