With up to three year's worth of harvest timber destroyed or damaged, the odds of salvaging much volume or value are slim, and the clock is ticking.
Bob Daniels, forestry specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said preliminary estimates indicate Hurricane Katrina damaged $1.3 billion worth of timber on 1.2 million acres.
The Mississippi Forestry Commission estimated that the storm destroyed 24.2 million cords of timber. In the last five years, Mississippi harvested an average of 12 million cords annually, so about two year's harvest volume was destroyed. MFC also estimated an additional $1.1 billion of urban and community tree damage in the state.
"Aerial reviews of the coastal counties show about 60 percent of the forest is on the ground. Damage decreases as Katrina moved north to about 10 percent of the forests down in the counties along Interstate 20," Daniels said. "About 65 percent of the forests are on private, nonindustrial land. Typically, industries will be the most organized and aggressive in salvage efforts."
Laurie Grace, MSU forestry professor, said salvage efforts are important, but even in a best-case scenario, the percentage of recovery will be small.
"Following Hurricane Hugo, about 35 percent of the volume was recovered, but only 10 percent of the value," Grace said.
Among the odds against recovery, Grace cited the sheer volume of timber on the ground, reduced quality of the wood, damaged mills and other mills already with large supplies, the expense of harvesting, and the increased danger from harvesting damaged trees.
"Everyone realizes that getting salvage efforts under way as soon as possible will reduce timber losses, but many people have to work on other storm damage issues first, like repairing their homes," Grace said. "One of the biggest issues in the salvage efforts will be safety. Standing damaged timber can fall at any time without warning, and downed timber is going to increase the risk of forest fires. "
Additionally, fuel expenses and availability are compounding the problem. Grace said log trucks typically get five miles to the gallon on interstate highways. That average decreases to one mile per gallon on rough logging roads.
"We have about a six- to nine-month window of opportunity to salvage most of the timber," Grace said. "Some species can stay fresh longer, and some markets will tolerate more degrade. Fall and winter weather may be a factor, but storm-damaged timber is perishable."
Another option the industry is considering is wet decking or water storage of the timber to extend the usable life of the wood. Researchers with MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center have been studying the potential of long-term timber storage. Their studies suggest that water storage prolongs storage time up to one year with little change in the wood value or properties.
Rubin Shmulsky, MSU associate professor of forest products, said water storage has been used in situations such as catastrophic storm damage.
"Landowners need to bring felled trees to timber yards as soon as possible to minimize drying, staining, decay and termites," Shmulsky said. "Sufficient amounts of water sprayed over the logs will exclude oxygen from the wood and retard or prevent decay organisms from attacking and digesting the wood."
Shmulsky said pine logs can be stored up to six months under water spray with no adverse effects. From six to 12 months, pine logs may experience some evidence of higher moisture content and permeability. Some value will be lost if stored from 12 to 36 months under water spray, but certain allowances can be made during processing.
Other species, including hardwoods, can be placed in water storage, but the value of the lumber degrades faster than with pines.
Anyone who wishes to keep up-to-date on timber recovery information and activities can monitor the Mississippi Forest Recovery Task Force Web site at http://www.msforestry.blogspot.com.