Laura agriculture

An aerial drone photo shows downed trees in the Vernon Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest. Hurricane Delta aggravated the situation. The LSU AgCenter estimates that timber damage from the hurricanes was at least $1.5 billion.

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

Michael Blazier, LSU AgCenter forestry specialist, said the damage would be more if lost revenue, infrastructure damage and lost production during the storms are considered.

Blazier, speaking during a virtual forum this week, said Hurricane Laura's Aug. 27 hit 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. The AgCenter previously estimated damage from Laura at $1.1 billion.

“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.

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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 low natural gas prices make that unfeasible.

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.

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