Windblown forest? Now what do I do?


Just received my 2021 “Old Farmer’s Almanac” and anxiously thumbed to the weather section, page 97 to be exact. With my hands shaking, my eyes scan for the “H” word … “HURRICANE” and am relieved for our beloved Louisiana Gulf Coast but take caution, Atlantic East Coast.


With the frequency of tornadic activity in the spring and tropical storm activity in the late summer and early fall this year, I certainly do not want another repeat in 2021. Southwest Louisiana’s hard-hit coast in 2020 with hurricanes Laura and Delta initiates serious thought in protecting and managing our timber natural resource.


“Plan for the worst and hope for the best” comes to mind, as with any investment or asset, risks are involved. How much are we willing to spend to minimize risk yet still have a return on the investment? With the uncertainty of weather variables and the inability of humans to control mother nature, casualty events will occur.


Plan for the Worst


Standing timber insurance is available which will transfer the catastrophic risks associated with timberland ownership away from the landowner or policy holder. Request a free quote from qualified, reputable companies searched on the Internet and provide the following information: current value of timber, any losses incurred due to catastrophic events during the past 10 years, forest management plan, location and map of property.


Forest management might play an integral role in minimizing the effects of storm damage. The susceptibility of forests to damage depends on tree and stand characteristics such as species, height, diameter, crown area, rooting depth and width, stand density and presence of forest gaps or edges. First, research indicates that slash pine (Pinus elliottii) and longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) can withstand heavier wind loads than loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and are favorable in coastal area reforestation. Slash and longleaf pine are available in our local commercial nurseries.


Coastal forest management focuses on the tree height/diameter ratio (H/D) and stand densities. Larger H/D ratios tend to increase the risk of damage from high wind events. For instance, a tree with a height of 45 feet with 16 inches at diameter at breast height (dbh) has a ratio of 2.8 and a tree with similar height of 45 feet and a dbh of 12 inches has a ratio of 3.75. The tree with the smaller dbh has the highest ratio therefore more susceptible to damage.


Low density stocking promotes diameter growth of the individual trees through early thinning and although there is a risk of damage in the short term after the thinning the expected damages are reduced into the future as trees respond by growing stronger and more resistant to damages. When thinning, focus on removing the diseased trees with pathogens on the bole of the tree. This is a weak point in which breakage will occur.


Wind may also move through low-density stands more freely, so that energy is dissipated and wind loadings are lowered. When operating under risk, manage the trees to grow in size and shorten the rotation age.


Consultation with a professional forester is recommended in developing optimal management strategies regarding stand densities and how intensely thinning practices should be conducted.


Hope for the Best


Damage to pine stands is dependent on the age, species and past practices, which may be grouped into three categories;


Light Damage — stands in which less than 30 percent of the trees are leaning more than 30 degrees, blown over or had their tops broken.


Moderate Damage — stands in which less than 30 to 50 percent of the trees are leaning more than 30 degrees, blown over or had their tops broken. If 100 to 300 trees per acre remain, the stand will most likely recover on its own.


Heavy Damage — stand in which more than 50 percent of the trees have significant damage


Regardless of damage category, the residual trees are stressed and secondary damage may occur through insects and disease. Salvage operations are recommended where feasible and inspection of trees for appearance of unusual symptoms should be frequent. Consultation with a professional forester is advised especially with heavy damage and the need to salvage and reforest.


Disaster assistance is offered through the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP), which is administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) by providing payments to eligible nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) owners to help restore land that has been damaged by a natural disaster.


To be eligible for this program the NIPF must have existing tree cover or tree cover immediately before the natural disaster and be owned by a nonindustrial private individual, group, association, corporation or other private legal entity. Cost share payments are approved up to 75 percent of the cost to implement approved restoration practices.


Visit your Consulting Forester or http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov or https://www.ldaf.state.la.us/forestry for your parish forester.


Maintaining records of activities on your tree farm, including inventory, timber basis, timing of forest management activities and dates and articles of significant casualty events is very important when deducting losses in preparing your tax returns.


There are two types of losses from natural events. A casualty loss is sudden, unexpected and usually from a hurricane, ice storm or fire. A non-casualty loss is not sudden but is unexpected and unusual as from insects, drought or disease.


The most important difference between casualty and non-casualty losses is in their tax treatment. A casualty loss is deducted from ordinary income while a non-casualty loss is first deducted from capital gains. Employing the services of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is recommended.


Life experiences come with hard times however through planning and preparation, losses can be mitigated. Create or update your forest management plan to include not only management techniques but also recovery methods after a casualty event.


(Steve Lenox, Consulting Forester for Muslow Forestry, Inc. with assistance from William Keith Laenger, Western Division Manager for Regions Natural Resource and Real Estate Group.)


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