Early Estimates Indicate Millions of Acres Sustained Damage Worth Potentially Billions of Dollars
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service today reported that Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed approximately 19 billion board feet of timber spread over five million acres in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.
"The Forest Service is working in concert with its state partners to accurately assess the extent of damaged and destroyed forestland from Hurricane Katrina," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "While this early assessment suggests a potential significant loss of timber, the next step will be to determine what is salvageable. Recovering the usable timber will help to diminish the economic loss as well as to prevent damage from insects and disease and to reduce the risk of fires."
If removed quickly, storm damaged wood can be salvageable for various products. According to Forest Service researchers, down and damaged wood (trees with broken tops, uprooted or leaning trees, and trees that are bent, broken or splintered) can be sufficient to produce 800,000 single family homes and 25 million tons of paper and paperboard.
The initial assessment indicates that the damage to the timber is spread across five million acres of lightly to heavily damaged forestland-both public and private-in the three states. However, the majority of the forestland affected is under private ownership. Forest inventories indicate one-third of the timber damaged is concentrated in eight counties of southern Mississippi. Nearly 90 percent of all forestland damaged is within 60 miles of the coast and predominantly in Mississippi.
"The extraordinary scale of the hurricane's impacts will require solid coordination at federal, state and community levels to restore these forested lands," said Southern Group of State Foresters Chair Leah MacSwords.
Nearly 60 percent of the damage occurred to softwoods-predominantly pines-with the remainder of the damage occurring to hardwoods. The damaged acres may require additional treatment to reduce the risk of fires posed by downed trees and limbs.
Scientists from the Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis unit are using historical inventory data and modeling tools with Hurricane Katrina's storm track data to estimate the extent and amount of damage to forestland. The Forest Service has conducted surveys of the South's forests for more than 70 years.
A board foot is the unit of measurement for lumber. A board foot is one foot long, one foot wide and one inch thick.