2014 ice storm damage to timber is price of annual harvest

Johney Haralson at young tree lot damaged in ice storm
Johney Haralson at young tree lot damaged in ice storm

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The winter storm of February 2014 cost millions of dollars in losses to South Carolina's number-one cash crop. The South Carolina Forestry Commission says $360 million worth of timber damage was sustained during the three-day storm that dumped snow and ice throughout the state.

"It's gone," timber grower Johney Haralson describes some of his damaged pine that was about seven years old. "The top's gone off it.  It's gone."

"The only comparatory analysis you could give it would be the ice storm of 2004," says Haralson, who owns hundreds of acres of timberland in Denmark.  State forestry officials say the 2014 damage is four times the value of what was caused ten years ago.
Haralson is one of hundreds of timber growers in South Carolina whose trees were damaged in the storm.  Damage was so extensive, a Forest Disaster Declaration was issued in March.

"Unlike most manufacturing that can order its raw material supply from many locations, forest product manufacturing is almost entirely reliant on the wood supply available within 50 to 100 miles from the mill site, so the state's trees and private landowners that own them are critical to the industry and those employed there," the declaration read.

$360 million dollars is the approximate value of all the trees typically harvested across the state in one year.

The timber industry is responsible for $17 billion a year in economic impact, according to the Forestry Commission. 1.5 million acres of forest land throughout 24 South Carolina counties were affected by the storm.  The damage was spread throughout a band about 70 miles wide stretching across the state.

Statewide, about 13.1 million acres are forested.

"Most of the pines that were damaged were in the 15-25 year age class," said South Carolina State Forester Gene Kodama. "So what it's done is hurt that age class grouping, not across the entire state, but over a significant portion of the state."

Depending the market and other factors, a fully-grown longleaf pine tree can earn a grower as much as $85. But the ice storm broke the tops off and bent many pine trees, greatly decreasing their potential value.

"We have a very limited time in which we can harvest the wood and make use of it," says Dr. Gene Kessler, a former professor of forestry at Clemson University. "Within six months, that's the time frame we have. It has to be cut, delivered to the mill and processed in order to be a useful material."

"What's happened here is the landowner has a product out there and it has a certain value," says Kessler. "The ice storm comes along and it takes away the majority of that value. They can still harvest the residue, what they have out there.  And in some cases they'll get some money for that but not nearly what it's worth."

So tree growers are salvaging what they can and replanting as quickly as possible.

"We know what to do," says Kodama. "Our industry knows what to do, and what that is, aggressively salvage as much wood as been damaged as fast as you possibly can and replant those sites as fast as you possibly can."

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