Conservation officials say the May 8 storms that rampaged through Missouri, including Texas County, damaged hundreds of millions of board feet of timber. The silver lining, they say, is enhanced opportunities to return some acreage to healthier forest for wildlife and recreation.
Storms damage timber every year. However, the May storm spawned thunderstorms, tornadoes and extreme straight-line winds over an unusually large area. Straight-line winds of up to 90 mph did most of the damage, uprooting trees in swaths that covered hundreds of acres. Such damage is particularly serious, since uprooted trees cannot regrow from their stumps.
In all, the Missouri Department of Conservative estimates the extent of the damage at 204 million board feet of timber on 113,000 acres. Of this total, 68,102 acres are private land, 28,717 are on the Mark Twain National Forest and 7,722 acres are on conservation areas.
The commercial value of this timber is estimated at $12 million. That does not include areas with light damage, which covered approximately twice as many acres.
Although damage ranging from significant to severe occurred in 36 counties, three-quarters of the destruction fell on six counties: Reynolds (28,351 acres), Madison (17,854), Shannon (10,944), Dent (9,920), Iron (9,514) and Bollinger (8,473).
Some trees damaged or felled by wind can be salvaged if removed promptly. Landowners have a year or more to harvest downed hardwoods, such as oaks, maples and walnuts, before rot sets in. Pine trees are much less durable, succumbing to fungus and beetle infestation within weeks in hot weather.
Hardwoods retain some value for making pallets, railroad ties and packing materials after they begin to deteriorate. Deteriorated pines sometimes can be salvaged for pallet lumber or pulpwood.
The conservation department estimates it has 33 million board feet of downed or damaged timber on 13,000 acres. As much as three-quarters of this might be in good enough condition for commercial use. However, accessibility will limit how much of this actually can be saved. Conservation areas where salvage harvests are planned include Amidon, Angeline, Apple Creek, Cedar Grove, Current River, Ketcherside, Logan Creek, Rocky Creek, Sunklands and Whitewater. Amidon, Angeline, Logan Creek and Sunklands conservation areas were particularly hard-hit.
The Missouri Forest Products Association said statewide damage from the storm equals approximately one-third of Missouri’s annual timber harvest. Much of the damaged timber will be difficult to reach and some is damaged too badly to be commercially valuable. Foresters expect about half to be salvageable. On top of all this, the sheer magnitude of the salvage operation might be too great for the number of loggers available to do the work.
Timber salvage is important for more than the economic benefits it can provide. Removing damaged trees also reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Furthermore, destruction of timber stands could actually enhance management on some conservation areas.
Before the storm, the conservation department already had the goal of restoring stunted forest in some areas to a mix of trees and grassland. Such sites were savannas or open woodland prior to European settlement. While these areas do not produce much in the way of commercially valuable trees, they are highly productive for certain wildlife, such as quail and some songbirds. The May storm increases opportunities for woodland restoration on a landscape scale.
“It is heartbreaking to look down from a helicopter and see thousands of acres of trees laid waste,” said state forester Lisa Allen. “But it is important to remember that this storm was a natural event. Catastrophes like this one have always played a role in shaping our forests. What we do in the wake of the storm ultimately will outweigh the damage done, so we are focusing on the future.”