Landowners Get Answers At Forestry Forums

Thomas A. Merrill, Chaney, John A., Chandler, Brian R., Crain, John Barry, Morgan, Johnny W.  |  2/16/2006 4:37:48 AM

Monroe tax attorney Paul Spillers tells forest landowners about tax rules that can work in their favor to offset losses they sustained from the storm damage to their timber. Spillers was one of the speakers at LSU AgCenter forestry forums held recently in southern and central Louisiana.

News Release Distributed 02/15/06

The LSU AgCenter is providing landowners and others with answers they need to face today’s conditions in the forest industry by offering forestry forums across the state this spring.

Hundreds of forest landowners and industry representatives attended the first two forums – designed for central and southern Louisiana – to listen to industry leaders discuss the devastation caused by recent storms and the importance of rebuilding the state.

The first of the forums was held in Woodworth on Jan.31, and the second was in Hammond on Feb. 3. The final forum for the year will be held in Shreveport at the Holiday Inn Financial Plaza on March 9.

Topics covered at each of the forums are tailored to the landowners in that particular area. As could be expected, the landowners in South Louisiana are extremely concerned about their futures after the damage caused by last summer’s hurricanes.

Brian Chandler, South Louisiana’s area forester for the LSU AgCenter, said the forum in Hammond is an annual event, but this year damage from hurricanes dominated the topics for the half-day program.

"What we’re looking at is what’s going on now and what the landowners can expect over the next five to 10 years," Chandler said.

One of the immediate priorities is what to do with damaged timber, the experts said, adding that time is running out.

"The forestry community and federal and state agencies did an outstanding job helping forest landowners salvage the trees damaged by the hurricanes," said LSU AgCenter forester Barry Crain, who’s located in the central part of the state.

Officials from the Louisiana Forestry Association and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry say more than 4 billion board feet of timber were damaged by the storms.

Louisiana timber owners now are in a race against the clock to deliver that damaged timber to the mills before it deteriorates, said C.A. "Buck" Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association.

"We must study the timber damaged by the hurricanes and find ways to manage the damaged trees," he said.

To prevent further damage to forest resources, speakers at the forums also encouraged participants to become vigilant in the search for pine beetles and the suppression of wild fires.

The populations of pine beetles commonly escalate after a major event that damages so many trees, experts said, adding that forest fires also are a more significant threat since the woods are filled with many downed trees and debris.

Of course, with the damage come losses, and Monroe tax attorney Paul Spillers told landowners there are tax rules that can work in their favor to offset losses they’ve sustained.

Spillers advised timber owners to review tax rules and to "go to their tax advisor, their tax accountant, their tax attorney and get more specialized, more individualized advice on how the tax rules affect their particular property."

Dugue Daigle, a St. Tammany forest owner who was among the participants in one of the forums, said he lost between 30 percent and 50 percent of his timber.

"What I hope to do is clear cut what I have left and hopefully replant with pine," Daigle said, hopefully adding, "So I should be able to recover some of my losses."

Daigle said if he had larger ponds he would submerge his logs until the market was better, since water has a preserving effect on logs.

Paul Frey, assistant commissioner and state forester for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, echoed those sentiments about preserving downed timber – saying the dry winter we’ve had isn’t good for it.

"In terms of the salvage for pine or hardwood, pine will deteriorate faster, because of a combination of things; blue stain fungus rapidly destroys the wood, so it devalues it quickly," Frey said, adding, "The hardwood damage is normally from blow down instead of breakage, so there is some water and nutrient uptake through the roots for a period of time."

Recent rains have helped with some of the problems and have reduced the wildfire dangers, but landowners still face a vast array of problems, according to the experts.

Chandler said there should be some federal help on the way in the form of cost-sharing programs, but the information as to how the programs will work and how to apply for them has not yet been released.

The question that’s on many producers’ and government officials’ minds is whether landowners will be able to replant.

"Based on past history, we know what happens to timber prices in the area," Chandler said. "Generally they will go up a little bit if you have some good standing timber, but we just don’t know yet how much of the damaged timber is salvageable."

The LSU AgCenter expert said if area producers can’t replant, there could be serious problems with a wood shortage over the next two to three decades.

State estimates show that 65 percent of the timber in Washington and St. Tammany parishes was damaged and that about 40 percent of the timber in Tangipahoa was damaged – to give some examples.

Chandler said the damage in southeastern Louisiana varies by parish, but the basic principle is there is less damage the further you get away from Mississippi.

"We did some analysis of the estimated damage and the annual harvest. What we found is that there is 70 years worth of timber on the ground in Washington Parish, there is 40 years worth of pine timber on the ground in St. Tammany Parish and 29 years worth of timber on the ground in Tangipahoa Parish," Chandler said.

The plan is to try and salvage at least 25 percent of the timber that has been damaged by the storm, according to the experts.

As for uses for the timber, Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor, said some of those uses will be in rebuilding homes.

"We must help the people rebuild safer, stronger and smarter," Coreil said, stressing that the forest industry will be an important part of the rebuilding process.

Coreil encouraged participants to visit and tour the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana House Home and Landscape Resource Center being constructed on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Known as LaHouse, the project includes the latest construction technologies to build a home that is stronger, attractive, more energy efficient and more resistant to termites and other insects.

Other, more nontraditional ways for using timber also may be developing in the state.

For example, with the cost of natural gas almost doubling in the past year, Mark Prevost, an engineer with Cleco, which supplies electricity to many rural communities in the state, told forest landowners at one forum about that company’s plans. Prevost explained the power company is planning to build a generating facility with options to use wood chips or forest byproducts as potential sources of fuel, if needed in the future.

For additional information on the state’s forestry situation, please visit the AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts:   
Brian Chandler at (225) 683-3101 or bchandler@agcenter.lsu.edu
Barry Crain at (318) 767-3968 or bcrain@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writers:     
John Chaney at (318) 473-6589 or jchaney@agcenter.lsu.edu
Johnny Morgan at (225) 281-0814 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu

Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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