About 100 participants attended a hurricane recovery meeting Nov. 18 in Kentwood. LSU AgCenter photo.
Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, as a Category 4 hurricane, seriously damaging large areas of forests in the southeastern portion of the state. Whitney Wallace, LSU AgCenter Southeast Region forestry and wildlife agent, coordinated a hurricane recovery meeting for landowners in the Florida Parishes who sustained timber losses from Ida. Wallace welcomed close to 100 participants for the all-day Nov. 18 meeting held at the Spring Creek Milling Building in Kentwood. The meeting included landowners and tree farmers from Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Livingston parishes as well as experts and professionals from around the state to help give landowners the resources and information they need to deal with storm-damaged timber.
Paul Spillers, a tax attorney, estate specialist and tree farmer kicked off the meeting. “There is hope for landowners with either help from federal or state partners for direct assistance or tax savings via timber casualty loss deductions,” Spillers said. Spillers stressed the importance of having a consulting forester evaluate purchased property to establish optimal timber tax basis.
C.A. “Buck” Vandersteen with the Louisiana Forestry Association (LFA) addressed the crowd and let them know that the LFA is fully supportive of landowners who may have experienced timber damages sustained during Hurricane Ida. Vandersteen said the LFA is working with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) and the LSU AgCenter to coordinate efforts and get the forests back in shape.
Wade Dubea, state forester with LDAF, explained the process of calculating the widespread damage. Dubea stated the LDAF acted quickly after the storm and arranged a flyover across parishes hard hit by the storm to get an aerial view of the damage days after. With the help of the U.S. Forest Service and the LSU AgCenter, they were able to estimate that Hurricane Ida caused severe damage to 167,622 acres of forestland in 11 parishes in Louisiana. Roughly 57,000 acres had more than 50% damage and 47,402 acres had 30% to 50% damage. An estimated 181 million cubic feet of timber were affected, with 86 million cubic feet of pine timber and 95 million cubic feet of hardwood timber. The parishes with the highest timber volume losses in southeast Louisiana were Tangipahoa (88 million cubic feet) and Livingston (33 million cubic feet).
Jinggang Guo, forest economist with the LSU AgCenter, provided an overview of Ida’s damage to the timber industry. Guo said that as we move forward from the storm, the next task is to determine what is salvageable from the damaged areas. Salvaging usable timber will help mitigate the economic loss, prevent damage from insects and disease, and reduce the risk of fires posed by downed limbs and trees. He noted that Hurricane Ida caused significant infrastructure damage throughout most of its path, which has likely created significant impacts on the costs of production and profitability of mills and loggers.
Rick Williams, Louisiana State Forester with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), spoke to landowners about their losses. “NRCS can be an instrumental partner supporting landowners with their recovery efforts. Our staff will work one-on-one with landowners to make assessments of the damages and create plans that focus on effective recovery of the land,” Williams said. NRCS is always available to provide technical assistance in the recovery process by assisting producers to plan and implement conservation practices on farms, ranches and working forests impacted by natural disasters. One of the programs Williams talked about, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), can help producers plan and implement conservation practices on land impacted by natural disasters.
Jinggang Guo, forest economist with the LSU AgCenter, speaks to forest landowners and land managers at a hurricane recovery meeting. LSU AgCenter photo.
Patrick Babineaux, county executive director with the Farm Service Agency (FSA), spoke to landowners about FSA’s Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP). He explained these programs can assist landowners and forest stewards with financial and technical assistance to restore fencing, damaged farmland or forests. EFRP provides payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forestland (NIPF) to enable them to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster. Eligible forest restoration practices include debris removal and site preparation and materials to replant forest land. “FSA remains committed to helping landowners and producers impacted by Hurricane Ida,” said Babineaux, and he encouraged all eligible producers to contact their county office as soon as possible to make an appointment to apply.
Robbie Hutchins, AgCenter extension forestry agent for the Southwest and Central regions of the state, spoke to landowners about lessons learned from hurricanes Laura and Delta. Hutchins gave advice from checklists for removing shade trees and steps for calculating loss of timber. Hutchins urged landowners to have patience and not to make rash decisions. “Now is the time when a good consultant forester and a knowledgeable C.P.A earns their money. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say,” he said.
The final speaker to wrap up the afternoon was local certified public accountant Bruce Harrell with Bruce Harrell and Co. in Kentwood. Harrell gave tax planning advice for landowners suffering timber losses in revenue from Ida. Landowners learned about different categories and types of forestry landowners, casualty losses and general rules for capital gains and losses.
Landowners were reminded by all the speakers not to make hasty decisions when dealing with storm-damaged timber. With a little work and planning, damaged stands can be brought back, and within a few years it is hard to tell they were ever damaged. In addition, assistance is available. Wallace wrapped up the meeting, thanking the Tangipahoa and St. Helena parish forestry associations for hosting the event.