$71M of timber lost to summer wildfires; more damage expected as blazes continue

(11/03/23) ALEXANDRIA, La. — Wildfires that engulfed more than 50,000 acres of Louisiana forests during this summer’s record-breaking heat and drought dealt a blow of at least $71 million to the state’s timber sector, according to LSU AgCenter estimates.

That figure is expected to climb higher as wildfires continue to burn in some areas.

“The fires and drought conditions are ongoing. There were several fires last week,” said Robbie Hutchins, an area forester with the LSU AgCenter. He is based in central Louisiana, which is known for its pine forests and has been the scene of some of the largest blazes, including the 31,000-acre Tiger Island Fire in Beauregard Parish.

A total of 52,883 acres of forests statewide had burned as of mid-October, Hutchins said. Most of that timber would normally be worth at least $1,500 per acre, and little of it is salvageable now.

Conservatively, Hutchins estimates 75% of trees on burned acreage are a total loss or considerably devalued, amounting to a loss of about $60 million. But the percentage of unsellable timber is likely closer to 90%, he said, putting the loss estimate at $71 million.

That figure could be even higher depending on whether the damaged stands were made up of smaller trees destined for pulpwood production or larger, more valuable ones that could have been used for sawtimber.

Producers’ economic woes are not limited to the timber and income they’ve lost. They also are facing decisions about whether to go to the expense of reforestation, a process that takes years.

While companies manage a large portion of the timberland destroyed by the fires, many of the burned trees are owned by individuals with just a handful of acres, often inherited from family. Forest landowners do not have options for insuring their timber.

Timber is Louisiana’s No. 1 agricultural commodity, generating more than $10 billion yearly in economic activity. Logging companies, sawmills and other forestry businesses are major employers in areas such as Beauregard, Vernon and Rapides parishes, which suffered some of the worst wildfire damage.

In Louisiana, the fall is the driest time of year, and conditions this year are especially conducive to wildfires. With burn bans still in effect in many parishes, it is important for people to heed rules to avoid starting any more fires.

“Our forest landowners need all the help they can get,” Hutchins said.

Burned pine trees.

Fallen needles surround young pine trees that were scorched in the Tiger Island Fire. Photo by Keith Hawkins/LSU AgCenter

Burned pine logs.

Timber that was scorched in the Tiger Island Fire. Photo by Keith Hawkins/LSU AgCenter

Burned pine trees.

A new utility pole stands next to pine trees that were burned in the Tiger Island Fire. Photo by Keith Hawkins/LSU AgCenter

11/2/2023 1:16:12 PM
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