More than 135 private landowners, loggers and forest industry leaders participated in the LSU AgCenter’s Central Louisiana Forestry Forum on Jan. 30, 2007, to learn about the challenges still facing the industry more than a year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The 2005 hurricanes caused extensive damage to the forest industry in the state – especially in the southeastern and western regions of Louisiana. The damage resulted from trees being blown down or broken off, as well as damage to the forest infrastructure, which is used to harvest and process the timber resources.
The good news, however, is that two new forest processing companies are moving into Central Louisiana – the MARTCO oriented strand board mill in Oakdale and the Jeld-Wen window and door frame mill at Dodson.
With new processing facilities locating in the area, “it is both challenging and exciting to be in forestry and growing trees,” said C.A. “Buck” Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association. “It will be good for the forest landowner, forest industry and the economy of the state.”
Normand Welsh, raw material manager for the MARTCO mill, said the facility was starting to produce oriented strand boards in late January.
“The mill will use pine timber purchased within 120 miles of the mill site,” Welsh said, later discussing the modernization and expansion work in progress at the company’s plywood mill located at Chopin.
Vandersteen also reminded the group about Jeld-Wen, a manufacturer of wooden door frames and window frames from sweet gum, being built at Dodson.
With new industries locating in the area, it will be a challenge for landowners to supply the trees to keep the industries profitable and sustainable, according to the experts.
“It is important to learn from the past and to alter practices to remain competitive in growing trees,” said Barry Crain, LSU AgCenter forestry agent, “especially in controlling problems associated with weed species and forest insects.”
To harvest damaged trees and repair damage caused by hurricanes, contract crews were hired from outside the hurricanestricken areas to complete the work in a timely manner.
But that meant while completing the work in areas of the state infested with invasive species, like Cogon grass, the machinery at times became contaminated with the invasive grass and served as a means to spread the grass from infested areas to other areas of the state and country.
“Before the hurricanes, Cogon grass was found only in a few parishes in Southeast Louisiana,” said LSU AgCenter weed scientist Dearl Sanders. “Now it has spread to other parishes like Vernon and probably to other states.”
Cogon grass cannot be controlled by shading like most grasses in the forest – it grows densely in the shade, can shade out tree seedlings and will burn hot.
In another complication related to the hurricanes, experts said that insect problems were expected to be severe following tree damage during the hurricanes.
Experts had expected the Southern Pine Beetle to be a larger problem than it was, but the Ips and Black Turpentine beetles were the major problems.
The forest industry is the largest agricultural industry and the second largest manufacturing employer in Louisiana. In 2005, the industry contributed more than $4.5 billion to the state’s economy, according to the LSU AgCenter’s AgSummary.
(This article was published in the winter 2007 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)