Managing Your Ice-Damaged Woods
The winter storm that blanketed thousands of square miles of South Carolina with snow and ice caused varying degrees of damage to the forests in the eastern half of the state. Damage to trees ranged from “light,” where branches in treetops were broken, to “heavy,” where trees snapped off, fell over, or lost most of their branches. Forest damage was highly variable across the affected area and depended on tree species, age, and whether the stand had been thinned recently or not.
The level and extent of damage you sustained as well as your ownership objectives will help you determine what actions are needed to restore the health and productivity of your woods.
The recommendations below are designed to provide you with basic guidance as you make decisions about the best course of action to follow.
Many trees in ice-damaged areas have branches which may fall at any time, so be sure to wear a hard hat and stay out of the woods during windy conditions. Other hazards such as limbs on the ground are more prevalent following the ice storm, so use caution while walking in your woods.
Small acreage (less than 10 acres)
Contact a certified arborist for assessment of damage to individual trees. For assistance in locating a tree care professional, go to: http://www.trees.sc.gov/urbanpr.htm
Financial assistance is not available for this type of damage. Landowners with small tracts can try to pool acreages to accomplish harvesting and replanting.
- If damage is limited to broken branches (no damage to the top of the tree), trees should fully recover, and no salvage harvest is needed. Monitor the area monthly during the growing season for signs of insect attack – yellowing needles in the crown and pitch tubes on the bark of pine trees. Financial assistance is not available for this type damage.
- If the tops and/or main stem of a significant number of their trees are damaged, contact a forestry consultant, a Forestry Commission forester, or another registered forester.
Landowners are urged to seek professional advice before conducting any salvage harvest. Some heavily-damaged stands of trees can be retained until timber prices improve. Note: Landowners in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are required to contact the Farm Services Agency before harvesting.
- If a salvage harvest (clearcut) is necessary, cost-share assistance may be available to help establish a new stand of trees. Before harvesting begins, go to the local Farm Services Agency (FSA) office and sign up for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP). In order to facilitate this process, to facilitate this process, bring a plat of the property and a letter from a registered forester stating that due to heavy damage inflicted by the ice storm a salvage harvest and replanting is necessary. A map showing the area needing reforestation would also be helpful. For more information, go to: (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=diap&topic=efrp#P45_1675). The signup period for EFRP in South Carolina began on March 5 and ends on May 9 for the affected counties.
Loss of timber from a casualty such as the February ice storm may be deductible from your taxes. The deduction is the lesser of the decrease in fair market value caused by the casualty or your basis in the timber block (the area you use to keep track of your basis). For more information, go to Tax Tips or contact your tax preparer.
Damage to pine stands depended on the age, species, and past practices (thinned or not), but generally can be grouped into three categories:
Light Damage - includes stands of young trees (less than 5 years old) that were bent over as well as older stands with trees that lost a few branches. These trees will most likely fully recover. Older stands in which 30% or less of the trees have significant damage also should be left as is. Salvage of damaged trees is usually not practical and may cause injury to remaining trees. All stands that fall into this light damage category need to be monitored for forest pest buildup and protected from wildfire.
Moderate Damage - includes stands in which trees have broken tops and/or have suffered moderate levels of branch breakage. If at least 100 to 300 healthy trees per acre remain, the stand will most likely recover on its own. Trees that are 10 to 25-feet tall with less than 60 degrees of lean should also be retained. Other stands with 30 to 50% of the trees with significant damage may warrant salvage removal of affected trees, although this action is not critical. All stands of trees that fall into this moderate damage category need to be monitored for forest pest buildup and need to be protected from wildfire.
Heavy Damage - includes stands with a large percentage of trees with tops broken out, stands of trees that are 10 to 25-feet tall that are leaning more than 60 degrees, and stands in which over 50% of the trees have significant damage. These areas need to be evaluated by a professional forester and may need to be harvested and replanted.
Light Damage, which includes stands of trees in which only small branches were affected and less than half the crown was damaged. In most cases, no action is needed in areas of hardwoods with light damage.
Moderate or Heavy Damage, which includes stands of trees in which more than half the crown is affected, large branches were lost, or entire trees were uprooted. Salvage removal, possibly for firewood, is advised. Consider retaining some large, non-hazard trees for wildlife cavity trees.
Points to Remember
- Practice safety first and foremost. Hazards are more numerous in ice-damaged woodlands than in unaffected areas.
- Don’t act hastily. Damaged pines retain value for up to 3 to 9 months, so make sure that you seek the best price if salvage is deemed necessary.
- Get professional advice. Growing timber is a long-term investment, so decisions made today can have long-lasting effects.