Hurricane Florence plowed through the Coastal Plain of North and South Carolina in September, leaving behind record-setting floods and massive damage to coastal communities. Three weeks after Florence, 30,000 North Carolinians in the eastern part of the state were still without power, and some areas were still flooded. According to a recent survey conducted by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Hurricane Florence damaged 1,251,312 acres of forestland and caused $69.6 million in damage to coastal counties.
For forest landowners in eastern North Carolina, , promptly and accurately assessing the damage is critical in reducing losses. The first critical step for planning salvage harvests or manage tax losses is to determine the extent and type of damage across your property. Using an aerial photo of your property, thoroughly walk the interior stands. Note on the photo the locations of the major pockets and types of damage. Take pictures to show the actual property damage before any cleanup or salvage operations begin. The extent of tree damage and location, and average tree diameter will influence your salvage decisions. At several locations throughout the damaged parts of your stands count and record the number or percentage of trees that are in one of the following categories:
- Uprooted hardwoods or pines.
- Broken tops or major stems with less than four main live limbs left on the tree.
- Broken tops or major stems with four or more main live limbs left on the tree.
- Severely bent pines.
- Major wounds, more than 2 inches deep and/or over 1 square foot in size.
For both hardwoods and pines, if trees are reasonably vertical and have at least four main limbs remaining on the tree they will probably survive, although growth will likely be reduced until the crown redevelops. They can be retained for removal in a future thinning or final harvest, but continue to carefully monitor the trees through the next year for infestations of bark beetles since the trees have been stressed and wounds are likely present.
Trees that are bent, broken or splintered will have internal wood damage such as ring shake and pulled fibers. Ring shake can especially occur when trees have been subject to winds from alternating directions. In these cases, all or part of the tree may not be suitable for lumber or plywood, but could be used for pulpwood.
Uprooted and leaning trees are more likely to have undamaged wood, dry out slower than broken trees, and could still be suitable for lumber if harvested within 2 to 3 months for pine and up to a year or more for hardwoods. If major wounds are extensive, pine bark beetles could threaten residual pine trees. Also, wood borers and decay may quickly become a problem. If this happens, the trees should be monitored and harvested as soon as possible.
Decisions To Make
Once you have assessed the damage, you are in a much better position to determine whether you need to consider a salvage harvest or whether the stand has a sufficient number of healthy trees to recover on its own. Here are some guidelines the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources offered, which we have modified.
- If there is only minor bending or leaning of merchantable-size trees with intact root systems, the trees will naturally recover, and it is probably best to wait and see before exploring salvage options.
- If trees have only minor damage and the timber is still green and standing, don’t rush to salvage; wait and see if they will naturally recover.
- If less than 20 percent of the trees in your forest appear to be damaged, don’t harvest the entire tract. If most of the damage is in one area or small pockets, consider small clearcuts of those areas. If, instead, the damaged trees are scattered throughout the stand, leave it for a thinning operation, when timber markets improve.
- If the majority of the timber stand is damaged and salvage is needed, get professional guidance from a consulting forester to help determine the best procedure for your situation.
- Flooded timber will typically survive unless it is flooded for extended periods or uprooted.
- Have patience during this time and use good business sense. Use the resources available to you to make sure you are getting all that your timber may be worth.
Hopefully, you will not experience this type of event, but if you do, we can assist with a prompt and professional evaluation and conduct the salvage operation if necessary.