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Tornado Damage

Recovery After Tornado and Storm Damaged Forested Land

Alabama Tornado Recovery Task Force Webinar

April 2011 was a terrible month for storm damage in Alabama, with the Alabama Forestry Commission calculating the April 27 tornados affected 200,000 acres in the state and caused over $250,000,000 worth of timber damage. Any landowner whose forested land was affected by these storms needs to review their forest management options. There are many things to consider and the following discussion will hopefully assist. The advice and counsel of a professional forester can greatly assist in every step of this process. Professional foresters are required by Alabama law to meet certain minimum requirements and must be registered.  The Alabama Board of Registration for Foresters maintains a county by county list of registered foresters.

USFS Oakmulgee Splintered TreeFayette Storm Damage 1
Photo Courtesy of: (left) Mike Caylor, USFS (right) Dick Martin, AU SFWS

First, owners of forested land need to survey the damage caused by the storms and determine both the damage intensity and extent. The storm tracks of the April 27 tornados extended for miles and hit thousands of acres. The Alabama Forestry Commission has county maps of affected areas by section, township, and range.  How many of your acres were affected, and how badly are the trees damaged?  What are the ages of the affected stands and their location? The AFC has prepared a short publication that may help conduct an on-the-ground evaluation.

Second, based on the damage assessment, you may consider a salvage operation to harvest the damaged stand and generate some income. Decisions about salvage usually determine whether there is enough saleable timber to support a harvest and how badly the stand is damaged.  Insect and disease activity lowers the value of damaged timber after spring and summer storms, so salvage should occur within a few months of the storm.  The salvage operation isn't just about the timber value recovered; it may help to open the roads and firebreaks and make replanting less costly. The Alabama Forestry Commission maintains a list of timber buyers that can help with the salvage.  Many of the buyers on that list are involved in a statewide training program called the Professional Logging Manager (PLM). It is an advantage to contract with a forester to prepare for a salvage sale and management activities following the salvage. Salvage harvests are often "sale-by-scale" meaning the timber is paid for as harvested. These types of sales rely on a degree of trust in the buyer and your ability to verify amounts and products sold. 

A list of timber sale considerations can be found in this publication.

Fayette Storm Damage 2Fayette Storm Damage 3
Photo Courtesy of: (left) Dick Martin, AU SFWS (right) Dick Martin, AU SFWS

Third, consideration must be given as to how the storm damaged areas might affect adjacent stands. Fire is a serious concern here as storm-damaged stands may have considerable fuel loads on the ground that during a dry part of the year can become a fire hazard. Heavy fuel loads can be responsible for intense fires that move into adjacent forests and cause serious damage to standing timber, or even structures in some cases. Whether an area is salvage logged or not, the installation of fire breaks and road clearing around the damaged area may be necessary. Click HERE for additional information.

Financial assistance may be possible for the establishment of fire breaks from the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) of the Farm Service Administration. 

In addition to fire, insect outbreaks, particularly bark beetles can become a serious pest of stressed pine trees. If wind has removed a good portion of the needles of pine trees, even though the trees and branches themselves may not be damaged, the stress may cause the appearance of bark beetles which then can move into nearby healthy trees. These types of infection are often seen after major disturbances such as hurricanes and severe storms. Landowners are cautioned to keep a watchful eye on any pockets of beetle infestation. An excellent resource for the control of beetle outbreak can be found on the Alabama Forestry Commission website.

Also check out these publications:
Black Turpentine Beetle
Ips Beetles
Southern Pine Beetle

Fayette Storm Damage 2Fayette Storm Damage 3
Photo Courtesy of: (left) Mike Caylor, USFS (right) Mike Caylor, USFS

Fourth, a decision is needed on the short and long-term actions needed to regenerate the damaged areas. Fortunately, Alabama forests will regenerate themselves without any intervention whatsoever. However, inaction has consequences the landowner must consider.  A landscape with no managed regeneration will undoubtedly have a considerable amount of hardwoods, take longer to reach any harvestable size, and be choked with weeds and brush for several years. This may or may not be what the owner desires. A more complete discussion of regeneration following storm damage may be found in Chapter 6, Southern Pine Reforestation, of the Forest Landowner Foundation's Woodlands Management Course.

There may be possible financial assistance to pay for forest regeneration after a storm. Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP)

An excellent source of forestry service providers can be found on the Alabama Forestry Commission webpage.

Other sources of information pertinent to reforestation are:
Natural Regeneration
Alabama Seedling vendors

Fifth, storm associated timber damage may qualify forest owners for casualty loss deductions for income tax purposes. Additional information can be found in the publication "The Impact of Casualty Losses on Forestland Owners" prepared by Auburn University's Dr. Robert Tufts. Unfortunately, the loss is not the fair market value of the timber damaged but the lesser of (1) the difference in the value before and after the event or (2) your "basis" in that timber. The basis in your timber is generally your investment in the timber. Typically when land is purchased, gifted, or inherited, the value of the property is divided between the bare land and the timber growing on that land.  A Mississippi State University publication entitled "Basics of Basis" is a good reference for determining basis. (NOTE:  The section on reforestation is outdated because of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. Now Section 194 allows the first $10,000 of reforestation expenditures to be expensed with respect to each qualified timber property for any taxable year, except for a trust, and the remainder is amortized over 84 months. So, timber planted after 2004 will have a zero basis after 7 years.) The IRS recently released "Timber Casualty Loss Audit Techniques Guide" which provides instructions to IRS personnel who are auditing returns that claim timber casualty losses. If you are a detail person, that 25-page publication provides specific information.

Other information regarding storm damage can be found at these links:
Alabama Forestry Commission Storm Damage
Mississippi State Forestry Wind Wood Damage
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Auburn University School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences Extension

Interview with
Dr. Mathew Smidt
of the AU SFWS
by Maggie Lawrence, ACES Communications Specialist regarding forestry tornado damage.