More than 135 private landowners, loggers and forest industry leaders recently attended the LSU AgCenter's Central Louisiana Forestry Forum to learn about the challenges still facing the industry more than a year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The 2005 hurricanes caused billions of dollars of 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 Cenla Forestry Forum was planned with a variety of speakers to give their views of the past and to offer ideas to challenge landowners in the future,” said LSU AgCenter area forester Barry Crain about the meeting held in Woodworth, La.

The program included professional speakers addressing topics such as producing energy from wood, controlling forest weeds and insects, forestry incentive programs, establishing timber “basis” and updates on other forest issues.

The good news, however, was that although some forest industries were damaged by the hurricanes, two new forest processing industries are moving into the area, which should add value to forest resources in central Louisiana. Those industries are the MARCO 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.

“I challenge landowners to grow trees to help meet the needs of the industry locating in the area,” Vandersteen said. “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 Crain, especially in controlling problems associated with weed species and forest insects.

In an effort to harvest damaged trees and repair damage caused by hurricanes, contract crews were hired from outside the hurricane-stricken areas to complete the work in a timely manner. The crews used their vehicles and equipment to do the work.

But that meant while completing the work in areas of the state infested with invasive species like cogongrass, 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, cogongrass 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.”

Sanders showed images of cogongrass hanging on the tailpipes of vehicles registered in Ohio and Michigan used by timber harvest crews. Also, National Guard and utility crews converged on the area to help repair the damage caused by the hurricanes.

“Did these contract crews wash their vehicles before returning home?” asked the expert. “I ask you to become familiar with the invasive species like cogongrass and look for it around timber loading sites for the next several years.”

Cogongrass 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 pointed out 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 winds from the hurricanes blew down and broke the stems of pine trees,” said Jim Meeker, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “This tree damage caused the numbers of Ips and black turpentine beetles to go through the roof, because they usually attack damaged trees and stumps.

“The southern pine beetle, on the other hand, attacks pine trees that are standing,” the expert said, cautioning landowners to thin their pine stands and conduct controlled burns to reduce competition for water and nutrients.

By doing so, landowners will grow healthier trees that should reduce the threat of an attack by the southern pine beetle, he said. “It is time for another outbreak of the southern pine beetle, especially in densely populated stands,” Meeker said of the historical cycles seen with such insect infestations in the South.

The forest industry is the largest agricultural industry and the second largest manufacturing employer in Louisiana. In 2005, the industry returned more than $4.5 billion to the state's economy, according to the LSU AgCenter's AgSummary.

Other topics discussed at the forum were successful logging and reducing litter and dumping on forest lands.

“This educational forum helps landowners stay informed about the latest technologies and issues in forestry to help them remain competitive and return a profit,” said Crain, who organizes the annual event for the LSU AgCenter.

For more information on tree farming, forestry issues, insect and weed control recommendations and the management of forest resources, contact Crain at (318) 767-3968 or bcrain@agcenter.lsu.edu.