Forestlands in southeast and southwest Louisiana were heavily damaged during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the industry wants to be better prepared in the event of another disaster.

Combined, the storms damaged 4.4 billion board feet of saw-timber in Louisiana. “For soft woods that equates to about two years of harvest for the entire state, and for hardwoods it’s about 11 years of harvest for the state of Louisiana,” said Richard Vlosky, a forest products specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

Most of the acres damaged were owned by private or nonindustrial timberland owners, so the storms had little effect on the timber industry.

“The impact was to the small mills in those areas and the small landowners who used the timber from their lands for making different forest products,” Vlosky said.

A major problem was the downed timber. Several options such as trucking the logs and storing them were considered. More than a year later, however, only 10 percent to 15 percent of the downed timber has been salvaged.

“It’s a difficult exercise to log downed timber — it’s dangerous, there are insurance issues involved with loggers,” Vlosky said. “Most mills had an adequate supply, so they couldn’t take the timber, and really there wasn’t a lot of success with storing a lot of the volume, so most of it has remained on the ground.”

Landowners are concerned about insect infestation in downed timber and the fire hazard the logs create.

“We will put together a team of experts, representatives of the industry, public policymakers and academicians in the state of Louisiana to develop a plan that would help us be more prepared in the future when something of this magnitude occurs again,” Vlosky said.

Vlosky will work with Louisiana’s Department of Economic Development and Department of Labor. He also is going outside of the forestry industry for expertise in disaster planning.

During the development phase, Vlosky plans to hold two conferences to bring the timber industry and other interested groups together. “We will discuss options and opportunities to facilitate disaster planning in the forest sector.”

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is funding the development of the plan. It should be finalized and available to the industry next year.