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Months after Ida, Louisiana’s forest industry copes with the loss of thousands of trees

Experts estimate the storm caused $315 million in direct damage to land owners
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 10:34 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Outside Pine Grove in St. Helena Parish, a logging crew races to salvage part of a pine stand partially bulldozed last year by the winds of Hurricane Ida. Time is of the essence since downed trees must be salvaged before disease makes the timber less marketable.

“A lot of people are on hold from the standpoint that there’s not a lot of logging contractors to salvage the timber that’s on the ground,” said Randy Pellichino, a procurement forester who works with land owners in the forest industry.

The LSU Ag Center estimates Ida cost the industry $315 million in direct damage, including severe damage to 167,622 acres of forestland in 11 parishes. Of that, an estimated 57,611 acres suffered “very severe damage” (50 percent or more) and 47,402 acres were classified as “severely damaged” (30-50 percent), according to the Ag Center.

“Forestry is an agricultural commodity,” said Whitney Wallace, an associate area agent with the LS Ag Center in Amite. “Most people don’t realize that and it is the number one agricultural commodity in Louisiana.”

Downed trees in a heavily-damaged forest near Pine Grove, LA
Downed trees in a heavily-damaged forest near Pine Grove, LA(WVUE)

Owners and logging companies have spent months deciding what, if anything, is salvageable on a given property.

“Very few logging companies even want to touch storm damage,” Pellichino said.

Insurance companies no longer allow for men with saws cutting trees, Pellichino said, which means owners and loggers must bring in specialized equipment to harvest damaged timber stands.

“This is a feller buncher,” said Pellichino, pointing to a type of tracked harvester which maneuvers through down trees, using a claw to pinch trees, then cut and sort them.

A "feller buncher" works to clear downed trees in a forest heavily damaged in Hurricane Ida
A "feller buncher" works to clear downed trees in a forest heavily damaged in Hurricane Ida(WVUE)
A "feller buncher" claws its way through a damaged forest near Pine Grove, LA
A "feller buncher" claws its way through a damaged forest near Pine Grove, LA(WVUE)

“The stuff on the ground is, at this point in time, ruined.”

Pellichino said many landowners suffered only some damage, but not enough to attract a logger to come into the forest to harvest.

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