Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Tuesday, November 15

Analysis: Mississippi Timber Industry Ravaged by Katrina

November 14, 2005 from All Things Considered

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Millions of trees were knocked down when Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi. In the cities, trees crushed a lot of cars and houses. But it's the trees that tumbled in forests that may damage the state's economy the most. Agriculture is crucial to Mississippi. Timber is its second most important agricultural product, and unlike other crops, trees take decades to grow back. Here's NPR's Kathleen Schalch.

Ace Rainey(ph) knew it was going to be bad.

Mr. ACE RAINEY: Huge pines were breaking, falling, going west. You couldn't hear them. The wind was blowing. Like 10 B-29 bombers--that's the noise it was making, like B-29 bombers flying together.

SCHALCH: The storm was not kind to Rainey. The giant tree in his back yard squashed his house. It's still lying in his living room. The storm also knocked over a lot of trees on the patch of land he owns near Hattiesburg.

Mr. RAINEY: What the wind didn't get, it will die now. Bugs and the worms will get in the timber, and it will die.

SCHALCH: Rainey's one of tens of thousands of landowners in areas hit by the storm who count on timber sales for at least part of their income. For tree farmers, it's worse.
(Soundbite of traffic)

SCHALCH: Devo Chamblis(ph) is surrounded by orderly rows of what look like spikes, severed tree trunks, each one about nine inches in diameter and between six and 12 feet high. On the ground, treetops sprawl every which way, their needles now the color of copper. This is what's left of Chamblis' 500-acre stand of loblolly pines.

Mr. DEVO CHAMBLIS (Tree Farmer): Ninety-eight percent destroyed--just total devastation.

SCHALCH: This tree farm sits in Forrest County, Mississippi, 70 miles from the coast. So when he went out to inspect after the storm, Chamblis wasn't prepared for this. It still upsets him to look at it.

Mr. CHAMBLIS: It's like somebody come along and ripping your heart out. You know, you work with something for 20 years or so, and somebody comes along and just tears it up and destroys it.

SCHALCH: Chamblis' snapped-off trees were slated to become two-by-fours. Now they're too short, and bugs are eating them. Chamblis says all these trees are good for is pulp.

Mr. CHAMBLIS: So you're talking about a dime on a dollar.

SCHALCH: That's if Chamblis can find someone to buy them. As Glenn Hughes, an extension forestry professor at Mississippi State University, cautions, Katrina has glutted the market.

Professor GLENN HUGHES (Mississippi State University): It mowed down the equivalent of one to two years' worth of annual harvest for the state of Mississippi in one day.

SCHALCH: And it's made harvesting the wood that can be salvaged much more expensive. Ordinarily huge machines would lumber methodically through farms like this cutting and loading timber. In this jumble of downed trees, it will take men climbing around with chain saws. There aren't anywhere near enough loggers to get all these downed trees to the mills.
(Soundbite of mill activity)

SCHALCH: Mills like this one in Wiggins, Mississippi, are mostly back on line now and working 'round the clock to process salvaged wood. As Hughes explains, this one is making plywood by spinning logs and peeling away wood in thin sheets.

Prof. HUGHES: It's kind of like taking a roll of toilet paper and just pulling a roll of toilet paper out.

SCHALCH: Next, layers of these limp sheets of wood get glued and pressed together. Hughes says in a typical year, Mississippi produces more than a billion dollars' worth of trees and turns them into everything from paper to telephone poles to furniture.

Prof. HUGHES: Somewhere along the line, one in 10 people--or jobs are connected to the forest products industry in Mississippi.

SCHALCH: Eventually, maybe a year and half from now, Hughes says, people with trees still standing may benefit from higher prices. Rebuilding entire cities is going to take a lot of lumber. But right now in some counties between a third and two-thirds of the trees are damaged or destroyed. Timber prices have fallen so low and the cost of harvesting trees has climbed so high that an awful lot of trees will simply be left rotting on the ground. Kathleen Schalch, NPR News.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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