Forestry inventory shows timber is flourishing in Mississippi

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Hurricane Katrina's damage to Mississippi forests is getting harder to spot. Many of the storm-damaged trees have since been removed and new growth is helping cover the storm scars.

A new statewide tree inventory finds forest land is once again flourishing.

A healthy stand of pine trees stretches toward the heavens in a timber tract off County Farm Road in Harrison County.

"My immediate reaction after Katrina was that we'd lost 60 to 65 percent of the forest. But these forests have proven to be very resilient," forester Randy Wilson said.

Wilson said timber owners faced varying degrees of recovery after the storm. On this 90 acres, the timber was thinned.

"What they did when they thinned it was come and remove all the leaning or damaged trees from Katrina. The forest has recovered quite nicely since then. What you see out here now is a healthy and vigorous forest," he said.

The new 2006 Forest Inventory finds Mississippi's total tree volume has increased by 25 percent since the last inventory in 1994. But even in the healthiest stands of timber, storm reminders remain.

"This tree we have in front of us snapped off at about 10 feet. If you look up, you see it had some signs of stress even before the storm. The storm really took these stressed trees and knocked them out," said Wilson, pointing to a tree snapped by the storm.

Seventy percent of Mississippi forest lands are naturally regenerating stands of timber.  And, left alone, Mother Nature does a good job regenerating those forests after an event like Katrina.

"All the small pine trees you see out here that are probably waist high and smaller have been naturally regenerated since Hurricane Katrina. So again, you see the forest's ability to recover from a storm in the small pine trees out here today," Wilson said.

Healthy trees and new growth are good news for Mississippi's one billion dollar a year timber industry.

"The forest has really bounced back in the wake of that significant natural disaster that was Katrina," Wilson said.

After a dramatic drop four years ago, timber prices have rebounded to pre-Katrina levels.

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