Loggers Harvest Trees In Desoto National Forest

Katrina toppled thousands of trees in the Desoto National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service now faces the massive task of removing that timber while the wood is still useful.

Logging crews will be busy for many months. Heavy equipment drags large southern pines across the forest floor. Katrina left behind a hefty harvest.

"The Desoto National Forest took a huge hit," said forester Wayne Stone while pointing to a forest map. "The red was the places that were severely damaged. More than two thirds of the canopy down," he explained.

Stone is a timber sales forester who helps organize the bids to sell and salvage the downed trees.

A crew from Texas worked on Wednesday to remove pine logs from a three thousand acre tract. Removing the downed trees erases the Forest Service's biggest fear: Wildfires.

"We have a huge fire problem. A potential fire problem. We've got in some places fifty, sixty, seventy tons of material on the ground," Stone said.

Removing the fire hazard also helps manage the habitat for threatened species like the Red Cockaded Woodpecker and Gopher Tortise, which both live in the forest.

Timber loaded on log trucks will be shipped to area saw mills in places like Wiggins and New Augusta, for a variety of uses.

"It may go for telephone poles, may go for piling, may go for plywood, may go for lumber, for pulp and paper," Stone said.

To give you an idea about how much timber Katrina knocked down, consider this:  It takes about 8,000 board feet of lumber to build a house. It's estimated the hurricane toppled enough trees to build some 75,000 houses.

The irony of the timber harvest is evident. These same trees Katrina blew over, may well become the materials to rebuild the houses she tore apart.

"Katrina caused this. Let's go ahead and use it to fix things back right," said Stone.

The abundance of toppled trees in South Mississippi has driven timber prices down. Before Katrina, timber sold for about $50 a ton. Since the storm the price has dropped to around $15 a ton.