Back to Index

MEMBERSHIP DOLLARS AT WORK

A Proposed Plan For Forest Restoration After Hurricane Katrina


“Man will not merely endure: He will prevail.”
William Faulkner

The impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the private forest land in Mississippi have been devastating. Along with the 150,000 citizens of Mississippi who lost their home or suffered significant damage to it, 60,000 private forest landowners lost significant amounts of their 1.2 million acres of forests. Much of this provided significant wildlife habitat or was to be used for retirement or both.


Judd Brooke, a member of WIldlife Mississippi's Board of Trustees and a private landowner in Hancock County, observes some of the damage to his forest. Photo by the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Wildlife Mississippi has worked extensively since the landfall of Hurricane Katrina with Governor Haley Barbour, Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott and Congressmen Roger Wicker, Chip Pickering, Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor, as well as The White House and Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior (USDI), to develop a plan to assist private forest landowners and restore the forests of South Mississippi that were so devastated by the hurricane.

Wildlife Mississippi has also worked in partnership with the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the Mississippi Forestry Association, the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the Mississippi Logger's Association, the Secretary of State's Office, private landowners, private timber companies, consultants and county supervisors.

What is Needed?
First at hand is helping people with some basic needs - food, clothing and shelter. Help them rebuild their lives and their spirit. Some of that has already been done and the entire Congress and the Administration, beginning with all of Mississippi's Senators and Congressmen, deserve credit for helping. Next, we must begin addressing the rebuilding of infrastructure - roads, schools, bridges, etc. - and getting people back to work.

Beside the most important species inhabiting our state - the human species - Katrina had other victims. They are the diverse species of fish, wildlife and plants that inhabit this region, including over 170 species of amphibians and reptiles. Pine and hardwood forests are their main habitat and the greatest non-human victim. Katrina caused the largest single devastation of forests in our Nation's history.

According to the USDA Forest Service, Hurricane Katrina damaged 5 million acres, with 4 million acres in Mississippi alone, and most of it on private forest lands. This represents 19 billion board feet of timber with a value of $5 billion. This is enough timber to build 800,000 homes and make 25 million tons of paper and paperboard. Much of the timber will be worthless due to splintering and degradation of the wood structure. Experience with Hurricanes Ivan and Hugo suggest that about 1/3 of the downed timber will be salvageable; that will only partially defray the costs of clearing, site preparation and replanting.

For the most part, these damages did not occur to “big timber” corporations as some like to refer. They occurred mostly to small landowners with an average of 100 acres. Their timber was their retirement plan.

But what can the federal government do to aid in the recovery of our forests and their associated resources after Katrina and other hurricanes? Below is an overview of the needs that were determined by Wildlife Mississippi and the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal.

Fire Prevention
The extensive damage to the forest resources of Mississippi has created extremely dangerous wildfire conditions. The excessive buildup of downed timber and associated storm debris will be a significant hindrance to fire fighting crews. Fires in these areas will burn more intensely due to the excessive buildup of fuels. Also, due to the opening of the canopy by Katrina, there will be excessive growth of native vegetation as well as invasive species such as cogongrass. This growth will add to the already dangerously high fuel levels across the storm impacted areas, increasing the chances of a fire event.

Invasive Species
Hurricanes spread invasive species, such as the newly found giant salvina in the Pascagoula River, which came ashore from Hurricane Dennis. In areas of severe blowdown, the removal of forest canopy will dramatically increase available sunlight reaching the understory and encourage an explosion of a number of highly invasive species. Among the most problematic in the impacted area are Chinese tallow tree, cogongrass, privet hedge and Japanese climbing fern. Without aggressive action, it is extremely likely that these species will “capture succession” across thousands of acres and prevent re-establishment of native forests across ownerships, including an array of ecologically and economically significant public and private lands. It is highly likely the movement of heavy equipment though infested areas will also exacerbate the spread of cogongrass.

Forest Restoration
According to the latest data from the USDA Forest Service, specifically the Southern Forest Resource Assessment, nationwide, the South alone provides 60 percent of the nation's timber supply, making it the largest producer of timber compared to any country in the world.

To restore the forests, both softwood and hardwood, which were devastated by Katrina, a combination of tax-based programs and direct payment/cost-share programs will help meet the needs of both small and medium-sized landowners.

On the direct payment and cost-share side, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program can provide the greatest benefit to the private landowner and the forests of the area. The landowner can utilize the cost-share to restore the forests. He/she can utilize the easement payment to help offset a loss of income.

The Farm Service Agency should utilize the expired Continuous Sign-up for Longleaf Pine in the Conservation Reserve Program for affected counties in the range of longleaf pine.

On the tax side, an Emergency Restoration Tax Credit program could be authorized. States such as Mississippi, Texas and Virginia have had enormous success with tax credit based restoration programs utilizing state income tax credits. The program would be eligible in counties designated as a Presidential Disaster Area. A forest landowner would be able to claim 75 percent of his or her restoration expenses up to $50,000 per year for 3 years; a homeowner would be able to claim the same, but would have a limit of $2,500 per year for 3 years. Other natural resource needs, not just reforestation, would be eligible.

Urban/Community Forestry
According to the Mississippi Forestry Commission, 181 cities and communities have approximately 2.75 million trees damaged or destroyed with an economic value of $1.1 billion.

To restore the quality of life on the Gulf Coast, financial and technical assistance is needed to plan and re-establish trees and forests. Emphasis should be placed on trees that are the most resistant to high winds (i.e., live oaks, longleaf pine and bald cypress).

Insects and Diseases
Before Katrina, approximately 70 million acres of public and private lands nationwide were at serious risk from 26 different insects and diseases, most of which are non-native. This figure grows dramatically when the approximately 5 million acres affected by Katrina is factored in. The southern pine beetle and the black turpentine beetle are two threats that will impact already stressed forests along the Gulf Coast.

Stream Obstruction Removal
Numerous creeks, streams and small rivers clogged with debris and fallen trees are contributing to fish kills.

Emphasis should be to restore the stream's natural flow, including native plantings and wetland restoration efforts along any areas disturbed by the debris clean up.

Threatened/Endangered Species Restoration
There were many impacts to threatened and endangered species. There was probably little or no direct mortality on gopher tortoises, but indirectly the destruction and opening of the canopy in habitat that already was marginal will accelerate understory shrub and hardwood encroachment to further increase habitat loss in the absence of prescribed fire and management. We were in the process of working in cooperation with private landowners, Environmental Defense, the Longleaf Alliance, the American Forest Foundation and others to restore habitat for the tortoise and de-list it in 10 years. That is unlikely now.

There are also impacts to the gulf sturgeon, sandhill crane, piping plover, red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher frog, quillwort, bald eagles, sea turtles, yellowblotched map turtle and brown pelicans.

An assessment of the status of these species and their habitat since the hurricane should be completed to develop management or restoration needs. In the meantime, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of these species will benefit from longleaf, hardwood and stream restoration activities and the efforts to restore freshwater, coastal or barrier islands.

Other Restoration Activities
Preliminary reconnaissance estimates show a wide array of impacts to coastal habitats along the northern Gulf Coast that provide important shoreline protection and habitat benefits. Impacts include coastal wetlands losses, damaged oyster reefs and loss of other shellfish resources, damage to beaches and dune systems, numerous creeks, streams and small rivers clogged with debris and fallen trees that may impede fish passage.

Agencies must work quickly with states, counties and local communities to identify and carry out needed near-term and mid-term response and restoration activities critical to public trust resources, infrastructure rebuilding and human communities. Congress should provide funding through programs that have the capacity to respond quickly to these needs.

Wildlife-Associated Tourism
Sportsmen in Mississippi annually pay $55.6 million in state sales, fuel and income taxes - this could pay the salaries of 1,881 teachers or fund the annual education expenses of 10,488 students. Sportsmen support more jobs in Mississippi (12,258 jobs) than Northrup Grumman's Pascagoula facility (10,000 jobs), one of Mississippi's largest employers. Mississippi's sportsmen annually spend more than the value of the state's cotton crop ($670 million versus $406 million). And the ripple effect of Mississippi's sportsmen is $1.2 billion on our state's economy.

Tourism in Mississippi as a whole brings in billions of dollars. The Division of Tourism within the Mississippi Development Authority estimates that 33 million visitors stayed overnight in Mississippi in 2002, with an average expenditure of $96 per day, or $3.1 billion for the year. About 86 percent of these visitors were from out of state. With numbers of manufacturing businesses closing and jobs going to other countries, tourism dollars are increasingly important to the health of Mississippi's economy. They will be significantly decreased due to Katrina. For example, the second most requested information from the Mississippi Development Authority is on saltwater fishing.

Forest Resources Research
Recovery and restoration of Mississippi's forest resources will be vital to rebuild the economic infrastructure in the areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina. A research and education program should be a fundamental component to any rebuilding effort and will provide the guidance for effective recovery. Programs developed through research and education will demonstrate to local communities their options for building a new Mississippi forest; one designed to accomplish specific objectives for economic development and restoring the environment.

For the Presidential Disaster Area, Mississippi State University's College of Forest Resources and Forest and Wildlife Research Center proposes: 1) to assist the recovery and restoration of Mississippi's forest, wildlife, fisheries, water and aquatic resources; 2) to assist in the rebuilding and expansion of Mississippi's forest products and outdoor based recreation and tourism industries; 3) to evaluate and assist in recovery of the economic and rural social infrastructure; 4) to develop rapid damage detection protocols for natural disasters; 5) to develop decision support systems for industrial and community juxtaposition for efficient and economically viable use of our restored resources; and 6) to evaluate and assist in developing policies regarding recovery of the natural resources and the resiliency for future natural disasters.

This research and education program will include participation of all related state and federal partners, local community leaders, private companies, private conservation organizations and private landowners.

Conclusion
This is a plan, if funded, can help restore Mississippi’s forests and provide jobs to get its economy moving again.

If you would like to make a contribution to assist with this effort, please call (662) 686-3375.

Table #1: GOVERNOR'S COMMISSION ON RECOVERY, REBUILDING AND RENEWAL

Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Forest Resources
Richard Thoms* Richton Tie and Timber
Bruce Alt Mississippi Forestry Association
Everard Baker Mississippi Forestry Commission
Eric Clark Secretary of State
James Cummins Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Glen Herrin Southgate Timber Company
James Huff Consultant
Wendell Patton, Sr. Stone County Supervisor
Lester Spell Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce
*Chairman


Table #2: FEDERAL FOREST RESTORATION ASSISTANCE

APPROPRIATIONS REQUESTS
 
U. S. Forest Service (USDA)  

Cooperative Forest Health Management

$ 2 Million

Economic Action Program

$ 4 Million

Emergency Restoration Tax Credit Operations (New)

$ 6 Million

Forest Inventory and Analysis

$ 3 Million

Forest Land Enhancement/Stewardship Program

$ 15 Million

State Fire Assistance/Hazard Mitigation

$ 50 Million

Urban and Community Forestry Program

$ 30 Million

Volunteer Fire Assistance

$ 10 Million
 
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USDI)  

Landowner Incentives Program

$ 10 Million

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

$ 10 Million
   
Farm Service Agency (USDA)  

Tree Assistance Program

$ 10 Million
   
Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA)  

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

$ 30 Million

Healthy Forests Reserve Program

$ 100 Million

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

$ 10 Million
 
Mississippi State University (MSU)

College of Forest Resources

$ 10 Million
   
Grand Total (Appropriations):
$300 Million
   
TAX REQUESTS
   
Internal Revenue Service (USDT)  

Emergency Restoration Tax Credit

To Be Determined

Casualty Loss Reform

To Be Determined

Salvage Income Tax Exemption

To Be Determined
   
Total
To Be Determined