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Forest Commission Gauging Storm Damage to State’s Forest Resource

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Foresters and technicians with the South Carolina Forestry Commission have taken initial steps in what will be the long process of assessing the impact of this week’s winter storm on timber stands.

While it is too early to hazard a guess at losses in terms of dollars, it is clear that this week’s crippling winter storm took dead aim at South Carolina’s forests, perhaps to the extent which occurred during a similar storm in 2004.

Preliminary aerial surveys begin tomorrow in areas with the highest amounts of accumulated ice.  Early next week, more detailed aerial surveys begin, followed by ground checks to determine which areas the Forestry Commission must focus its landowner assistance.

As conditions improve, staff at our state forests are noting different degrees of damage depending on their region of the state, age class of trees in a given stand, and species.  Pines are notably vulnerable to the conditions seen this week.

Our state forests are reliable bellwethers for the kind of damage which will have occurred on the millions of acres of private forestland surrounding them.

At Poe Creek (2,498 acres in Oconee and Pickens counties), SCFC staff have observed that the mainly snowy conditions have had little impact on the various pines and hardwoods.

In Chesterfield and Darlington counties, 46,838-acre Sand Hills State Forest pines suffered a great deal of bow-bending from heavy snow/ice accumulation.  These trees are expected to recover without loss to their ultimate market value

Harbison State Forest in the Midlands (2,137 acres in Richland County) has suffered light damage.  Although pines generally are more vulnerable to ice and heavy snow, Harbison State Forest’s mature pines will make a full recovery.  Harbison is a highly popular destination for hikers and mountain cyclers.  Users will observe a number of fallen limbs and cleanup activity in the coming weeks.

The 28,675-acre Manchester State Forest in Sumter County appears to have suffered varying degrees of damage.  Mature pines and hardwoods will recover from limb damage, but several “pre-merchantable” stands of 5-20-year old pines have suffered main stem (trunk) damage and may require salvage.  It is too early to estimate a dollar value on this loss.  Manchester staff has begun cleaning forest roads and adjacent county roads.

Wee Tee State Forest in Williamsburg County (12,403 acres) consists of mature pines and bottomland hardwood species.  This part of the state also appears to have missed the full force of the winter storm.  Significant damage is not expected, however SCFC staff have yet to visit the property.

South Carolina Forestry Commission personnel have observed and have received reports of heavy damage in areas with the most freezing rain and ice accumulations, especially in stands of trees dominated by pines.

Again, SCFC’s state forests illustrate the extent of likely damage to the privately-owned forests surrounding them.  More thorough assessments of timber stands across South Carolina will be underway in the coming days.  These aerial and boots-on-the-ground surveys will paint a detailed picture of the impact of the 2014 winter storm’s true toll on South Carolina’s valuable forests.

AT A GLANCE:

Damage Assessment

  • Plans are to conduct a preliminary aerial survey tomorrow in areas with the highest amounts of accumulated ice.
  • Beginning the first of next week, a more detailed aerial survey will be conducted and followed up by ground checks to determine the areas to focus assistance to forest landowners as we move into the recovery phase of this winter storm event.  Waiting to the first of next week to conduct the detailed survey allows trees bent over by the ice and snow time (several days to a week) to recover.

SCFC Assistance to Date

  • Tuesday and Wednesday – two SCFC 2-man saw crews with LE provided assistance to DPS on I -26 in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester.
  • Thursday – Three SCFC dozers (2 operators each plus a forester and supervisor) provided road clearing assistance in Allendale County.  They are returning today with two dozers plus sawyers and overhead.  One SCFC dozer worked with fire department and county law enforcement officers to clear debris from roads in Barnwell County.
  • Friday – Four 2-man saw crews are providing assistance in clearing roads in Aiken County. These crews will be paired with the chainsaw operators from the Urban Search & Rescue team from Hilton Head. Currently, they are expected to work from 10 am -6 pm today for a one-day assignment.  Manchester State Forest saw crews providing road clearing assistance on Sumter County roads near the state forest.
  • We expect additional requests today as counties get out and survey the extent of damage.