The biggest economic hit the state could suffer from last week’s winter storm could be to South Carolina’s estimated $680 million annual timber industry.
The State Forestry Commission said it’s too early to give an accurate assessment of the damage. The agency conducted reconnaissance flights across its operating regions Sunday. Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins said a preliminary assessment suggests widespread damage to forests in the eastern part of the state.
“The young stands of pines were bent over and in some extreme cases snapped. What you and I would call a trunk, the foresters call it the main stem. You’re not going to see timber stands with that kind of damage survive,” Hawkins said.
A 2004 ice storm that cut a similar swath through the state did $95 million in damage to timber farms.
Hawkins said more detailed surveys will be taken next week, which will include fly overs and personnel on the ground. Hawkins said after several days the timber will have had time to benefit fully from the ice melt and perhaps recover their posture, which promotes growth.
“The older trees have a better shot, but obviously the landowners who grow these trees for commercial purposes want straight timber to send to the mill upon final harvest. It’s a situation where time will tell just how much dollar lost is involved,” he said.
Hawkins said with the grounds still damp from the ice melt, the chance of a wildfire is slight, however the broken limbs and other debris from damage trees can provided added fuel to any blaze that may occur when conditions become dry and windy.
“A lot of this debris that the storm pushed off of the trees is adding to what we call the fuel load. The fuel load is always there and it is impacted by weather conditions as much as anything in terms of the treat of wildfire,” Hawkins said.