March 24, 2010

Even though it’s been more than a year since the 2009 ice storm devastated the state, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service agents in Western Kentucky continue to help individuals in the hardest hit areas recover.

The agents recently hosted two workshops where they brought in industry and UK forestry and horticulture specialists to help loggers, landowners and homeowners determine the next step for their ice-damaged woodlands and landscapes.

“Kentucky gets ice storms from time to time, but they tend to be pretty restricted. In this case, it wasn’t,” said Jeff Stringer, UK extension professor of hardwood silviculture and forest operations. “And couple that with a bad economic situation, with poor timber markets, and it’s been very difficult to fix some of these problems as quickly as we would like.”

Stringer along with members of the Kentucky Division of Forestry and consulting foresters spoke to landowners and loggers in Caldwell, Crittenden and Marshall counties about managing their ice-damaged woodlands.  

 “We had a lot of interest from loggers, as well as private landowners, for some type of education on what is the best way to properly harvest the damaged timber for the stand and how to manage that for future harvests farther on down the road, said Corey Payne, Crittenden County agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

The workshop covered those topics and others including safety issues, tax situations and the potential for forest fires from debris on the ground.  In addition, participants toured a local woodland where program presenters were able to talk about and point out different ice-damage scenarios.

“My woods look just like this, and I don’t have a clue what to do with them,” said Dickie Thomas, a Princeton landowner, during the site visit. “I was trying to determine whether to bring somebody in and log it out or what. So what this class taught me is I really don’t know what I’ve got; so we’re going to get a professional to look at it.”

Stringer cautioned against landowners trying to evaluate or harvest timber themselves without any training. With many woodlands still showing significant ice damage, the chances of getting hurt are high for an individual who is not trained to handle these types of situations.  

Average monetary losses in ice-damaged woodlands are estimated around $100 to $300 per acre. However, that number could be up to $1,000 to $2,000 per acre in some cases where the timber stand is a total loss.

 “I think it’s really easy for you (a landowner) to look at woods that have a lot of damage in them and go ‘that’s a mess’. Well, just because it’s a mess doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be long-term, or it’s going to be problematic,” Stringer said.  “The nice thing now is we’ve had a year where the professionals, who work in the area, better understand what’s going on. So it’s easier for them, and they can more quickly come to an evaluation of what needs to happen in a woods.”

Each situation will be different based on the severity of the damage and the landowners’ future goals for the woodlands.

“For example, someone from the Division of Forestry can help a landowner develop a Stewardship Plan if they are interested in managing their woods, and they could define what needs to be done in exactly what parts of the woods,” Stringer said.  “It may be a situation where you need to harvest the area because of the damage that’s in it, and there may be other areas where you could wait to harvest until the timber markets get a little better.”

Like woodland owners, this past year gave homeowners a chance to evaluate the extent of the ice damage to trees and shrubs in their landscapes.

“You’ll probably notice by now if a tree is recovering,” said Kelly Jackson UK Cooperative Extension agent for horticulture in Christian County. “The damage is not going to go away quickly; so you can give a tree time to recover if it’s not a safety risk.”

Jackson recently spoke to Extension Homemakers in the Purchase Area about whether the existing damage warrants repairing or replacing their trees and shrubs during extension’s Spring into Green event at Mid-Continent University in Mayfield.

With few certified arborists in western Kentucky, many homeowners will likely make the decisions for the next step with their ice damaged landscapes as well as repairs or replacements.

“The decision about whether to repair or replace should be based on severity of wounds, number of lost branches, health of the tree and risk,” he said. “If you need assistance, call your county’s extension office.”

Sometimes the answer to repair or replace is not so clear for homeowners. Damaged trees may be in an ideal location on their property or have sentimental value.

That’s why Rosemary Kandt from Murray attended Jackson’s presentation. One of her trees is the focal point in her garden, but lost all its limbs on one side during the ice storm. Two others are older, fruit-bearing trees that are popular with her neighbors.

“I’m going to try and save them,” she said. “He told me how to prune to even out the tree and train it to grow again. I also learned about which trees are better to plant in this region.”

The most common mistake homeowners make during repairs is topping trees. This practice can lead to further decline of the tree. Jackson talked with the Homemakers about how to correctly prune to prevent further damage.

Homeowners, who decide to contact an arborist, should make sure the arborist is insured and provides liability insurance for their employees. Without both of these, any injuries that occur on a person’s property is their responsibility.

Damage from the 2009 ice storm will likely be visible in some places for the next 20 to 30 years.  Cooperative Extension agents will continue to work with recovery efforts. 

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