Storm damage in Ferry County; Landowners’ responses can prevent future problems

Broken trees and logs near Keller, Washington--July 2012
Broken trees and logs near Keller, Washington–July 2012. Photo: Karen Ripley/DNR. Photo: Karen Ripley/DNR

On the afternoon of July 19, 2012, a severe storm moved north along the San Poil River valley from the Columbia River into Canada. Its track closely followed State Highway 21, and passed the communities of Keller, Republic and Curlew. Bursts of wind were reported to have exceeded 100 mph. One woman was killed by falling timber, the entire county’s power distribution system was damaged, and numerous trees across hundreds of acres were pushed over, bent or broken.

In the aftermath of the storm, many forest landowners were concerned about forest health issues associated with the damaged trees. An initial assessment of storm damage can help quantify the impact and shed light on longer term forest health issues in an area. Understanding what changes in wood quality and pest populations to expect in coming weeks can relieve concerns or motivate rapid action. This article documents some of the advice and recommendations provided to the affected landowners in the aftermath of this and other storm events.

Walk your property to observe and note the numbers, species, and sizes of damaged trees. By observing how the trees failed, you may be able to learn more about the site or stand conditions, and prevent or correct similar deficiencies in the future. For example, if a tree has strong, abundant roots, but simply was blown over, it’s called a “soil failure.” This can indicate shallow soils or a high water table. In the future, it will always be important to avoid activities that might compact or damage these soils further and to thin conservatively on such sites.

When a tree breaks off along its trunk, it’s called a “stem failure.” Examine that tree to identify whether it had a large height-to-diameter ratio (it was too skinny); broke at a defective area such as a wound, decay pocket, or double top; or simply broke due to extremely powerful winds. Employ practices that prevent stem weakness or defects in the future.

When a tree topples over but the roots were missing, sparse, weakened or decayed, it’s called a “root failure.” Definitely look more closely to discern whether diseased (rotten) or damaged roots contributed to the failure. If a root disease is present, it’s critical to identify which root killing fungus is present and to adjust management practices to avoid additional, continuing effects.

Use these observations to help adjust your techniques, strengthen the wind-resistance of your forest, and pursue your long-term management plan and objectives over time.  

Broken Douglas-fir tree reveals extensive decay
Broken Douglas-fir tree reveals extensive decay from brown cubical butt rot Phaeolus schweinitzii. Photo: Karen Ripley/DNR

Because Ferry County’s pine and Douglas-fir forests are quite fire-prone, most landowners are also evaluating methods and opportunities to salvage or remove tree debris. They are concerned about the potential for insects to multiply in the downed material, threatening their surviving trees. They also are concerned about how quickly stain, decay and insect tunnels might degrade the value of products they could potentially salvage.

The storm occurred on July 19. That’s generally past the time that would be favorable for insects such as the Douglas-fir beetle and Ips engraver beetles that would potentially use this material and breed into sufficient numbers to kill nearby uninjured trees.  

However, there will likely be an immediate influx of several types of beetles attracted to fallen and injured trees. Bark beetles such as the mountain pine beetle, western pine beetle and Ips beetles will quickly be attracted to injured and fallen pines. They are likely to kill some weak trees with large bark wounds or less than 30 percent live crown remaining. They, and other wood-boring insects such as long-horned and metallic wood-boring beetles, are also likely to carry blue-staining fungi beneath the bark of the trees they tunnel into. With summer’s favorable temperature conditions, this discoloration can affect a large volume of the sapwood within a few weeks. Blue stain severely degrades the salvage value of pine sawlogs that might have been manufactured into visual-grade wood products. Landowners who intend to salvage timber, especially pine sawlogs, should act quickly. Stain generally develops more slowly in Douglas-fir and the resulting defect is less critical in the products typically manufactured from it, but the timber buyer has the ultimate say in what’s acceptable or not.

In some areas, firewood will be a reasonable use of the damaged trees. Firewood cutters should avoid the temptation to “crib” logs cut from freshly killed trees between surviving trees. Although this looks tidy, it often results in the death of the supporting trees because large numbers of beetles intent on invading the fresh, attractive-smelling firewood also blunder into the live trees and overwhelm their defenses.

The forest landowners of Ferry County who suffered storm damage can’t be delighted about this event. However, it does present them with opportunities to look more closely at their site and forest conditions. If a management entry is needed, it’s a chance to move forward with long-term stewardship goals. Every entry is a good opportunity to choose what to leave (healthy, well-spaced trees of durable species for the site conditions) as well as what can be salvaged or must be cleaned up.

By Karen Ripley
Forest Health Program Manager
Washington Department of Natural Resources