Of Storm-Felled Trees and Small Landowners

May 18, 2020

Seneca, in Oconee County, was one of the hardest-hit areas of the state when tornadoes struck in April. But it was far from the only place where the storms felled potentially valuable trees.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

Earlier this month, the South Carolina Forestry Commission estimated the that tornadoes that hit the state on April 13 destroyed close to 4,300 acres of trees. In dollars, that adds up to about $4 million in losses to South Carolina’s timber industry.

While that’s less than 1 percent of the state’s timber economy overall, it’s not an evenly distributed sum. Smaller landowners, with 20 to 40 acres and who lost a few acres of trees on April 13,  could face some significant losses, says Patrick Hiesl, assistant professor of forestry operations at Clemson University.

“If it’s less than 40 acres in size, it’s even difficult without a storm to find somebody to actually do the harvesting for you,” Hiesl says. “So the landowner will actually get less money for the trees just because there’s so much cost involved in the harvesting part.”

Listen to Hiesl explain the patchwork of logistics, money, and hard choices smaller-parcel tree growers have to contend with, and why it might be the lesser of two evils to just let downed trees alone.

(Which actually is pretty beneficial to the ecosystem.)