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Contact information
Use the Forestry Assistance Locator to find cooperating foresters, DNR service foresters or tax law forestry specialists for your county.
View the current Directory of Foresters [PDF].

Storm damage to forests

Natural disturbance events such as tornados, straight line winds, hailstorms and flooding wreak havoc on the best of forest management plans. They can also result in major economic losses and create significant forest management problems. Some effects of heavy windfall include:

  • fuel build up resulting in future forest fire hazard;
  • potential for future loss due to increased susceptibility to insects, decay, future storm damage, snowfall, etc.;
  • changes in aesthetic values and forest objectives;
  • damaged or blocked roads, culverts and ditches;
  • safety hazards for landowner and forest workers; and
  • changes in fish and wildlife habitat.

Review each of the tabs below for details regarding how to deal with storm damage to forests.

May 2017-NW WI

Do you have woodlands damaged by the May 16, 2017 tornado?
Image of Tornado Path
View a larger picture

If so, DNR encourages you to read the information on the other tabs of this page, then contact your local DNR forester with any additional questions.

For your convenience here are lists of other resources:


DNR photo by Ben Garrett

DNR photo by John Bronson

What to do first

Read out the "After The Storm" handout for the May 16th Tornado [PDF].

Follow these steps when encountering storm damage.

#1 - Conduct a thorough damage assessment and consider salvage harvest

  • If physically possible, walk entire property (be sure to wear your hard hat and other safety gear!)
  • Make a simple map showing the extent and type of damage. Note trees with broken tops, broken limbs, fallen trees, severely bent trees, blocked roads and trails. Take photographs!

Professional assistance is available to help you assess your situation and make informed decisions on how to proceed. For a more detailed assessment to determine value losses and how to set up and conduct a salvage timber sale we recommend that you contract with a private forestry consultant. They will know reliable loggers, local market conditions and regulatory requirements.

What is salvage? Salvage harvest is a type of logging method used in forest areas that have been damaged by a natural disturbance.

#2 - How much time do I have before the trees deteriorate and lose economic value?

Damaged and broken live wood created from storm damage will be host material to many insects and fungi. With the exception of oak (as mentioned above), prompt removal and maximum utilization of damaged material will limit development of various pests and diseases to a stand. If salvageable trees are still standing and have branches with green leaves, they will not degrade significantly in the next 6 to 12 months. Trees which have blown over or are not standing should be salvaged before next spring. Wood on the ground begins to degrade immediately (although there are some differences in species as to how fast stain and decay enter the wood).

Prioritize salvage removals based on tree species, economics and decay rates. Decay rates of tree species vary and could be a consideration in salvage prioritization if necessary. If economics dictate, harvesting less resistant species first should be considered. Slightly or non-resistant species includes ash, aspen, butternut, elm, basswood, hackberry, hickories and maples. Moderately resistant species includes black cherry. Resistant species includes white oaks and black walnut. Very resistant species includes black locust (source: http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr190/chapter_14.pdf [PDF, exit DNR]). Red and black oaks would fall under slightly or non-resistant to decay (source: Chapter 14 of "Tree Disease Concepts" by Paul Manion). Review "Marketing Dead Timber in the Upper Midwest" [PDF, exit DNR] for evaluating the marketability of dead trees.

Monitoring the damaged site on a regular basis for new or developing pest problems is recommended.

Limit disturbance, such as harvest or construction, in adjacent undamaged areas of the stand for one to two years to reduce additional stress to the system and allow the area to recover. Economics of setting up a salvage harvest may prohibit or limit this precaution.

#3 - Do any of my trees have value for wildlife?

Yes, you may consider retaining a few storm-damaged trees (large diameter reserve trees, mast and cavity trees, snags and coarse woody debris) for wildlife habitat. Species that may benefit are red-headed woodpeckers, Northern flickers and several species of bats. Reasons to not leave dead trees may include areas where tree retention is deemed a threat to human health and safety and/or where leaving them would interfere with methods to control insect and disease outbreaks.

#4 - Am I required to clean up downed trees and forest debris (slash) caused by a storm?

No, however cleanup is desirable to reduce the future potential for wildfire and insect infestation. Clean up will likely be necessary to have new trees grow naturally or to supplemental plants on the affected property. If the down trees create a health, safety and welfare risk, you may have civil liability for a known hazard. When slash results from human activity (including salvage logging), slash must be removed satisfactorily from adjoining properties (Wis. State Statue 26.12 (6) (7)).

Yes, if your property is entered into one of the Wisconsin Forest Tax Programs MFL/FCL. Contact your local DNR forester for details and recommendations.

Who owns the trees?

In almost all cases--except for boundary trees or cases where the timber rights are severed--the landowner on which the tree was growing (i.e., the root ball/stem) owns the tree. With boundary trees, usually both landowners are responsible and/or own the tree in question.

How to determine boundary/cutting lines in blow down?

Individual landowners should work with their neighbors to agree on boundary lines if there is a concern or question regarding who owns certain timber. Given the extreme conditions that result during blowdowns, it is often impractical or impossible to obtain formal surveys in a timely fashion. So, the best advice is to work together to address the problem. Consultant foresters can help.

#5 - Wetland concerns?

Leave a buffer area around water features such as streams, lakes and small ponds.

Fish/aquatic considerations

Trees, logs, root wads and branches play an important role in creating healthy, diverse lakes and streams. Research has found waters with greater habitat diversity also have more diverse populations of fish. Wood plays an important role in creating habitat diversity.

As trees fall into streams, they help shape the channel and provide shade, shelter and feeding opportunities for aquatic organisms. In lakes, fallen trees provide shelter for small fish and habitat for insect larvae and small plants. Fallen trees play such an important role in aquatic habitats that many restoration programs are working to add wood back to streams and lakes.

Wetlands

Your property may contain small ponds or wetland pockets which are both important features for amphibians such as frogs, toads and salamanders. Leaving downed trees in and immediately adjacent to these wetlands will enhance the habitat for these amphibians, which will use the logs for years to come as they slowly decay.

See Wisconsin Best Management Practices for Water Quality for more information.

#6 - Where can I get advice on site preparation and reforestation?

Many tree species regenerate naturally following harvest, including aspen, oak and maple. White, red and jack pine may not regenerate naturally. Evaluate the harvested area after two to three years as supplemental planting may be needed. For more information contact a local DNR forester.

#7 - Where can I get trees to plant?

Either from the DNR nursery or private nurseries. DNR recommends replanting with native species. Order online or contact the Wilson State Nursery at 608-375-4123 for more information and links.

Pests

Reducing pest problems in storm-damaged trees

Oaks

Two line chestnut borer is a threat to all oak species in southern Wisconsin. The drought of 2012 caused an increase in population of this insect pest, which often remains high one to three (or more) years after a drought.

The borer will be readily attacking severely damaged oaks with adults laying eggs from June through August. Larval boring damage symptoms may not be observed for a year or more. Repeated attack and damage is likely for one to three years as a storm-damaged site recovers.

Salvaging damaged oaks after the oak wilt risk period is recommended and avoiding harvesting for one to two years in adjacent undamaged parts of a stand would also be recommended to reduce further stress and risk of additional damage by this insect. Markets and tolerance of additional damage is also a consideration in decision making.

Oak wilt is a major pathogen that poses a high risk for introduction to new areas following storm damage, especially during the critical infection period of April 1 to July 15 in southern Wisconsin. Reducing further risk of infection by delaying salvage in high oak component stands would be recommended.

Following the oak harvest guidelines is recommended. Consult a forest health specialist for variances in special circumstances. Monitoring the damaged site for oak wilt for one to two years is recommended and consideration of oak wilt mitigation efforts may be considered if necessary.

Pines

Pine engraver bark beetles are a primary concern for damaged red, white and jack pines. Storm damaged trees and blow down pine log and branch material will be prime breeding material for bark beetles.

Bark beetle population build up will allow for mass attack to adjacent health trees. Damaged pine stands should be salvaged ideally within six weeks of the storm event to reduce beetle build up, secondary woodborer damage and blue stain degrade that will reduce market value.

Remove all fresh cut logs from landings within three weeks if possible. Monitor residual pine slash for bark beetle build up or run over material with harvesting equipment to facilitate desiccation.

Heterobasidion root disease is a major pathogen of pines, in particular red and white pines in southern Wisconsin. Storm damage may have caused open wounds that have allowed for infection. Since it may take four or more years for symptoms of this disease to appear, long term monitoring of such sites is recommended. Stump treatments during salvage harvesting should be considered to reduce further risk from this disease.

Decay in wounded trees

If the storm has created wounds that have exposed the wood under the bark, bacteria and fungi that cause decay can enter the tree. Generally, decay is limited to the wood present at the time the wound occurs; it is walled off from the wood produced later.

The rate of decay is variable depending on the species of the tree and the species of fungus. In general, aspen, birch basswood, red maple and jack pine decay quicker than oak, hickory and sugar maple. Larger wounds that approach covering more than one-third of the tree’s circumference can eventually cause a weak spot in a tree that will be a likely spot for the tree to fail during a high wind event.

Tree vigor will also influence wound closing and decay rates. Young, fast growing trees will produce new wood faster than the decay can destroy old wood, so the tree trunk will not weaken and fail. Old, slow-growing trees may be slow to close wounds and produce healthy new wood. Management recommendations:

  • Large, old trees with massive wounds (covering more than one-third of the tree’s circumference) and few remaining limbs should be removed, as they will not survive long anyway. ‘Topping’ will not increase the tree’s health and should be avoided.
  • Young oak trees with massive damage can be removed and allowed to resprout from the stump.
  • Non-oaks - Broken limbs can be pruned at any time. These pruning wounds do not require a wound dressing and should be allowed to heal on their own.
  • Proper pruning requires leaving the branch collar intact. This will ensure the best chances of wound closure.

Wildfire concerns

The threat of wildfire is very real in Wisconsin. Many acres of dead and dying trees, brush and other vegetation make this threat even greater. While you work to remove the storm-damaged debris on your property, take time to guard against the possibility of starting a wildfire and minimizing the damage that a wildfire could do to your property should one move through the area.

Landowners should keep several things in mind when protecting their propety from the threat of wildfire.

  • 98 percent of all wildfires in Wisconsin are caused by people. Take care to keep from starting a fire when doing things such as disposing of ash from wood stoves, burning brush piles and working with equipment outdoors.
  • Firefighters cannot help save your home if they cannot reach it. Your driveway needs to be wide enough and have enough vertical clearance to accommodate emergency vehicles.
  • Minimizing flammable vegetation close to buildings and maintaining the area 100 to 200 feet around your home can lower the intensity of an approaching wildfire. For more information, read the Firewise Landscaping Guide [PDF].
  • Conduct your own home ignition zone assessment [PDF] to find out where the trouble spots might be on your property.
  • Take a few minutes to watch the video Wildfire in Wisconsin: Would your home survive? [VIDEO Length 8:48].

Brush disposal

Brush disposal sites

Many townships and villages have established sites for collection of storm debris (check with your local township or county emergency government office for more information). Check with your town clerk for updated information. Contact information for most townships is available on county websites.

Don't move firewood

Firewood easily transports harmful pests and other problems for yard trees and forests. Firewood that looks clean may actually be hiding insects like emerald ash borer or gypsy moth, or the tiny spores of a tree-killing fungus like oak wilt. To learn more, read DNR's firewood information.

Burning

Individuals wishing to burn legal materials (e.g. leaves, brush and pine needles) may need to obtain an annual written permit and then call or check online on the day of the burn for the daily burn restrictions. These no-cost permits (if needed) can be obtained at local ranger stations, emergency fire wardens, online or by simply calling 1-888-WIS-BURN (947-2876). For more information on burning permit laws and regulations, review DNR's burning permit information.

There is a very real likelihood that burning permits will be suspended during spring fire season. Emergency burning restrictions may also be in effect at some point.

Liability for wildfires

Regardless of emergency burning restrictions, any individual who sets fires on any land at any time and allows it to become a forest fire shall be liable for all expenses incurred in the suppression of the fire by the state or town in which the fire occurred.

Any person whose property is injured or destroyed by fires may recover in a civil action the value of timber or any other damages suffered from persons causing such fires.

Help

Managing storm damaged woods [PDF] (adapted by William Klase, UWEX Educator).

Be aware

Here are a few tips to consider when dealing with independent contractors.

  • Get references from other landowners that have worked with the forester or logger you are thinking of dealing with. Visit previous logging jobs if possible.
  • Get a contract that is designed to protect your interests. Review the contract BEFORE signing it.
  • During the harvest, stay out of harm's way but make yourself visible. Ask questions of the logger. Be careful not to interfere with the logging operation, but your presence and interest (or oversight from a cooperating forester) can help assure the job is done right.
  • Work with loggers who are properly trained in logging safety and Wisconsin best management practices. If available in your area, consider contracting with a Wisconsin certified master logger or an SFI (Sustainable Forest Initiative) qualified logger.
  • Read Beware of Timber Theft and Fraud [PDF].

Enlisting the help of professional foresters

Most landowners will benefit from the assistance of a qualified forester in determining the cutting specifications and marketing of their wood. Foresters are available to assist in all aspects of the salvage and beyond. If your woodlot has scattered damage, you may wish to have a forester examine it to determine if additional trees should be marked for harvest along with the salvage.

Contracting directly with a logger

Should you choose to forego the help of a professional forester and contract directly with a logger, this information and sample timber sale contract are available for use.

Yard tree services

For help dealing with hazardous yard trees, contact a trained arborist [exit DNR] (i.e. tree service company) who specializes in pruning, removal and other hazard tree mitigation work.

Submitting cutting notices

County cutting notice

Prior to any harvesting, you must file a county cutting notice with your county clerk’s office. Removal of forest products from tax delinquent lands is not allowed. Coordinate with your consulting forester or logger to determine who will complete this form. Contact your county clerk’s office or visit their website to obtain a form.

State cutting notices on Managed Forest Law or Forest Crop Law lands

If your property is in the Managed Forest Law (MFL) or Forest Crop Law (FCL) program, a cutting notice must be submitted to your DNR forester 30 days before cutting begins. The DNR forester will review the proposed cutting to ensure it is consistent with sound forest management prior to approval. Other mandatory practices may be revised by mutual consent of the landowner and the DNR as a result of silvicultural requirements, catastrophic occurrence or other changing conditions. If liquidating a stand because of catastrophic loss, the DNR can assist you in meeting the requirements of the MFL and FCL.

MFL-FCL cutting notice [PDF]

Salvage harvesting guidance

Many resources are available to landowners, foresters and loggers to responsibly harvest woodlands in Wisconsin. Given the widespread damage, however, some generally accepted forestry practices will not be applicable or consistent with management goals following a storm. Here are some of the common resources people rely on for forest management information and examples of modifications that may be necessary.

Forestry best management practices for invasive species

Invasive species thrive with disturbance and are easily moved on equipment during any recovery activity. Forestry best management practices (BMPs) for invasive species provide considerations for harvesting timber without promoting the spread of invasive plants, pests or diseases. This manual was developed offering many options to choose from so your practices fit the situation. It is critical to consider invasive species during recovery to minimize the spread and ensure that recovery will happen efficiently. More information on forestry BMPs for invasive species can be found on the Wisconsin Council on Forestry website.

Forestry best management practices for water quality

Forestry best management practices for water quality can provide guidance on methods to harvest timber that protect water quality. Given widespread damage, some BMPs may not be applicable to salvage operations. For instance, the BMPs recommend maintaining 60 square feet of basal area per acre in riparian management zones (RMZs). However, there may not be that much standing timber left following a blowdown. In those instances, it will not be possible to meet that BMP. Read more about forestry BMPs for water quality [PDF].

Biomass harvesting guidelines

Biomass harvesting guidelines (BHGs) are used when the whole tree is harvested. In general, it is desirable to retain a certain amount of tree tops and limbs on site to provide wildlife habitat and protect soil nutrient levels. However, given the nature and location of the storm, it is recommended that for salvage operations the entire damaged tree be harvested to lower the risk of wildfire and prevent insect outbreaks. The BHGs recognize that under certain circumstances, retaining woody material on site may not be consistent with management objectives (in this case, lowering wildfire risks and preventing insect infestations). More information on biomass harvesting guidelines can be found on the Wisconsin Council on Forestry website.

Contact your County Emergency Management Office

To obtain more information related to personal safety during the storm recovery process.

Last revised: Friday June 02 2017