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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 tornadoes, 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.

What to do first

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 - Be aware of time regarding tree deterioration and loss of 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 - Storm-damaged trees may have value for wildlife

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 - Cleanup requirements for downed trees and forest debris (slash) caused by a storm

Cleanup is desirable to reduce the future potential for wildfire and insect infestation. Cleanup 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)).

You are required to clean up downed trees and slash if your property is entered into one of the Wisconsin Forest Tax Programs' MFL/FCL. Contact your local DNR forester for details and recommendations.

Tree ownership

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.

Determining 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 - 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 - Purchasing new trees

You can purchase trees to plant 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

Review the information below and contact your local DNR forester to discuss your management options in more detail.

Storm-damaged pine

Leaning pines can have root damage as well as stem damage which can make them susceptible to bark beetle attack.

Pines, stain and bark beetles

Following a severe storm event, pine trees degrade faster than hardwoods and are also likely to attract secondary pests such as bark beetles. Storm-damaged pines should be salvaged as soon as possible after the initial damage. Pine bark beetles attack and kill damaged pine and then spread to neighboring healthy trees. They can also introduce blue stain fungi, which rapidly discolors the wood and reduces timber value. To minimize future issues with bark beetles and blue stain, salvage pines as soon as possible. For more on bark beetles that attack conifers, including pines, read the conifer bark beetle factsheet.

Review this factsheet for more information about salvage harvests, pests and replanting in storm-damaged pine stands.

Heterobasidion root disease

Heterobasidion root disease (HRD, previously known as annosum) is a serious fungal disease of conifers, particularly pine and spruce, that causes decline and eventual mortality. Infection occurs when a spore lands on a freshly cut stump and germinates on the surface. Once in a stand, HRD can spread from an infected stump to nearby living trees through root contact, eventually killing them. It also attacks and kills understory saplings and seedlings within a disease pocket.

If your pine or spruce stand is within 25 miles of a known HRD pocket and a harvest or salvage will be done, it is recommended to treat pine and spruce stumps with a preventative fungicide within 24 hours of being cut. Find out if you're within 25 miles of known pockets by exploring the DNR's interactive HRD web map.

Hardwoods, stain and decay

Open wounds on storm-damaged hardwoods allow for the entry of bacteria and fungi that stain and decay the wood. The rate of decay varies by both tree and fungal species. In general, aspen, birch, basswood and red maple decay more quickly than oak, hickory and sugar maple. Larger wounds covering more than 1⁄3 of the circumference of the tree can increase the likelihood of tree failure during future wind events. Prioritize removal of species that decay more rapidly and those trees that have large wounds.

Oak wilt

Leaves with oak wilt

Green leaves dropped by a tree dying from oak wilt, note discoloration of leaves while the base of the leaf is still green.

When salvaging hardwoods, keep in mind that oaks are highly susceptible to infection by the oak wilt fungus during spring and early summer with the highest risk between April 1 – July 15 in southern Wisconsin and April 15 – July 15 in northern Wisconsin.

If salvage of oaks will occur during the high-risk period, please see the oak wilt guidelines for more information on harvesting to minimize introduction of oak wilt.

Oaks that require pruning of broken branches should have the wounds painted immediately if pruning occurs from April – July. Wound dressing or latex paint is an acceptable sealant for pruning wounds.

Two-lined chestnut borer

Oaks with broken roots or major branch/stem breakage may be attacked by the native two-lined chestnut borer. Larvae of this beetle bore under the bark of oaks and can girdle and kill branches or entire trees. Branch mortality or whole tree mortality due to this insect will not show up for 1-3 years following a major stress event like these storms.

What to salvage

A general rule is to salvage the tree if more than 50% of the crown or top is broken, although there may be exceptions where leaving the tree can be beneficial. Trees that are partially uprooted or leaning will not die immediately but likely have severe root damage and will become hazardous if left to stand. They are also more susceptible to insect or disease attack. Consider these trees for removal unless a forester recommends that you leave them to promote future stand regeneration.

Firewood

Firewood pile

Insects and diseases can be moved on firewood. Keep it local.

Storm-damaged trees can be used for firewood, but you should be careful not to move firewood long distances and risk introducing invasive species like emerald ash borer, gypsy moth and oak wilt to new areas. Instead, let the firewood age in place and burn it locally. For more information, visit the DNR firewood page. Always use proper protective equipment when operating a chainsaw.

Continued monitoring

You should continue to monitor your storm-damaged stands for several years following the damage. This is especially important if additional stresses (drought, defoliation, etc.) occur in the year or years after the storm damage. If you notice trees dying in the 1-2 years after the storm, you should discuss this with your local DNR forester.

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 property 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 [exit DNR].

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 [exit DNR].

Contact your County Emergency Management Office

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

Last revised: Tuesday August 13 2019