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Wildfires Burn More Than Just the Forest

Friday, February 24, 2012 | 06:31am

- New Study: Average TN Annual Timber Value Loss Between $2.5 and $10.4 million –

NASHVILLE – A recent study conducted by forestry researchers shows that wildfire cuts the value of timber nearly in half in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and Tennessee. The study was conducted by the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry and the University of Tennessee.

According to the report, 47 percent of timber values are lost when a forest is burned by wildfire compared to what it would be if not burned at all.

“The financial losses from wildfire extend well beyond damage to individual trees,” said Dr. Jeff Stringer, Professor, Hardwood Silviculture and Forest Operations, University of Kentucky who led the study. “We found that repeated burning, a common occurrence in our region, changes the species and structure of our forests resulting in significant long-term losses.”

Both burned and unburned sites in the study were compared to determine actual fire damage as well as the overall effects of fire on density and structure. On average, burned stands were valued $351.82 an acre less than stands that weren’t burned. While forests are immediately affected by wildfires, loss of volume from trees being damaged and the change of species in the forest due to wildfire account for nearly two-thirds of the reason for the loss in value.

An average of more than 18,000 forested acres per year was burned by wildfire over the past 10 years in Tennessee. Based on the study, this burning caused an average annual loss of between $2.5 million and $10.4 million in timber value of our forests. Continued burning at this rate will increase losses as acres are re-burned and contribute to a steady loss of value.

Human-caused wildfires are one of the greatest threats to our forests, and this study helps to put a dollar figure on the loss of value as a result of those fires,” Tennessee State Forester Steven Scott said. “This loss of value affects landowners, forest industry, rural economies and others who rely on timber products.”

Other values of Kentucky and Tennessee forests such as protecting water quality, clean air, wildlife habitat, aesthetics and tourism were not included in this study, but certainly are also impacted by wildfires.

About 90 percent of wildfires in Tennessee are caused by human activity, predominantly by escaped debris burns and arson. The Division of Forestry requires a burn permit to conduct a debris burn of leaves and brush where local ordinances do not exist through May 15. The free permit can be obtained online at www.burnsafetn.org or by calling your local forestry office. If you suspect arson activity in your area, please call the arson hotline at 1-800-762-3017.

The study was funded by the Kentucky Division of Forestry with a grant by the U.S. Forest Service. For more information about other programs and services of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture visit www.tn.gov/agriculture.

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