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Ice Storm Damage to Forests

The December 2008 ice storm that affected millions of people in the northeast was similar to the 1998 ice storm in both the effect on people and the anticipated effects on our trees and forests. We learned a lot after the 1998 storm and many publications and studies have been distributed. The following documents are as relevant to this year's storm as they were to the '98 ice storm:

The U.S. Forest Service, the National Arbor Day Foundation, the University of Massachusetts and the University of New Hampshire provide some great information about ice storms and their impact on trees and forests at their websites:

The links to the following web pages are available in the Links Leaving DEC's Website section of this page.

  • Ice Storm '98 - New England - USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area
  • When a Storm Strikes - National Arbor Day Foundation and the USDA Forest Service
  • Storm Damage Resource Center - USDA Forest Service, Northeast Center for Urban & Community Forestry and the University of Massachusetts
  • Ice Storm '08 - University of New Hampshire, Cooperative Extension

Ice storms can damage thousands of acres of forest land in New York each year. Owners of forested tracts are encouraged to proceed cautiously in deliberating what actions may be appropriate in dealing with woodlot salvage and cleanup activities. To the untrained eye, the damage to forest trees may appear to be more substantial than it actually is. The long term impact on forest growth and health should be assessed with the input and advice of a professional forester.

Landowners are encouraged not to rush into taking action to salvage what may appear to be a severely damaged woodlot. A matter of several weeks to six months or more should be of little consequence. In many cases the landowner will have the upcoming growing season to determine what trees should be salvaged if a salvage harvest is justified. They shouldn't yield to pressures of harvesting contractors wanting to immediately conduct salvage work until the owner has an unbiased assessment of the extent of damage and professional input as to the course of action that best addresses the problem while meeting landowner management objectives.

The loading of tree branches with an accumulation of ice results in branch as well as stem breakage. Smaller diameter trees bend over while others may become uprooted. Breakage of tree stems and uprooting are much more serious problems than just the loss of a few major limbs. Forested properties that have experienced a substantial amount of this type of damage should receive immediate attention to assess the extent of the problem.

Trees periodically experience branch breakage due to wind storms and snow and ice loading. Scientists at the NYS College of Environmental Science and Forestry have found that sugar maple for instance, can experience a 40% loss of crown and still survive. Damage to trees can result in altered growth rates, possible infestation of decay organisms or insect pests, and impact the aesthetic quality of individual trees and forested landscapes. Environmental conditions subsequent to storms, including drought, flood, or additional storm damage can add to the stresses of trees. When dealing with ice storms the following recommendations are given:

  • Branch breakage is a natural phenomenon that may have minimal impact upon the tree's ability to survive and grow. The type and magnitude of damage as well as anticipated effects on forest health and growth should be assessed with professional forestry input .
  • A professional forester, such as a DEC service forester, private consultant or industrial forester can help provide an assessment of the impact in individual woodlots. Such a professional can recommend a course of action for individual sites to meet landowner objectives and concerns.
  • Landowners are encouraged not to rush into agreements with harvesting contractors without first looking at their options and determining the true need to conduct salvage cutting.
  • If a salvage cutting is appropriate landowners should follow recommendations normally given in harvesting situations:
    • Utilize the expertise of a professional forester in setting up the sale.
    • Designate material for cutting in advance of sale, not all trees receiving branch damage may require salvage cutting.
    • Solicit competitive bids for harvesting work.
    • Consider use of a Cooperating Timber Harvester or Certified Logger.
    • Use a written sales agreement to include provisions for payment and contract period.
    • Adhere to Best Management Practices and Workers' Compensation Law.
    • Inspect work to insure compliance with sale agreement specifications.

Additional recommendations and advice may be obtained by contacting DEC Regional offices. Directories of Cooperating Consultant Foresters and Cooperating Timber Harvesters are available at Regional Forestry Offices.