HOUSTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - Logging operations have begun at Davy Crockett National Forest to cleanup and process thousands of acres of timber that were damaged when three tornadoes hit Cherokee and Houston counties in April.
Wind speeds up to 206 miles-per-hour toppled trees and left limbs hanging in other trees. However, forest rangers and industry experts said much of the timber that was damaged could still be salvaged, and there was no shortage of willing customers.
“We started our salvage operations approximately two weeks ago. We currently have sold 7 salvage sales, and we have 5 active sales going on right now,” said Tom Philipps, acting district ranger. “We were very pleased that we were able to sell every sale, and we had good participation on every one them."
Philipps said for the past 2 weeks, he estimated there have been 30 loads a day taken from the forest to be processed and sold by local lumber mills.
“That’s quite a bit of timber, so we’re hoping that adds a bit of an incentive to the local economy as well,” Philipps added.
From a hilltop near Ratcliff, loggers look over downed timber and snapped off trees, referred to as candlesticks. Even veteran operator Robert Holmes is amazed.
"It's just as far as you look. Devastation. It's quite a few broken trees, but there's as much blown over as there is broke."
The logs lose value the longer they set on the ground. The concern are fungi, disease, bugs and rot.
So far, the loads headed to mills across Deep East Texas can be milled into saw boards for building and other purposes.
"The mills are really happy with them," said a driver securing his load.
Neither the USFS or a logging contractor would give us how high the bids came in, but it's reasonable enough for Holmes Logging out of Coldspring to make a 120 mile round trip from Ratcliff to a mill located in Livingston.
"As long as it's open, we're pushing," said Robert Holmes III.
The word of caution to log drivers is to go to and from their destinations in a safe manner.
Motorists are advised to use caution.
“Definitely any signs that are up take notice of that,” advises Sgt. Ryan Martin with the Houston County Sheriff’s Department. “Just be aware of the logging that’s going on. Be careful when you are behind them. They can lose debris off their load.”
Another safeguard includes strict forest service rules for the forest's protection.
"While the operators are engaged in salvaging the timber we have forest service personnel out here insuring there is no undue damage to resources we want to protect, such as stream crossings," explained Philipps.
The logging operations are expected to continue thru the summer months and possibly into the fall.