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University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

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The Kentucky Division of Forestry reports annually the number of acres of timber that has burned. Many years it reaches over 100,000 acres. Many times Kentucky calls upon the resources of other states to help in the suppression of fires. The expense to fight the forest fires in Kentucky can reach staggering proportions.

Newspaper and television coverage discuss direct costs, the extended work days of the workers, and the countless acres that are burnt from fires suspected of being intentionally set by arsonists. The issue that many times not conveyed well is why foresters were so intent on putting out the forest fires. In the spring, we will see new foliage appearing on many of the burned areas.

Forest fires in Kentucky are not like those "all consuming" fires in pine stands reported from western and southern states.

Due to the volatility of pines, the complete tree is burnt and lost. The loss is immediate and easily measured. In northern hardwoods, like those of oak and yellow-poplar found in Kentucky, only the base of the tree is damaged, but not killed. These losses are not easily measured in dollars to the landowner. Again, the question, "So what? The tree is still alive!". Yes, the tree is still alive, and will be for many decades, but the monetary value of the tree continues to decrease if the landowner allows damaged trees to remain after a forest fire.

As responsible stewards of the land, we would not intently over graze a pasture that would place a stress on the live stock's health. Nor would we grow row crops without first bringing the soil chemistry to its proper levels. The same should be implied for timber crops. The crop of trees in the forest that have been fire damaged are decreasing in monetary value and should be evaluated by a professional forester.

Countless acres of timber in Kentucky have been burned not only once, but several times, and are still allowed to be maintained while at the same time losing monetary value. In contrast, unburned acres of timber, when mature, in all probability, will be returning thousands of dollars more to the land owner than those acres that have been burned. Loggers, when they are attempting to identify stands to initiate forest operations, most likely will turn away from stands that have evidence of fire history and go to stands that have not been burned.

Foresters know the potential monetary damage that is influenced by forest fires in Kentucky's timber. The hope of the foresters who fought these fires is that timber owners will initiate the necessary forest operations in stands affected by fires. Forest management operations after a fire will improve both the future health and potential dollar value.

Return to Forest Fires.