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Storm Damage to Forests

What to do first

Follow these steps when encountering storm damage.

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.

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 six 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).

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.

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.

Review "Marketing Dead Timber in the Upper Midwest" [PDF exit DNR] for evaluating the marketability of dead trees.

Slightly or non-resistant species

  • Ash
  • Aspen
  • Butternut
  • Elm
  • Basswood
  • Hackberry
  • Hickories
  • Maples 

Moderately resistant species

  • Black cherry

Resistant species

  • White oak
  • Black walnut 

Very resistant species 

  • Black locust

Red and black oaks would fall under slightly or non-resistant to decay.

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.

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 (section 26.12 (6) (7), Wis. Stats.).

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.

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.


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.

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.

Purchasing new trees

You can purchase trees to plant from the DNR nursery or private nurseries. The DNR recommends replanting with native species. Order online or contact the Wilson State Nursery at 608-375-4123 for more information and links.