Seven Steps to Save Your Land After an Ice Storm

Your woods may look completely devastated after an ice storm. But don't panic. Even if they seem severely damaged, many trees can recover from severe winter conditions. Here's what you should do in the wake of an ice storm.

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Your Post-Ice Storm Checklist

  • Stay safe. Report any dangerous conditions, such as fallen power lines, immediately. Stay warm, stay indoors and don’t overexert yourself. Many injuries and deaths during winter storms come from frostbite, hypothermia, automobile accidents and heart attacks.
  • Survey your woods—carefully. Ice storms create very dangerous conditions for evaluating your woods. Wait until the ice melts; then head out and take stock of the damage. Note where the damage occurred and its extent. Document the damage with photographs and a map, if possible. Look for:
    • Trees that are leaning severely
    • Broken or cracked tree stems
    • Broken roots, or roots that are lifting from the soil
    • Dead or broken limbs that are still attached to trees
    • Damaged or missing tree crowns or tops—most trees with damage to more than 75 percent of their crown won’t survive
  • Get help. Ice storm damage is sometimes difficult to spot, and missing it can expose your woods to the risk of disease or insect infestation. Ask a professional forester to help you assess your woods.
  • Remove hazardous conditions. Stay safe while removing debris and clearing up. Don’t attempt any salvage operations until immediate hazards, such as broken, but still attached or hanging, branches are removed.
  • Salvage, but don’t rush. When it comes to ice storms, it may take some time to see the full extent of the damage. Some experts recommend waiting until the end of the first growing season after the storm to harvest trees. But severely damaged trees—those with split trunks or heavily affected crowns—should be removed after the storm. Your forester can help you plan a safe, economically sound salvage. When salvaging:
    • Wait until the ice has melted and the ground is no longer saturated.
    • Be careful not to damage remaining, intact trees during removal.
    • Don’t forget the debris. Accumulated debris raises your wildfire risk, so debris removal is just as important as salvaging whole trees and branches.
  • Protect the survivors. After an ice storm, prune surviving trees to reduce hazards and prevent additional damage. Make sure to:
    • Cut cleanly when pruning. Stripped bark or jagged edges, which can result when a branch is torn loose, will invite insects and disease.
    • Prune branches where they join larger ones. Never cut the tree’s main branches back to stubs as this will encourage weakly attached limbs to grow
  • Watch it. Because ice storm damage often takes a long time to show itself, it’s especially important to keep an eye on your woods over the next year or two. Look for drooping branches when leaves emerge in the spring, as that can be a sign of hidden cracks. Also look for dying limbs or twigs in the crown and signs of disease or pest activity.

Following a salvage harvest, there are additional steps you can take to restore your forest. But an ounce of prevention is worth quite a bit of cure when it comes to ice storms.

You may not be able to predict or prevent an ice storm, but you can prepare your woods for the worst that winter has to offer.

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