- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

SMOAKS, S.C. (AP) - The sweet, fragrant scent of pine in woodlands belies the damage to South Carolina’s forests following the worst ice storm in a decade. Acres of timberland were damaged in this month’s storm, with trees snapped halfway up their trunks and boughs littering the forest floor and sides of highways.

Forestry workers have been flying aerial surveys and visiting woodlands assessing the toll from the Feb. 11-13 storm amid indications the damage may surpass the nearly $100 million of the state’s last severe ice storm in 2004. Not all the damage is easily seen.

“It’s not like after a hurricane where the damage is very uniform,” said Tim Adams, the resource development director for the South Carolina Forestry Commission. “It’s more like a mosaic of damage.”

In hard-hit western Colleton County, some areas appear normal - but then just down the road are tracts with young spindly pines bending toward a forest floor littered with boughs, while bigger trees are snapped in two.

The commission is assessing the damage using a new system where surveys are taken in relation to global positioning points across the state. There are 3,500 such points statewide. Foresters will take surveys of the damage in relation to plots in affected counties providing a more accurate sense of the damage.

“It’s not just driving down the road and stopping at every damaged stand,” Adams said. A stand refers to a tract of trees grown for timber.

He expects that using the system will generate more accurate damage estimates relatively quickly, perhaps in the next week or so.

Some areas of the state received 1 ½ inches of ice that snapped trees and limbs, both causing widespread power outages - about 350,000 electric customers were without power at the height of the storm - and damaging the state’s valuable timber.

Timber is a $17 billion industry in South Carolina that provides 90,000 jobs. It is the state’s most valuable cash crop, according to the nonprofit South Carolina Forestry Association.

“I personally think its equivalent if not worse than the ice storm we had in 2004,” said Johney Haralson, a landowner who has grown trees near Denmark, S.C., for almost four decades.

The heaviest damage was to trees in tracts that were recently thinned.

“The other thing that made a big impact was the wind. The 20 to 25 mph winds we had that Wednesday night is what did a lot of the trees in,” said Amy McFadden of White Oak Forest Management in Georgetown who manages land in several South Carolina counties.

Adams advised the state’s 350,000 landowners who grow timber not to rush into anything and start immediately salvaging.

“Sometimes the damage can look pretty bad with limb breakage but the best thing they might want to do is wait. They need professional advice to make that decision,” he said.

There are about 13 million acres of commercial forestland in South Carolina and about 88 percent is owned privately, according to the commission.

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