Droughts and wildfires could impact timber and lumber industries in Mississippi

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With little rain in the forecast, drought conditions continue to impact all parts of the state. Now, it’s hitting the timber and lumber industries.

For three months, Mississippi has seen drought conditions and 838 wildfires since August — burning through one of Mississippi’s largest economic drivers: the timber industry.

“You’re talking about a $13 billion industry and 70,000 jobs. So trees are extremely important to Mississippi,” Russell Bozeman said.

State Forester Russell Bozeman says over 19 million acres of the Magnolia State are covered in forest, and the combination of heat and lack of rain means those trees are at risk.

“When a human is good and healthy, then they’re more likely to not get sick when they encounter something. But when you do have a stressed immune system, the same thing with a tree when its system is down and suppressed, it’s not as likely to fight off the insects or disease that may encounter,” Bozeman said.

Bob Young with Frierson Bailey Lumber & Supply Company says that’s concerning for him, especially when his business is dependent on the growth of old and new trees.

“When foresters cut trees, they replant, and trees are growing a lot faster than they used to be. So they need everything they can have to grow; the more fertilizer, the more water, so to speak. And so I think in multiple ways it would hurt this industry,” Young explained.

So how do unhealthy trees impact you? Young says it’s simple economics.

“If the drought keeps going, it’s going to get us. The price of materials will go up because of some supply and demand theory,” Young explained.

More specifically, Young says the price of Southern Yellow Pine, a tree that is widely used in construction and grown locally here in Mississippi.

“It will be bad. If we don’t have the trees, we can’t make the boards. If you don’t have the boards, you can’t make houses. So it will definitely affect us. But hopefully, that won’t happen. Hopefully, we’ll get rain,” Young said.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission says crews battled 72 wildfires over the weekend. Forty of the fires were reported on Sunday. Those wildfires scorched about 500 acres of land across the state.

Bozeman says it’s important that everyone pay close attention to fire dangers and burn bans, regardless of where you are in the state.

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