Hurricane Katrina ravaged more than half of De Soto
National Forest and officials are taking one project at a time to
restore what was destroyed.
The USDA Forest Service, which manages National Forests in
Mississippi, released a report Wednesday that said about 278,000 of
the forest's 532,000 acres were destroyed when Katrina struck on
Officials said they first must remove hazardous debris.
"Right now, we're in the recovery process," said Mary Bell
Lunsford, information officer for the National Forests in
Mississippi. "We're getting the damaged timber out off the roads and
off of the fire lines."
The storm damage, which includes uprooted and broken trees and
large amounts of pine needles and limbs, increased the risk of fire
in the forest, the report says.
Lunsford said what the USDA Forest Service is going to do next is
"I'm not sure what the plans are," Lunsford said. "The Forest
Service wants to remove the (debris) before fire season to decrease
the chances of wild fires."
Lunsford said she does not know the amount of time or cost for
"The impact is just tremendous," Lunsford said.
Davis Mounger, member of Friends of the Mississippi Public Lands,
a non-profit organization comprised of outdoorsmen and land owners
seeking protection for Mississippi public land, said he would like
to see the forest restored with more native plants.
"The Forest Service should use the recovery as an opportunity to
restore the ecosystem with native plants - the long leaf pine
ecosystem evolved with hurricanes and fires, that's what's supposed
to be at De Soto," said Mounger, who also is a member of the
National Forest Protection Alliance.
The alliance is an advocacy group that works to increase
community awareness and lobby politicians to better preserve the
nation's public forests. This week the group named Mississippi
National Forests one of 12 most endangered forests in the country.
Lunsford said plans for restoring the forest will get under way
once the cleanup is complete.
Earlier this year the forest service began work to revise plans
for the state's national forests because of new regulations, but the
adjustments will be made to the process to accommodate the hurricane
Public input will be sought, and could begin as early as December
De Soto National Forest covers 11 counties, including Forrest,
Jones, Wayne, Greene, Perry, Stone, George, Harrison, Pearl River
and Jackson counties.
The forest offers recreational facilities for hundreds of
visitors and a variety of outdoor activities including hiking,
bicycling, camping, canoeing, all-terrain vehicle riding, horse
riding, hunting and fishing. All recreational areas are closed until
the debris is cleared.