Florida timber farmers face years of replanting, recovery after Hurricane Michael

- When Hurricane Michael’s winds pushed up the Florida Panhandle, it took miles of the state’s timber industry with it.

Landowner John Alter lost 50 percent of his trees in Jackson County.

“We had just planned on, as most hurricanes do, a dissipation of the winds by the time they got up to the Georgia border -- which is only 10 miles from here,” Alter said. “Hurricane Michael proved that all to be wrong.”

In all, 2.8 million acres of timber were damaged by the storm.

Jim Karels, the head of the Florida Forest Service, says there are 72 million tons of wood on the ground right now.

“That’s two and a half million truckloads of wood,” Karels said.

Of that, 1.4 million acres of trees suffered severe damage -- meaning 75 to 95 percent of those trees were destroyed -- and landowners like Alter are having to spend $1,000 per acre to clear the debris.

“Because of the supply and demand situation and the glut that the mills are being faced with right now,” Alter explained, “we’re probably getting a third or a half of the real value of the wood.”

But that’s not the only issue. There’s also an increased wildfire threat from the dry timber and needles. And what can be salvaged is often damaged by what Alter calls “ring shock.”

“Some of the trees, when they’re snapped, have an effect called ring shock,” he continued, dusting off the dirt from a stump. “So the mills have to be concerned about trying to handle that damaged wood, because once they start to cut it, there’s a tension within those concentric rings.”

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The setback to tree farmers has been a boom for loggers. They’ve been working almost non-stop since October, playing their part to allow the Panhandle to see the forest for the trees.

Meanwhile, Jim Karels is asking the state for $20-million to help landowners like Alter clear fallen trees and start replanting.

It’s expected to take a decade or more for the state’s timber industry to recover from the storm’s devastation.

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