Hurricane Caused Significant Timber Damage

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According to the U.S. Forest Service, Hurricane Michael left significant damage to timberland in Florida and parts of Alabama and Georgia. The monetary estimate of timber damage in Florida alone is well over $1 billion.

If loggers can get the damage areas, the storm can provide a short-term supply of affordable timber although storm impact can negatively impact tree farmers. Research shows that damage from individual storms and other forest threats, such as insects, fire, and disease, can create widespread wealth redistribution among timberland owners. The entire supply chain is impacted – from landowners to loggers to the mills and beyond. Thomas Holmes and Jeff Prestemon, researchers at Southern Research Station (SRS), have studied the economic effects of storm damage.

“Prices fall during the salvage period due to the spike in volume and quality degradation,” said Holmes. “Plus, not all damaged timber can be salvaged.”

Timber growers with damaged stands and timber consumers – mills – tend to lose out, he explained. However, timber producers with undamaged stands benefit because wood is still needed, and prices can rise to make up for the lack of high-quality wood available after salvage operations. He predicts that, based on a timber market welfare analysis, the aggregate losses to timber producers and consumers in Florida from Hurricane Michael may exceed the current $1 billion estimate.

In the past, state governments have taken steps to assist timber managers with salvage operations. Some examples include relaxing weight limits on roads; allowing logging trucks to carry heavier loads; permitting larger than normal log storage volumes at mills; and assisting private landowners and nongovernmental organizations with salvage planning.

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“It would take 2.4 million logging trucks to remove all of the dead trees that we have in Florida as a result of this hurricane,” said Florida Forest Service State Forester/Director Jim Karels.

The Forest Service is supporting restoration efforts by working closely with state foresters in Florida and Georgia to increase timber sale and salvage operations. At the states’ request, agency specialists will also provide technical assistance to help private landowners write plans for treatments and get their timber to market. The Forest Service will also provide funding to state forestry agencies to administer landowner reforestation programs.

“Active cooperation between state and federal agencies will be the key to recovery,” said Rob Doudrick, SRS Director. “Our research will provide the sound science for making decisions.”

Editor’s Note: This article is based on information published by the Southern Research Station.