State agencies release assessments of timber damage caused by Hurricane Michael

On October 10, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, as a Category 4 hurricane, impacting multiple states from Florida to Virginia and causing significant damage to forests in the panhandle of Florida and South Georgia.

Recently, state agencies in Florida and Georgia released preliminary assessments of timber damage caused by the hurricane using aerial reconnaissance, ground surveys, geospatial analyses, Forest Inventory & Analysis data, and recent stumpage prices. Both agencies caution that their estimates of timber damage are preliminary.

The Florida Forest Service’s assessment indicates that approximately 2.8 million acres of forestland in Florida were damaged by Hurricane Michael, and the value of timber damage was approximately $1.3 billion. The eleven affected counties in Florida are some of the top timber-producing counties in the state. Forest products manufacturing facilities--such as pulp mills, saw mills, and pellet and oriented strand board manufacturing facilities--also sustained damage.

The agency also identifies the following future potential costs and impacts to forest landowners and the forest industry in Florida:

  • Significant debris removal costs for timber that cannot be salvaged
  • Reforestation costs that could be as high as $240 million for pine stands alone in the catastrophic and severe damaged areas
  • Loss of additional timber because of pine beetle outbreaks or wind damage and reduced value of remaining timber because of poor form and wind sweep
  • Significantly increased threat and cost to suppress wildfires in areas with upwards to 100 tons per acre of forest fuels on the ground
  • Potential loss or reduction of jobs and forest industry in the severely impacted area because of a loss of forest products for an estimated 15 to 20 years into the future

The timber damage assessment survey by the Georgia Forestry Commission indicated that Hurricane Michael caused severe damage in that state from Southwest Georgia to Albany, and isolated damage as far north as central Georgia. Almost 2.4 million acres of forestland in Georgia were impacted and the estimated value of timber damage was approximately $374 million.

The most severe timber damage occurred from south of Albany to Lake Seminole, where more than 75% of the timber volume was damaged on approximately 296,000 acres and more than 95% of the volume was damaged on approximately 79,000 acres. Recently thinned pine stands with lower stand densities and hardwood stands along low, wet areas, such as creeks and streams, were most severely damaged.