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Hurricane Michael a boon for loggers and sawmillers

When Hurricane Michael’s winds pushed up the Florida Panhandle in late 2018, it took miles of the state’s timber industry with it. Landowner John Alter lost 50% of his trees in Jackson County. In all, 2.8 million acres of timber was damaged by the storm. Source: Fox13

“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,” Mr Alter said. “Hurricane Michael proved that all to be wrong.”

Jim Karels, who leads the state’s forestry industry, says there are 72 million tons of wood on the ground right now.

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

Of that, 1.4 million acres of trees suffered severe damage, meaning 75% to 95% of those trees were destroyed and landowners like Mr Alter are having to spend US$1000 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,” Mr 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 Mr Alter calls “ring shock.”

“Some of the trees, when they’re snapped, have an effect called ring shock,” he said. “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.”

The setback to tree farmers has been a boom for loggers.

Meanwhile, Mr Karels is asking the state for US$20-million to help landowners like Mr 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.