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June 19, 2019

The Journey to Recovery and Timber Reforestation After Hurricane Michael

Learn more about the importance of timber reforestation and how those in the forestry industry are recovering from storm damage

Rebuilding homes and businesses is always a priority after a hurricane, but often, forests are also devastated by the raging storms and require timber reforestation. That’s certainly been the case in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a category four hurricane that slammed into the Florida panhandle and the southwest corner of Georgia in October 2018.

Reforestation is critical because trees subjected to environmental stresses or injuries, including storm-damaged trees, are usually far more vulnerable to additional damage caused by destructive insects and diseases. In fact, insects and certain tree pathogens (fungi) are better at recognizing trees under stress than most humans. Those trees that are in a vulnerable state may go unnoticed until they are “suddenly” damaged or killed by insects or diseases. In addition, some insects are attracted to stressed trees by chemical signals that they release into the air in response to environmental stressors.

Of course, storm-damaged trees can also result in revenue loss, so it’s essential for landowners to document the event and the damage incurred. Most landowners will save a copy of the local newspaper and take photos of any timber damage before salvage harvesting begins. This is important for tax purposes as timber losses from natural disasters may be claimed as a casualty loss if none of the timber is harvested. If however, a portion of the timber is saved and harvested, it should be claimed as an involuntary conversion.

Timber Reforestation Efforts in Florida and Georgia

In 2018, Florida and Georgia foresters were hit hard by Hurricane Michael. Despite the widespread devastation, members of the timber community quickly initiated recovery efforts to protect their remaining timber.

According to Jim Karels, director and state forester of the Florida Forest Service, Florida suffered $1.3 billion in timber loss in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which affected 2.8 million acres and more than 200 communities. To help the state replenish its timber supply, the Arbor Day Foundation sprang into action, hosting three tree distribution and planting events over the course of two days in three different Florida communities: Marianna, Panama City, and Panama City Beach. In total, 2,000 trees were distributed to residents and 15 large trees were planted at the foundation’s host sites.

After Hurricane Michael hit Georgia, the Georgia General Assembly completed a weeklong special legislative session aimed at helping those directly impacted by the storm. Among the series of measures that were approved, two bills were especially important to working forest landowners in southwest Georgia. Through the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), timber foresters received a reforestation income tax credit/refund and disaster relief funding.

The first bill, House Bill 4EX, creates a $200 million income tax refund or tradeable tax credit program for forest landowners who incurred losses within the 28-county disaster. The credit or refund program is contingent upon reforestation of the property, and it is expected to restore approximately 500,000 acres of forestland. The second bill, House Bill 1EX, provides $270 million for immediate and direct relief for those who have suffered from Hurricane Michael and allows funding to flow through government agencies. Provisions include $20 million in emergency funding for forest debris cleanup efforts that will be approved by GFC and administered by the Georgia Development Authority (GDA). Additionally, $7 million in funding was approved for new heavy firefighting equipment for GFC, which will be used to clean up debris and prevent future wildfire risks.

Programs and Organizations Supporting Reforestation Efforts

Thanks to a variety of programs and organizations, storm recovery is becoming more advanced and prevalent across our nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has several programs that assist landowners with the recovery process, including the Emergency Forest Restoration Program for non-industrial private forest landowners that provides up to 75 percent of the cost to implement emergency restoration practices. The USDA also provides a Tree Assistance Program to offer financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines damaged by natural disasters.

One Tree Planted, a nonprofit organization that works with reforestation partners around the world to help plant trees, is another reforestation resource, while the Earth Day Network’s The Canopy Project is focused on planting 7.8 billion trees—one tree for every person on earth—in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020.

AgAmerica Lending is also dedicated to timber reforestation, and for the fourth consecutive year, we have partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to aid in their quest to plant 100 million trees by 2022—a nod to the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day.

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