From: Timber Harvesting Editors

Hurricane Michael made landfall October 10 near Mexico Beach, Fla., then moved on across parts of Alabama and into Georgia, the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia. Packing 155 MPH sustained winds, Michael came in just a mile per hour short of achieving category 5 status, making it the strongest hurricane to hit Florida in 50 years and the third strongest hurricane to make landfall in recorded U.S. history.

Within the week, forestry officials and landowners in affected states started assessing the damage and it appears to be significant. In Florida, initial reports by Florida Division of Forestry officials estimate that more than 2.8 million acres of forestland sustained damage. Of that, nearly 347,000 acres showed catastrophic timber damage (defined as 95% of the timber damaged), according to estimates as of October 19 by the Florida Forest Service; roughly a million acres was categorized as having experienced severe timber damage (75%), and about 1.5 million acres had moderate damage (15%).

As for the total estimated value of the damaged timber, Florida Forest Service’s initial reports placed that at about $1.3 billion. That number does not take into account several potential indirect costs, such as debris removal where timber cannot be salvaged; reforestation, which could be as high as $240 million on pine stands alone; additional timber lost to pine beetle outbreaks (foresters advise landowners to keep an eye out for signs of potential pine bark beetle infestations in coming months); reduced value of remaining timber; increased threat and cost to suppress wildfires in areas that have upwards to 100 tons per acre of forest fuels on the ground; and the potential lost forest industry jobs for an estimated 15 to 20 years into the future. Indeed, there have already been reports that some Florida loggers plan to sell their businesses in the wake of the devastation.

Michael weakened as it moved over land from Florida. Severe damage was found in southwest Georgia and a progressive weakening was seen as hurricane force winds diminished to tropical storm categories, resulting in more moderate damage. A Timber Damage Assessment survey in Georgia indicated that Michael impacted about 2.4 million acres of forestland in that state. That includes roughly 10.6 million tons of pine and 7.6 million tons of hardwood damaged, at an estimated value just over $374 million. Within that, the survey documented catastrophic damage to about 79 thousand acres of forestland from south of Albany to Lake Seminole. “The most severe damage was documented in the southwest counties where the storm entered Georgia,” according to Georgia Forestry Commission Director Chuck Williams. These areas were completely devastated and the majority of this timber could be considered a complete loss, according to the GFC.

Most Alabama landowners came through the storm relatively unscathed, with the big exception of those in the extreme southeast corner of the state, which bore the brunt of Michael’s fury here. According to early reports, the most significant damage here occurred in eastern Houston County, where the Alabama Forestry Commission estimates timber losses at nearly $20 million. Geneva and Dale Counties also reported some damage. Aerial surveys conducted by AFC indicated storm damage to approximately 42 thousand forested acres (13 thousand acres of pine, almost 3,000 of hardwood and 26 thousand acres of pine/hardwood mix).

Unfortunately, all three states report that much of the damage is in trees broken off at 10-20 ft. up, not pushed over at the roots. Experience from past hurricanes has shown that recovery in stands with broken off trees is considerably more difficult. On the positive side, temperatures will be falling so there should be a longer window for recovery.

Most mills in the affected areas apparently are or soon will be operating, as soon as power is turned back on and employees can return to work. A notable exception is the WestRock mill in Panama City, which sustained significant structural damage. The mill likely will be completely shut down for at least a month, and perhaps not back to full capacity for several months. Reportedly, WestRock anticipates that its linerboard line here will be at full production within 30 days, but that the pulp side won’t resume production until late November, and even then will be at only 50% for about six months. With pulp markets in the region already oversupplied, this could drive prices down even further.

The Appalachian Society of American Foresters (APSAF) has expanded a Foresters’ Hurricane Relief Fund to include individuals affected by Hurricane Michael: