Hurricane Michael destroyed or damaged 500-550 million pine trees in north Florida on Oct. 10, 2018. Credit: Florida Forest Service presentation to the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee
A state-federal agreement securing $380.7 million in federal grants for north Florida’s timber industry is finally official, authorizing payments to qualified timber growers to begin this fall, two years after Hurricane Michael destroyed forests worth $1.3 billion.
The rare Category 5 hurricane in October 2018 cut a tornado-like swath through 11 rural counties, destroying an estimated 500-550 million pine trees, weighing 72 million tons, and devastating the region’s leading economic driver. The hurricane left thousands of people in the rural region homeless and jobless.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the timber disaster grants last fall. On Friday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced the long-awaited signing of an agreement between the state of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to administer the funds.
In a press statement, Fried said her office and the Florida Forest Service, which is part of her department, will administer the grants along with the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“The signing of this agreement has been long-awaited and is a positive step forward for Florida’s timber producers,” Fried stated. “We worked closely with the USDA for nearly a year to secure this relief for our timber industry, which has continued to show extraordinary resilience through wildfires, drought, and other challenges.”
“We will work closely with our state’s Panhandle timber producers and forest landowners to help deliver the assistance for which they’ve waited for nearly two years,” said state forester Erin Albury, director of the Florida Forest Service, in the announcement released by Fried.
Gov. Ron DeSantis separately announced the agreement Friday, saying, “My administration has been working tirelessly to secure this agreement for timber producers in northwest Florida.” His press statement said the Division of Emergency Management will conduct community outreach to assist timber producers, who also can communicate with the division by email at [email protected]
Albury said the Forest Service will help timber growers document and report their losses to the USDA Emergency Forest Restoration Program. In addition to losing their timber and irrigation systems, growers face expenses of $2,000 per acre to clear the massive debris before replanting.
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