ATLANTA, GA – On Saturday, Nov. 17, the Georgia General Assembly completed its week-long special legislative session aimed at aiding those directly impacted by Hurricane Michael. Among the series of measures that were approved, two bills were especially important to working forest landowners in southwest Georgia through a reforestation income tax credit/refund and disaster relief funding through the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC).
A bipartisan measure approved by both House and Senate chambers, 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 is contingent upon reforestation of the property, and it is expected to restore approximately 500,000 acres of forestland. Eligible forest landowners will be required to apply to the Department of Revenue (DOR) at 100 percent of the value of their timber loss with a cap at $400/acre.
In addition, legislators approved House Bill 1EX providing $270 million for immediate and direct relief for those who have suffered from the storm. The bill 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). In addition, $7 million in funding was approved for new heavy firefighting equipment for GFC. The new equipment will be focused on cleaning up debris and preventing future wildfire risks
“The action by the Governor and General Assembly is deeply appreciated by the entire forestry and agriculture community. It is an important first step that will provide hope to thousands of families in desperate need,” Andres Villegas, GFA President and CEO, said. “Although the forestry and agriculture community in southwest Georgia will be forever changed because of the hurricane, we must work diligently together toward the best possible outcome for all involved.”
Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida panhandle and the southwest corner of Georgia as a category four hurricane, impacted 7,000 forest landowners and damaged more than two million acres of forestland with an estimated timber value of $763 million, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission. Sustained winds of 125-150 miles per hour caused widespread damage to forestland ranging from broken limbs and leaning trees to uprooting and full stem breakage. Landowners in Seminole, Decatur and Miller counties received the most damage, where more than 50 percent of the stems are broken or blown down and limbs are stripped or trees are bent more than 45 degrees. For some landowners, a salvage operation is considered unlikely and the landowner will not recuperate any money from the damaged trees. Footage of the impacted area and interviews with local landowners can be seen here.
Eligible counties in HB 4EX include: Baker, Blekley, Brooks, Calhoun, Clay, Colquitt, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Dooley, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Laurens, Lee, Lowndes, Miller, Mitchell, Pulaski, Randolph, Seminole, Sumter, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Turner, Wilcox and Worth. Landowners who have experienced damage to their forests may contact the Georgia Forestry Association at 478-992-8110 or visit www.gfagrow.org/hurricane for more information and links to resources to help with salvage and recovery efforts.