ATLANTA, GA – On Tuesday, Nov. 13, the Georgia General Assembly introduced legislation to assist to forest landowners impacted by Hurricane Michael. The Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) supports the legislation, House Bill 4EX, which is focused on providing a tax refund for landowners to support cleanup and reforestation efforts across 28 counties in southwest Georgia. Lawmakers will weigh in on the legislation during a special legislative session which is scheduled through the end of the week.
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 (GFC). 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.
“This is possibly one of the most catastrophic timber events in our nation’s history,” Andres Villegas, GFA President and CEO, said. “For some impacted landowners, forestland was their retirement or an investment in their child’s college expenses, and now they will not be able to count on that investment. It is very important that Georgia legislators pass this critical piece of legislation to assist landowners in salvaging what they can, cleaning up downed trees and reforesting their property. Working forests are one of the most environmentally and economically beneficial classes of land for our state, and it is important that we keep that land in trees.”
The storm damage to forestland can also increase risk of forest health issues that can put local communities in danger. Downed, damaged and stressed trees from the storm are also more heavily prone to experience infestation from pests, such as pine beetle, and disease. In addition, broken or uprooted trees, when left on the ground, can become fuel for extreme high-heat wildfires, such as the wildfires seen in California.
“It is imperative to the health and longevity of private forests and the safety of our communities that we act quickly to clean up damaged timber rather than leaving it on the ground,” Chuck Williams, Director of the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC), said. GFC is the state agency focused on the protection and conservation of the state’s forest resources.
Eligible counties in the current legislation 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 (a map with these counties is below). 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.