Updated forestry hurricane damage estimated at $762 million
On Oct. 29, the Georgia Forestry Commission released an updated assessment of damage to Georgia timber from Hurricane Michael. The storm unleashed winds between 125 mph and 150 mph in some areas of Southwest Georgia.
The Timber Damage Assessment survey showed that 2,368,226 acres of forestland were affected by Hurricane Michael with 20,510,889 tons of pine and 17,178,721 tons of hardwood damaged with an estimated value of $762,683,909
Of those totals, more than 79,000 acres of forestland from south of Albany to Lake Seminole sustained catastrophic damage. Catastrophic damage is defined as more than 50 percent of stems broken, multiple trees blown down across the stand, tops broken out across the stand, limbs stripped and trees bent more than 45 degrees. Salvage is unlikely and the stand may be considered a total loss. The 79,000 acres represents a loss of 2.1 million tons of pine and 1.8 million tons of hardwood, with a combined value of $80 million.
According to the GFC, trees with bends less than 45 degrees have a good chance of survival but should be removed at the next harvest, and forest managers and landowners are encouraged to monitor their stands for insect damage over the next year.
The GFC noted three likely distinct categories by which landowners may evaluate their timber loss:
1) Light damage or losses that may not warrant a salvage operation. This could include stands of trees large enough to sell that don’t have enough timber damage to warrant a commercial harvest, or stands of trees not large enough to sell where there is a good chance the stand will recover over time;
2) Stands with severe or catastrophic damage mandating a salvage operation to recoup whatever value can be recovered from the stand. In most cases, this could include a complete harvest for widespread damage;
3) Stands with moderate damage in which landowners may need to decide between a partial or complete harvest based on damage levels. In these cases, landowners are encouraged to use the services of a professional forester to help make the best decision for the situation. Immediately following a storm, it may be difficult for landowners to accurately gauge how well a stand may recover, or to measure the amount of timber that could be allowed to remain for future growth and income.
It is possible that forestland owners can recover some of the value lost through prompt salvage harvests. The GFC recommended that landowners utilize registered consulting foresters to help with timber sales, noting that seeking independent advice is a sound way to reduce hasty judgments and ensure all available options are considered.