Timber losses threaten Panhandle economy

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
December 19, 2018

There’s been no shortage of coverage on the tragic and personal losses survivors of Hurricane Michael are experiencing, but the storm is also causing an economic crisis for some in the state's poorest counties.

The back roads of Liberty and Calhoun counties in Florida’s Panhandle look like a bomb has gone off.

Calhoun County lost 90 percent of its timber. The short term problem is getting the trees off the ground.

“To put it in perspective, we estimate that there is roughly the equivalent of 2.5 million truckloads of timber laying on the ground. It could be as much as a 20-year supply of wood laying there,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

The trees have been down 60-plus days and the clock is running on how long the downed trees can be salvaged.

“We’ll only be able to use the timber for a certain amount of time and then it will be pulpwood,” said Timber Consultant Virgil Shannon.

"You know, somewhere around six to nine months before the bugs move in,” said Putnam.

The downed trees represent a human tragedy. Timber is one of the biggest industries around north Florida.

Carla Peacock is the Property Appraiser in Calhoun County.

“Some of the timber workers are already leaving the area because they have to have work and there are no jobs,” said Peacock. "I know one family had six hundred acres of timber they were planning on for their retirement and it's all gone.”

Losses in Florida timber alone total more than $1.3 billion. None of it is insured.

“We’re working with Congress to get them some help,” said Putnam. "If they don’t get that land cleaned up and replanted, then you really have a long term economic crisis in these counties.”

Timber prices are down now, but once the glut is gone, prices will go up, raising the price of building new homes.

We reached out to the Florida Homebuilders Association to ask about rising construction prices and did not hear back from them.



 
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