Hurricane Michael Damages Linger for Georgia Timber Industry

March 18, 2019

ATLANTA — Georgia’s timber industry is facing many headwinds as it seeks to recover from the severe damage wrought by Hurricane Michael late last year.

The storm erased three-quarters of a billion dollars in timber, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.

Aside from Hurricane Michael, the industry has been facing other stresses: difficulties in finding log truck drivers; and costs for insurance, equipment and fuel.

In late February, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black was at the Georgia Capitol, conferring with Gov. Brian Kemp about a proposed federal aid package for areas hit by Hurricane Michael. Those discussions are still ongoing.

“For every tree that was snapped or blown over… to harvest all of it, to have gotten it to market would have required 1.2 million log trucks,” Black said.

Once a tree has snapped 10 feet up, the wood might be unsafe to harvest or too smashed up to sell for much, anyway, the newspaper reported.

Debbie Buckner, a state lawmaker from the Talbot County town of Junction City, said she feels for the many people who lost their retirement savings to Hurricane Michael. The timber plots that blanket much of Georgia represent a retirement for their owners, or perhaps a child’s tuition or a rainy day fund.

Buckner, a Democrat, also said there are concerns in the industry about obstacles to becoming a truck driver.

Several state schools teach commercial truck driving, but log trucks drivers need specialized training to handle conditions such as dirt roads and very heavy loads that are liable to shift, the newspaper reported. Also, the insurance is so expensive that it’s difficult for anyone to be a self-employed driver, Buckner said.

“Where we really see sensitivity is the harvesting and logistics sides of things,” said Andres Villegas, CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association. The trade group covers landowners, loggers, manufacturers and others.

Villegas said the association wants to let students know that whether they have a GED diploma or PhD, there’s a place for them in the industry.

“Folks can make a very good living and not have to deal with the traffic in Atlanta,” he joked.

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