TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried applauded the signing of an agreement between the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to administer $380.7 million in grant funding to help Florida’s timber industry recover following Hurricane Michael in 2018. Commissioner Fried had initially announced the awarding of the grant in November 2019, with Florida a recipient of the first-ever state timber block grants from the USDA.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Forest Servicehave been integral to negotiating the agreement, and will help administer the USDA grant alongside the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“The signing of this agreement has been long-awaited and is a positive step forward for Florida’s timber producers,” said Commissioner Fried. “We worked closely with the USDA for nearly a year to secure this relief for our timber industry, which has continued to show extraordinary resilience through wildfires, drought, and other challenges. With this agreement signed, our Florida Forest Service will be working with timber producers to get checks in hand and trees in the ground, and help Florida’s farmers repair and rebuild irrigation infrastructure. Thank you to Secretary Perdue for helping put Florida’s $25 billion timber industry first.”
“Florida’s forests support thousands of jobs and are critical to the Florida Panhandle’s economy and ecology,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “We will work closely with our state’s Panhandle timber producers and forest landowners to help deliver the assistance for which they’ve waited for nearly two years.”
Details: Under the agreement, the Florida Forest Service will provide technical assistance to individual landowners in the affected area. Forest Service personnel will work with timber producers to verify their timber loss and help landowners with documentation of loss. Timber producers may expect to receive funding as soon as this fall, with funding providing relief for both timber producers and farmers whose irrigation infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane Michael. Timber producers should begin collecting records and evidence of damage and apply to the USDA Emergency Forest Restoration Program.
Timber is the leading industry in the Florida Panhandle, and suffered a $1.3 billion economic blow from Hurricane Michael. An estimated 550 million trees, weighing 72 million tons, were damaged or destroyed by the massive Category 5 hurricane. Clearing downed timber can cost $2,000 per acre, compounding the crop’s financial loss.
Since taking office in 2019, Commissioner Fried has been a consistent voice for Florida’s timber industry. Fried has made several trips to affected Panhandle timber communities, including leading tours of lawmakers through the devastated areas. She has also visited Washington to urge that the state’s Congressional delegation fight for timber disaster assistance, and had requested $27.5 million from state lawmakers to support forestry in the 2020 legislative session.
–Florida Forest Service