Ice storm devastates forestry business across CSRA

Out of all the counties in Georgia, Burke, Jefferson, Richmond, and Columbia County

(WRDW-TV)

News 12 First at Five/ March 7, 2014

BURKE COUNTY, Ga.--Fallen trees and limbs have been a headache for many of us, but for tree farmers, the damage is devastating.

Cathy Black is a Senior Forester with the Georgia Forestry Commission. She's been travelling to our local counties to survey the damage.

"You have landowners, and this is their retirement fund. This is their son's college education or their grandchildren's education, and it's completely destroyed."

Mike Smith has been in the forestry business since 1975. He's seen hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, but nothing like this.

"We had another ice storm in the early 80's, but this one here has really hit us hard," he said.

Out of all the counties in Georgia, Burke, Jefferson, Richmond, and Columbia County's timber industry was hit the hardest. A Georgia Forestry report labels the damage in those counties as 'severe'. And, in a business that takes decades to turn a profit, that's a big setback.

"This stand was probably 10-15 years max away from a major financial income. So, this land owner's been set back 30 years basically," Smith explains.

In some of the hardest hit areas crops of trees, called stands in the business, have been reduced to splinters.

Black explains, "Tops broken out of pine trees, pine trees snapped in half, blown over laying on the ground, all you can do is clear cut it and plant new trees."

A lot of land owners have already started the clear cutting process. They're rushing to get their product to the mill while they'll still accept it, thanks to an influx of timber after the ice storm.

"You've got all this timber on the market, so they're not getting the same prices they would've a month ago," Black says.

"You're only going to see 30% probably of what it's worth out there now," Smith said.

There's no such thing as insurance in the forestry business. Land owners can deduct some of the losses on their taxes, but that will barely put a dent in their lost profits. The Farm Service Agency is hoping for approval in the next day or so from the federal government for disaster funding, which could refund up to 75% of the replanting costs.


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