A year after Michael, timber farmers still facing crisis

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Hurricane Michael made landfall one year ago Thursday and the longest recovery will likely be for those in the timber industry.

The timber industry took a $1.3 billion hit from Michael. (National Geographic/YouTube)

For timber farmer Mathew Stokes the first anniversary of Hurricane Michael conjures up painful memories.

“Thinking of those three or four hours we spent in the tub sweating with the power off waiting for it to pass,” said Stokes.

And when the winds subsided…

“The whole world changed,” said Stokes.

The biggest hit was to Stokes' tree farming company, Neal Land & Timber in Blountstown.

Using a drone Stokes showed us the damage to one of his thousand-acre plots, which was a total loss.

“It's just getting more and more expensive every day it seems like, but we're trying to go forward and get good growth out of our trees,” said Stokes.

In all, his company owns 45,000 acres across six counties.

“We're well up over $30 million worth of lost timber on the stump,” said Stokes.

The timber industry took a $1.3 billion hit from Michael. Unlike other crops, timber is essentially uninsurable. Even worse, for many it's a living 401K plan.

“I've talked to a lot of people who said, you know, this was my retirement plan,” said Blountstown City Manager Traci Hall.

Hall said the impacts on the timber industry haven’t even fully manifested.

“We have a lot of people that are going to be jobless once everything is cleaned up,” said Hall.

Stokes believes government reimbursement could help but told us at the end of the day there’s no silver bullet.

“We're just going to have to work through it and do the best we can,” said Stokes.

Stokes estimates replanting and regrowth will take between 12 and 15 years, but it could take even longer depending on what level of assistance the federal government agrees to provide.

Stokes added while the road ahead will certainly be challenging, he’s hopeful things will turn out alright in the end. He’s said he’s just blessed he and his family made it out of the storm alive.

"Thanking God that we lived through it and that we are here to be a part of the recovery process,” said Stokes.