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Prepare Your Forest Property for the Next Storm

By Chris Demers and Michael Andreu
UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation
Photo above by Tyler Jones

The 2020 hurricane season is heating up with increasing storm development activity in the Atlantic. As we have learned in recent years, powerful hurricanes can make their way inland and do considerable damage to forest lands and agricultural enterprises. It’s never too early to start planning for a hurricane that could negatively impact your forest land. While there is no way to fully prepare in advance for a direct hit from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, there are some strategies to make your property resilient and steps you can take to recover from a storm more quickly.

Connect with Professionals

Don’t go it alone. There are resources and services available to help with your land management activities, and these connections can give you a leg up in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Assistance is available from professional foresters, The University of Florida Land Steward Program, Florida Forest Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency.

In particular, get to know your University of Florida IFAS County Extension Agent and Florida Forest Service County Forester.  They can provide valuable management assistance and will be knowledgeable about local recovery efforts, workshops, and available assistance after a hurricane. The University of Florida’s Land Steward Program website maintains an updated calendar with educational programs for individuals interested in learning about a wide range of topics associated with land ownership and management. You’ll also find a directory of public and private forestry and natural resource professionals.

Consider enrolling in assistance programs through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, (e.g. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)), and/or Farm Service Agency, (e.g. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)) to help you reach your land management goals. Having your land or farm enrolled in such a program may help you get connected to recovery assistance programs if they are available after a natural disaster.

Work with a Professional Forester and Get a Forest Inventory

Consulting foresters provide technical assistance in all phases of forest management for a fee. Their services include management plan preparation, forest inventory, timber sales, thinning, tree planting, herbicide and fertilizer application, prescribed burning, and more. The expertise, guidance, and connections of a forester can be invaluable in the recovery process after the storm. An inventory completed within the last 5 years will provide an estimate of the number and types of trees, their size, and an estimate of the value of the standing timber. This information may be important documentation if financial assistance is available after a hurricane or other natural disaster. Note that the casualty loss deduction for tax purposes is limited to the lesser of the basis (basically, the amount invested in the stand) or the fair market value (Wang 2018). To learn more about timber inventory review Timber Inventory: a primer for landowners. For tips on selecting a consulting forester, see Selecting a Consulting Forester.

Review Your Road Network

Intense rainfall and flooding during storm events can wash out poorly constructed roads and blowout culverts. Florida Forest Service Foresters are available, at no cost, to review your roads, stream crosses, and fire plow lines prior to a storm hitting to ensure soil and water protection and compliance with Florida’s Silviculture Best Management Practices (BMP’s).

Also consider surveying your roadside and right-of-way for hazard trees or those likely to fall across your roads. Ensuring you have access to all parts of your property will increase the likelihood that salvage operations can take place on your property following a storm. While canopy covered roads can be aesthetically pleasing, consider “daylighting” your roadbeds to help them dry quickly following heavy rain events. Daylighting refers to removing some trees along the sides of roads to allow more sunlight to dry the roadbed.

Become Familiar with the Local Timber Industry

Following a storm event that causes widespread damage in an area, everyone is trying to line up salvage crews. It is during these times of crisis that personal relationships will help get your calls answered and logging crews deployed quickly. The Florida Forestry Association provides opportunities to meet consultants, loggers, contractors, agency representatives, and others involved in the timber industry in Florida.

Connect with Other Landowners

Knowing your fellow landowners and neighbors is always helpful, but in the event of a disaster being connected can really help. It is easier to get salvage done on smaller properties or those with less timber if there are a group of landowners near each other to attract timber buyers. Having a network can also help with other management activities after the salvage harvest has been completed. Consider joining a landowner cooperative, local Rotary club, or just getting to know those living around your property. Learn more about the benefits landowner cooperatives.

Pre-Storm Preparation Tips
Shut down thinning operations that are underway, or scheduled to begin, when a hurricane is projected to make landfall in your area

Thinning operations that open the stand structure can leave the stand more vulnerable to windthrow and damage if the trees have not had time to respond to the new open conditions.

Do some pruning

Trees, especially those over structures and fences, should be pruned regularly to reduce broken or dead limbs that could cause damage.

Fill the tanks

Tanks and containers containing drinking water, gas, diesel, propane, chain saw fuel, and other materials should be topped off to ensure availability during post-storm recovery.

Keep culverts and ditches clean

Open drainages ensure excess storm water doesn’t back up and cause flooding.

Emergency equipment

Make sure that all emergency equipment, including generators, chain saws, air compressors, and other tools, are on hand and in good working condition.

Communications equipment

Have cell phone chargers in all vehicles and charged backup cell phone batteries. If you have them, ensure that hand-held radios are charged and in good working order.

Hazardous materials

Hazardous materials should be secured prior to a storm, and gasoline pumps, if present, should be shut down.

Lock your gates

Keeping your gates locked will prevent unauthorized individuals from damaging wet roads and reduce liability.

Take photos

Take photos of your stands and/or fields before the storm so you can have a record of the condition of these areas before damage occurs. This could help with records needed for insurance claims and/or government assistance programs.

Time for harvest?

If in line with your management plan and objectives, consider selling your mature timber stands in a lump sum sale (vs. pay as cut) prior to hurricane season to capture the full market value of the products you have. A salvage sale of a storm-damaged stand will only yield 10-15% of the normal market value. See Steps to Marketing Timber for important considerations for selling your timber. Whether you are working with a consultant to market your timber or doing it yourself, we recommend doing business with qualified, trained loggers that are certified in the Master Logger Program. The Florida Forestry Association provides an online Master Logger Directory to help you find a certified Master Logger in your county.