Agriculture Press Release

July 21, 1998

Efforts Under Way to Help Forest Landowners Hurt by Wildfires

TALLAHASSEE Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford today announced that efforts are under way throughout North Florida to help landowners whose forest land was blackened by recent wildfires.

"This will be a tremendous challenge for the entire forestry community because of the large forest acreage affected and its distribution among public, corporate and private ownership," Crawford said.

Nearly 500,000 acres of forest land were scorched to varying degrees when wildfires raged across North Florida in June and early July. More than 60 percent of the burned acreage is owned by private landowners, while 25 percent is owned by forest products companies, and 12 percent by state and federal agencies.

"Landowners affected by the wildfires should carefully evaluate their timber stand or seek professional assistance to determine what needs to be harvested or destroyed and what may recover from fire damage," Crawford said. "While this is an urgent situation, landowners should carefully consider any contracts offered to harvest or buy timber or prepare forest land for replanting."

Whether fire-damaged timber can be marketed for lumber, plywood, pulp or other uses will depend on the extent of damage, the size of trees, the acreage involved, the availability of harvesting crews, and the capacity of mills. In the hot, humid weather of summer, fire-damaged trees must be harvested soon, before they deteriorate and become unmerchantable.

There has been a glut of pulp products in the international market since March because of the turmoil in the economies of Asian countries. This has led to some U.S. pulp mills being shut down or operating at reduced capacity.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Forestry, is working to develop additional markets by contacting mills in Alabama and Georgia, and urging railroads to send railcars to Florida that can be used for hauling timber. Weight restrictions on timber and pulpwood trucks have been lifted temporarily to expedite the movement of damaged wood.

The Department also is encouraging owners of some portable sawmills to temporarily locate in North Florida to help landowners who may want to cut and utilize wood from their own woodland.

County foresters from the Division of Forestry can help landowners evaluate the damage caused by wildfires and make plans for reforestation. They also can provide a list of private forestry consultants and timber buyers. Before contracting with a private forestry consultant, landowners should check the consultants education, experience, and fee structure, and ask for Florida references. Forestry consultants are not registered or licensed by the state.

Crawford said he is seeking a special appropriation from Congress to provide assistance for landowners in several areas of Florida.

"Our Division of Forestry will do everything it can to help private forest landowners find a buyer for their timber," Crawford said. "I have instructed them to make an all-out effort to contact mills, dealers, transport companies and other users and processors of wood throughout the Southeast in an effort to facilitate the movement of fire-damaged wood."

Private landowners, mills, transport companies and dealers seeking information on marketing fire-damaged timber should call the local office of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Forestry, or the divisions Forest Management Bureau in Tallahassee at (850) 488-6611.


For more information:

Ray Mason
(850) 414-0867

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