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With Timber Loss In The Panhandle Valued At $1.3 Billion, Locals Fear Job Loss And Plant Closings

Trees down at Crossroads Academy in Quincy, Florida
Jade Jacobs

Florida’s Department of Agriculture says about $1.3 billion worth of timber has been damaged by Hurricane Michael. That loss is spread over three million acres of forest.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calls the damage to timber in the Panhandle a “catastrophic loss.” To residents of Northwest Florida counties where the timber industry is crucial, that loss has some feeling uneasy.

Steve Bailey lives in Calhoun County. A lifelong resident of the region, Bailey is also a former Blountstown City Council member.

"Eighty percent of our income around here is timber-driven. Whether logging for the mills or chipping for fuel," Bailey said, on a break between helping to feed Blountstown residents without power Thursday. "They’re talking about pulling the mills out now, because for the next 30 years they will have no wood here. There’s not a planted pine in probably about 50 miles from here that’s not laying over."

Bailey says he already knows of timber workers in the area eyeing a move – and some have already left.

"There’s $100 million worth of damage to the mill in Panama City. They’re not rebuilding, there’s no wood to take to it. So, we’ve got a lot of guys here that are just gonna move probably for the next year to try to find work and come back whenever they can find something here," Bailey said.

The Florida Forest Service warns that as storm debris dries in those forest areas, potential for wildfires will increase.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.