Hurricane season is June 1 through November 30. 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 UF/IFAS county Extension agent (https://ifas.ufl.edu/maps/) and Florida Forest Service county forester (https://www.fdacs.gov/Forest-Wildfire/Our-Forests/Field-Operations/County-Foresters/Find-a-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. (https://programs.ifas.ufl.edu/florida-land-steward/)
Consider enrolling in assistance programs through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/fl/home/ (e.g., Environmental Quality Incentives Program [EQIP]), and/or Farm Service Agency, https://www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/Florida/index (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 this document:
"Timber Inventory: A Primer for Landowners" https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr426
For tips on selecting a consulting forester, see https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr125
Review Your Road Network with a Forester and Road Construction Contractor
Intense rainfall and flooding during storms can wash out poorly constructed roads and blow out culverts. Florida Forest Service foresters are available at no cost to review your roads, stream crosses, and fire plow lines before a storm hits to ensure soil and water protection and compliance with Florida’s Silviculture Best Management Practices (BMPs). For more information on forestry BMPs, see https://www.fdacs.gov/Forest-Wildfire/Silviculture-Best-Management-Practices.
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 after a storm. While canopy-covered roads can be aesthetically pleasing, consider “daylighting” your roadbeds to help them dry quickly after heavy rain. 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
After a storm 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. See https://www.flforestry.org to learn more and get involved.
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 groups 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 or a local Rotary club, or just get to know people who live around your property.
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—Prune trees regularly, especially those over structures and fences, to reduce broken or dead limbs that could cause damage.
Fill the tanks—Top off tanks and containers containing drinking water, gas, diesel, propane, chain saw fuel, and other materials 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.
Check emergency equipment—Make sure that all emergency equipment, including generators, chain saws, air compressors, and other tools, is on hand and in good working condition.
Check 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.
Secure hazardous materials—Ensure that hazardous materials are stored safely and shut down gasoline pumps before the storm.
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) before 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% to 15% of the normal market value. See "Steps to Marketing Timber," https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr130, 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 tool to help you find a certified Master Logger in your county at https://www.flforestry.org/programs/master-logger/.
Ashton, S., B. Hull, R. M. Visser, and M. C. Monroe. 2011. Forest Management in the Interface: Forest Cooperatives. FOR 176. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Barlow, B., M. Andreu, C. Asaro, A. Maggard, and J. Auel. [In review]. Pine Forest Landowners Guide. In “Hurricane Preparation and Recovery in the Southeastern United States.” Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-xxx. Edited by S. McNulty, M. Gavazzi, and K. Matchett. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station.
Demers, C., and A. Long. 2019. “Selecting a Consulting Forester.” SS-FOR-16. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Available online: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr125
Demers, C., and A. Long. 2019. “Steps to Marketing Timber.” SS-FOR-17. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Available online: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr130
Dooner, J., and M. Andreu. 2020. “Timber Inventory: a Primer for Landowners.” FOR 357. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Available online: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr426
Wang, L. 2018. “Income Tax Deduction on Timber and Landscape Tree Loss from Casualty.” USDA Forest Service. Available online: https://www.timbertax.org/Income%20Tax%20Deduction%20on%20Tree%20Losses%20from%20Casualty%202018%20-%20USDA%20FS%20004.pdf Accessed September 23, 2022.
Zekri, M., R. Rouse, and J. Crane. 2017. “Hurricane Preparedness for Citrus Groves.” HS-804. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Available online: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ch178