Longleaf pine restoration and conservation damaged by Hurricane Michael

Longleaf pine restoration and conservation damaged by Hurricane Michael

MITCHELL CO., GA (WALB) - Georgia’s timber crop was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Michael.

One Mitchell County farmer lost several hundreds of thousands of dollars on his farm alone.

Forest Lodge Farms LLC owner Joe Butler said the devastation is surreal.

Butler has more than 1,500 acres of longleaf pine trees, a natural habitat conservation area for many animals.

He’s the fifth generation family owner. Forest Lodge has been in his family since the 1870s.

“For our management plan it was pretty catastrophic to us,” said Butler.

Twenty percent of his trees were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Michael.

Joe Butler, Owner, Forest Lodge Farms LLC (Source: WALB)
Joe Butler, Owner, Forest Lodge Farms LLC (Source: WALB)

“At times it makes me want to cry when I go out and see them. I just look out here and see the trees that have been growing for 55 years that have been snapped and pushed over,” said Butler.

Agronomists estimate one million timber acres were destroyed by Michael in Georgia alone.

Butler’s farm is in a conservation easement as a working forest which means he can’t clear the longleaf pine forest, instead he can only sell timber.

“It’s devastating from both a financial standpoint as well as from an environmental conservation standpoint. Because that’s just more equipment in the woods, more damage, more gopher tortoise burrows that might be run over.”

Animals like turtles live on the conservation at Forest Lodge Farms LLC (Source: WALB)
Animals like turtles live on the conservation at Forest Lodge Farms LLC (Source: WALB)

They manage the longleaf pine for 45 to 50 years before they cut the timber.

"We just went and looked at a stand today, that was planted in 2000. So that's 18 years worth of growth that's going to be wasted because I'm going to have to go in and clear cut and start all over."

Butler said there’s been many natural disturbances for thousands of years so he is planning to rebuild.

He estimates it will take time, but is hopeful.

On Tuesday, visitors from Southern Company and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as well as others got to take a farm tour of Forest Lodge Farms to see the devastation left from Hurricane Michael.

In August, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced a record $6.5 million in grants to benefit longleaf pine forest and wildlife in eight states across the Southeast.

NWFW gave 28 conservation grants, awarded through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, to restore, enhance, and protect this forest area in parts of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

“It gets me into the environment for two reasons. One, to talk about longleaf pine. Two, to talk about and experience what the storm has actually done to this region and this area,” said Ron Shipman, Vice President of Southwest Region, Georgia Power.

Forest Lodge Farms is not one of the recipients in the 28 conservation grants.

The Longleaf Stewardship Fund is a public-private partnership between NFWF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and many other partners.

To learn more about the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, click here.

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