Fried seeks aid for timber industry

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried told the state’s congressional delegation Thursday that the Northwest Florida timber industry needs federal disaster assistance after being devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Also, Fried warned of the increased threat of wildfires across the region because of millions of tons of debris still on the ground from the Oct. 10 storm.

“Timber crop losses continue to grow, and large amounts of remaining debris have created a wildfire hazard 10 times greater than normal. California does not have this kind of fire threat,” Fried said, according to a news release from her office. “And as we approach the start of hurricane season in less than three weeks, the Panhandle now faces double jeopardy, with threats of wildfire damage on top of hurricane losses.”

Fried said the timber industry faces $1.3 billion in losses from the Category 5 hurricane, which destroyed 72 million tons of trees over 3 million acres.

“Unfortunately, our timber producers are unable to access crop insurance, and their ability to receive crop-loss assistance is unclear,” Fried said. “Timber production is the leading sector of the agriculture industry in the Panhandle and a major driver of jobs in the communities devastated by Hurricane Michael -- that’s why it’s paramount to the Panhandle’s economic recovery that the final disaster recovery package provides USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) the ability to make assistance available to our producers who lost timber as a result of the storm.”

Last week, the Democratic-led U.S. House approved a $19 billion disaster-aid package for communities across the country suffering from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires, despite opposition from President Donald Trump over additional funding for Puerto Rico. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted an update on the disaster-relief efforts Thursday.

“Making slow but steady progress on getting a deal with Dems,” Rubio tweeted. “Expect vote next week, hopefully on bill House will pass & @POTUS will sign.”