State foresters honor key lawmakers behind disaster relief for forestland owners

Florida lawmakers Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Neal Dunn are honored by state foresters for their work to secure unprecedented—and essential—disaster relief for forestland owners.

WASHINGTON—The National Association of State Foresters presented Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Neal Dunn of Florida with 2019 Bernard L. Orell Awards, commemorating their leadership in achieving—for the first time—insurance for timber losses as a result of natural disasters.

“State foresters are honored to present the 2019 Bernard L. Orell Awards to such deserving lawmakers,” said Greg Josten, NASF president and South Dakota state forester. “Senator Rubio and Representative Dunn understand the importance of robust timber markets and active forest management, and with their work to secure timber indemnities, have shown they are true champions of America’s forests and forestland owners.”

In 2018, Hurricane Michael left millions of acres of timber uprooted, broken, and prime for burning. In Florida, 72 million tons of timber—that’s 2.5 million log trucks worth of wood—were damaged across 11 Panhandle counties. In Georgia, landowners lost 20.5 million tons of pine and 17.2 million tons of hardwood—totaling 37.7 million tons or 1.5 million truckloads of timber. In just these two states, forestland owners lost over $2 billion worth of wood in a matter of a few hours, and were left to clean up and reforest 5.2 million acres of land.

In response to Hurricane Michael and the dire need for relief, Senator Rubio and Representative Dunn championed including timber as a Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program commodity. Until now, forestland owners didn’t have access to the relief row crop and other agricultural producers have long-relied on for getting back to business following natural disasters. Today, all forestland owners across the country can apply for timber loss payments and reforestation assistance.

“This year’s honorees have seen to it that the American people can—and will—still benefit from our nation’s forest resources even when disasters like hurricanes and wildfires hit,” said Jim Karels, Florida state forester. “It’s not just Floridian and Georgian timber producers that will use this program to get back on their feet. This sets a precedent that will protect forestland owners nationwide when the unexpected happens.”

“Providing this insurance to individual forestland owners not only helps them to rebuild what took decades to grow, it helps to ensure private forests continue to provide public benefits—including clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and recreational space—and sustain the nation’s robust forest products industry, which supports 1.1 million jobs and $51 billion in wages every year.”

The Bernard L. Orell Award is presented annually to a member or members of Congress who have made a significant contribution to state and private forestry. It is named in memory of the late Bernard L. Orell, who served as Washington state forester from 1949 to 1953 and went on to advocate for sound forest policy as vice president for Weyerhaeuser.

Contact: Whitney Forman-Cook, NASF Communications Director at (202) 624-5417 and wforman-cook@stateforesters.org