Tax credits tied to replanting timber

Lawmakers focus on future growth in the wake of an estimated $800 million loss.

A tax credit for timber losses is among the Hurricane Michael relief initiatives approved in the Georgia General Assembly’s special session.

“This is one of the greatest natural disasters we’ve ever seen in the state …. maybe the largest timber catastrophe in our nation’s history,” said Andres Villegas, president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association.

 The program won’t bring immediate payments like the supplemental appropriations bill, but it’s aimed at rebuilding a mainstay of the state’s economy. Capped at $200 million, it was vetted in the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and the companion House committee.

Hufstetler said the credits can’t be claimed until the landowner replants the lost trees, and they aren’t expected to hit the state budget until 2021 and 2022. They’re limited to commercial growers in the 28 hurricane-ravaged South Georgia counties Gov. Nathan Deal declared disaster areas.

“We’re talking about a swath from Bainbridge that fans out,” Hufstetler said.

Chuck Walker, director of the Georgia Forestry Commission, said close to 2.4 million acres sustained damage and the loss is estimated at $800 million. That’s about 10 percent of the state’s total timberland, but Walker emphasized that the loss is concentrated — not spread out evenly.

“The individual losses are consequential and of importance, but realize there’s an impact on the processers, the mills, the support businesses,” he said. “In some of our small Georgia communities, timber and agriculture is really their economic base … That part of Georgia is hurting.”

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