Citing Hurricane Idalia, a statewide-elected official is asking the Legislature for $2 million for reforestation efforts in the Big Bend.
Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson unveiled the seven-figure special budget request. It comes a week after he released preliminary estimates tallying the damage wrought by Idalia, a cyclone that made landfall as a Category 3 storm in the Big Bend region in late August.
Those estimates figure the timber industry suffered a $64 million setback in the roughly 300,000 acres affected by Idalia. That’s about 14% of the total estimated damage ($447 million) across all agriculture sectors.
The money in the request would go toward site preparation, seedlings and planting for new trees. Simpson, a Republican elected to the Cabinet post in 2022, said the request, if funded, will provide more immediate relief to those in the timber industry.
“While disaster recovery programs at the federal level can take years to support impacted producers, this targeted and state-funded grant program can quickly help Hurricane Idalia impacted timber landowners offset the initial cost of site preparation, seedlings, and the planting of seedlings,” he said.
There is $16 billion in disaster relief for the nation in the continuing resolution deal reached by Congress over the weekend. It is unknown precisely how much of that money will flow to the Sunshine State.
Simpson’s state request represents an opening posture. His job duties include convincing state lawmakers to craft a budget that accommodates Florida agriculture. All figureheads in the executive branch have to request funding from the Legislature and advocate for it during the 60-day Session, which kicks off Jan. 9. They also have to convince Gov. Ron DeSantis to not veto if it does come to pass in the final appropriations package.
Simpson is likely a trusted spokesperson for the funding, however. He led the Senate for two years beginning in 2020 before he left the Legislature for the Cabinet.
The targeted funding requested on Monday is in addition to a $4 million budget request for the related Florida Future Forests Program, a cost-share system focused on augmenting Florida forestry. It’s a lottery-grant system open to non-industrial, private landowners, local governments, and registered nonprofit organizations.