Apalachicola National Forest's Hurricane Michael Recovery
On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael landed in the Florida Panhandle at about 1:30 p.m. EDT with 155 mph winds. At the point of contact, Michael was a Category 5 hurricane, breaking records as the fourth most powerful hurricane to hit the United States. The strength of Michael’s winds tore through the area, downing thousands of trees and destroying residential buildings. Of the three national forests in Florida, the Apalachicola National Forest was the most impacted by Hurricane Michael.
Forest Recovery and Management
The trees that have been growing and used to seeing milder storms were uprooted or snapped as the high-speed winds blew through, breaking the trees to their limit. Trees were downed in recreation sites, crashed on top of pavilions and strewn in the parking lots. Approximately 19,000 acres of trees were damaged across Apalachicola National Forest. Even the Apalachicola Work Center in Bristol, FL had trees crash on its property. After initial cleanup of sites, we had to find ways to use or disperse other downed trees since the sitting logs are wildfire risks.
Almost 200 miles of roads had damage or were blocked by trees. This is significant since the Apalachicola National Forest only has 700 miles of roads, making the damage impact almost half of available roads through the forest. Along with impacted roads, road signage and markers were also damaged or lost after the storm cleared.
The hurricane also caused significant damage a few of our recreations sites that are on the west side of Apalachicola National Forest. These include the Prospect Bluff National Historic Landmark (area is unavailable), which is part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, Wright Lake Recreation Area and Camel Lake Recreation Area.
Red Cockaded Woodpecker Comeback
Some of these trees were home to a federally endangered bird, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW). The Apalachicola National Forest is home to the largest population of these woodpeckers in the entire world, so with Hurricane Michael’s destruction, these birds were distressed. RCWs make their nests in live pine trees, using the sap to prevent predators from harming their chicks and themselves. With downed trees that the RCWs called home, these birds were displaced. Thankfully by October, chicks for the 2018 season have already fully fledged. RCW nests can take months to carve into a live tree, something that these birds would have to restart for safe and secure shelter from predators.
Frosted Flatwoods Salamander
The state and federally threatened Flatwood Salamanders were also impacted negatively due to the destruction and flooding that Hurricane Michael brought. Sadly, dispersed numbers of the Flatwood Salamanders dispersed in wetlands across Apalachicola National Forest are the species’ last remaining stronghold for the salamanders’ future.