Hurricanes are frequent natural disturbances that present numerous challenges to farmers, ranchers, foresters, and their operations in the Southeastern and Caribbean regions of the U.S. These regions were hard-hit during the 2017 hurricane season, when hurricanes caused billions of dollars of damage in the agriculture and forestry sectors. Given the projected increase in the intensity of future hurricanes, it is important that land managers incorporate preparedness and recovery practices to reduce hurricane-related damages and losses. Guidance on best practices often comes from agricultural and forestry advisors in the public sector, who provide guidance to land managers before hurricanes and support recovery efforts after the event has passed.
After the 2017 hurricane season, USDA Forest Service and University of Florida scientists conducted the first regional assessment of hurricane effects and resiliency strategies among land managers in the U.S. and the U.S. Caribbean. The scientists examined the experiences of agricultural advisors to understand: 1) the damages caused by the hurricanes on agricultural and forestry lands; 2) the preparedness and recovery strategies employed; and 3) the challenges faced by land managers surrounding these events. Data collection included an online survey administered to advisors from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Cooperative Extension, and state forestry as well as four focus group sessions with Cooperative Extension and other public agencies. Researchers found that according to the advisors, the hurricane-related effects with the greatest impact on land managers and their operations were power outages, fallen trees, impassable or closed roads, and transportation issues. The biggest challenges for land managers related to farm and forest management issues, including timber salvage, repair and clean up of operations, and infrastructure damage and repair. Importantly, the study revealed that long-term planning for hurricane events is uncommon in comparison to shorter-term preparedness and recovery actions. However, results indicate that long-term actions are being taken by less than 50% of landowners. The research highlights that hurricane planning that incorporate long- and short-term practices is a critical component to increase resilience to hurricanes in the agriculture and forestry sectors.