AFRC: Forest Products, Workers Are Critical Infrastructure in COVID-19 Response

The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) is working to ensure the forest products industry and its employees can continue to operate and help meet the nation’s needs as local, state and federal governments respond to the global COVID-19 epidemic.

On March 18, AFRC joined the Federal Forest Resource Coalition in urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to include the forest products industry as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce to avoid supply chain disruptions and protect forest products industry workers and businesses in the case of national, regional, or state-specific shelter-in-place orders.

The forest products industry plays an important role in critical infrastructure in North America in a number of ways:

  • Wood building products are the principal building material used across a myriad of infrastructure projects, including emergency medical and lodging structures, and temporary buildings, as well as timely refurbishing or re-purposing of existing facilities for immediate use. As an example, there are established design guidelines for modest buildings up to 16ʹ x 24ʹ in size that can be constructed within 24 hours and withstand both high winds and seismic forces. These are not “temporary” buildings but rather can be erected quickly for immediate use. These designs were shared with emergency responders for use following the natural disasters in Haiti and Puerto Rico, among other places.
  • Residuals from wood products manufacturers are used extensively by pulp and paper mills, which are then used in tissue, personal hygiene and packaging products that are all critically-needed products during this crisis.
  • Wood products manufacturing facilities provide needed materials for construction supply lines. Many wood product manufacturers generate electricity for the public utility grid using carbon neutral biomass.
  • Moreover, our mills are constructed and operate in a way that supports social distancing, and stringent safety procedures are already the norm.
  • Wood products facilities are frequently located in rural communities and provide family-wage jobs that are otherwise in very short supply in those areas. Maintaining employment at wood products facilities through this crisis is essential to prevent disastrous effects on rural economies.

On March 19, DHS recognized the need to protect this critical infrastructure, specifically identifying “Workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products, including, but not limited to timber, paper, and other wood products.”

Because the national guidance is advisory in nature, AFRC partnered with the Washington Forest Protection Association and the Oregon Forest & Industries Council to respectively urge the governors of Oregon and Washington to adopt policies consistent with the federal government’s guidance, explicitly including the forest products industry as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce to protect and support critical supply chains, communities, workers and employers.

Wood fiber from federal lands plays an essential role in forest products infrastructure throughout the West.  To ensure this infrastructure can continue to access fiber and operate to meet the nation’s needs, AFRC joined over two dozen industry associations in urging U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to work proactively with federal timber purchasers to retain viable forest management capacity.  In addition to helping rural communities and companies weather disruptions caused by the global COVID-19 epidemic, the Forest Service can maintain vital forest restoration and wildfire mitigation efforts on public lands.