Lawmakers assess best way forward for wood products industry post-pandemic

Lawmakers sought solutions to a wide variety of pandemic-illuminated supply chain issues during a House Agriculture Committee hearing. Wednesday.

“As we move away from the worst of the pandemic, Congress has an important opportunity before us as we consider options for more resilient and climate-smart infrastructure,” said Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, chairwoman of the Conservation and Forestry Sub-Committee. “Our forests – and the wood products they support – are essential green infrastructure that helps sequester carbon while growing our economy.”

The hearing came a day after the USDA announced $200 million in pandemic relief for loggers.

Testifying before the committee, Caroline Dauzat — co-owner of Rex Lumber in Graceville, Florida, and former director of the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association — said the lumber industry is experiencing a decline in sawmill infrastructure and availability of labor and transportation, hampering its ability to meet market demands.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, seasonally adjusted housing starts increased 37% between March 2020 and March 2021. However, Dauzat noted that in the South, the total number of pine mills operating in the South increased from 276 to 240 between 2007 and 2019.

At the same time, she cited data from forest2market indicating that the number of housing starts increased by almost 200% between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2021.

“Our country is not really used to volatility, but what happened was just extreme demand,” she said.

One possible solution, she said, is to eliminate some of the bureaucracy for new factories.

“The process is expensive, expensive, requires a lot of people to get a lot of information. Anything that would streamline this process would help get plants up and running faster. »

In addition, she called on Congress to use the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense to use forest products in construction, and to continue research into expanding markets.

According to Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, the US Forest Service granted extensions to more than 700 timber contracts at the start of the pandemic.

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While the agency tried to maintain its lumber sales program at around 3.2 billion board feet sold, Imbergamo said it “still represents just over half of the authorized sales quantity identified in the current forest plans”.

Additionally, he pointed out that not all wood products have seen the same demand throughout the pandemic.

“It is important to note that not all segments of the wood and paper industry have benefited from high prices during the pandemic. The closure of schools and in-person offices has sharply reduced demand for printing and writing paper, for example.

The American Loggers Council wants to see passage of the “Safe Routes Act,” which would allow states to make truck weights on highways equal to local and state road weight limits.

In addition, the organization wants the harvesting and transport of wood to be considered an agricultural activity, in particular because standing timber is considered an agricultural commodity.

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