Forest products, workers are a part of critical infrastructure

The forest products industry plays a vital role in our nation’s infrastructure – especially in response to the global COVID-19 epidemic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in a memorandum this week. The DHS memo, signed by Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs, underscored that because the forestry industry and its workers are crucial to the “continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security” that it has a “special responsibility to maintain [its] normal work schedule.” In response to DHS’ announcement, the Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) and the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) submitted a joint letter to Gov. Jay Inslee urging him to make a similar declaration to promote both forest and economic health.

Nearly half of Washington state is forested, and the continued management and maintenance of those landscapes is necessary to preserve natural resources and ensure that forested areas are strong and resilient. The letter pointed out that wood building products are the “principal building material used across a myriad of infrastructure projects, including emergency medical and lodging structures, temporary buildings, as well as timely refurbishing or re-purposing of existing facilities for immediate use.”

The letter further states: “Private and public forest landowners produce the necessary raw materials and sawmills produce essential building products, generate electricity for the public utility grid using carbon-neutral biomass, and produce materials required by the pulp and paper mills. The pulp and paper mills produce paper hygiene and packaging products.”

Because the forestry industry has been one where social distancing is not a “new normal,” but has been a part of the routine, the workforce is built for resiliency as it tends to the health of forests and the continuation of the supply chain.  WFPA Executive Director Mark Doumit and AFRC President Travis Joseph pointed out that the forestry industry’s track record of safety complements the new guidelines and restrictions on large gatherings and promotes social distancing. Working in a forest setting “naturally occurs with little interpersonal interaction and close contact with others” and modern-day lumber mills operate in an open environment with workers well spread out. And in keeping with the latest corona virus-related guidelines to reduce community spread of the COVID-19, mill managers have instituted practices to minimize contact, like “focusing on limiting interactions in break rooms and sanitizing equipment during shift changes.” In addition, mills are having employees work remotely from home if their positions allow for it.