Commissioner Beal Requests USDA Support for Timber Harvesting and Hauling Professionals During the COVID-19 Pandemic

October 5, 2020

For more information contact: Jim Britt at jim.britt@maine.gov

AUGUSTA - In a letter sent last week, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) Commissioner Amanda Beal requested assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in helping to prevent Maine loggers and log truckers from falling through the gaps of the federal government's COVID-19 economic relief programs. In the letter, addressed to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Commissioner highlighted the critically important role loggers and log haulers play in our forest products industry. They also point to the damaging impact mill closures and business curtailments are having on Maines economy.

"Loggers and log haulers are critical to Maines forest products industry, contributing over $620 million annually to the Maine economy in addition to 9,000 jobs and $342 million in labor income. Maines loggers and truckers support the harvest of the raw material that contributes over $8 billion in value-added wood and paper product manufacturing annually," wrote Commissioner Beal. In the last six months and extending through the end of the year, Maine mill closures and curtailments will lead to a 30 percent reduction in harvesting capacity and the layoff of nearly 1,000 people in harvesting and hauling. Over 11,000 truckloads of wood will not be delivered to a Maine mill in 2020. For an industry that contributes over $620 million of economic impact each year, this means a direct loss of over $186 million of economic activity. We know that similar impacts have occurred to loggers and haulers from other forest products states, but Maine has been hit especially hard.

Commissioner Beals letter acknowledges the importance of the U.S. Small Business Administrations Payroll Protection Program for companies and employees in Maine, but stresses the need for more direct support Maines small, family-owned logging businesses.

The full text of the letter is available below:


October 2, 2020

Secretary Sonny Perdue
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Whitten Building, Room 200-A
Washington, DC, 20250

RE: Support for Timber Harvesting and Hauling Professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dear Secretary Perdue,

Maine loggers and log haulers are slipping through the cracks of the federal governments COVID-19 economic relief programs. I am writing to request the Departments assistance in helping prevent this. Failing to act will threaten the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking forestry professionals here in the state. The USDA is uniquely positioned to provide relief to the many loggers and truckers whose operations have been seriously harmed by the effects of the pandemic.

Loggers and log haulers are critical to Maines forest products industry, contributing over $620 million annually to the Maine economy in addition to 9,000 jobs and $342 million in labor income. Maines loggers and truckers support the harvest of the raw material that contributes over $8 billion in value-added wood and paper product manufacturing annually. Their work is so important that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified the forest products workforce [1] as essential during the COVID-19 response.

This vital workforce is hurting. Maine loggers are reporting losses of 40-50 percent this year. The negative impacts of the pandemic began in February as a result of reduced export capability, and they have steadily worsened. In mid-March, COVID-19 crashed lumber markets as housing starts ground to a halt. In the months since, paper mills across the state have shut down for periods of time or drastically cut output in response to reduced global paper consumption.

In the last six months and extending through the end of the year, Maine mill closures and curtailments will lead to a 30 percent reduction in harvesting capacity and the layoff of nearly 1,000 people in harvesting and hauling. Over 11,000 truckloads of wood will not be delivered to a Maine mill in 2020. For an industry that contributes over $620 million of economic impact each year, this means a direct loss of over $186 million of economic activity. We know that similar impacts have occurred to loggers and haulers from other forest products states, but Maine has been hit especially hard.

Unfortunately, the federal programs designed to help businesses cope with the pandemics impact have provided limited benefits to loggers and log haulers. Although the Payroll Protection Program has undeniably been a lifeline for hundreds of companies and their employees in our state, it does not account for the high cost of machinery that small, family-owned logging businesses must pay for on a monthly basis.

The Maine forest industry needs immediate support, and I strongly urge the USDA to consider providing direct relief to loggers and truckers by utilizing new or existing programs under the USDAs purview in order to help this iconic Maine industry. The Coronavirus Food Assistant Program (CFAP) is one example of an existing program that could be expanded or used as a model for direct relief to loggers and haulers. Notably, producers of maple syrup, wool, cut flowers, aloe leaves, and upland cotton have all been granted CFAP eligibility; loggers and haulers have not. Additionally, we ask that the USDA look at other existing programs within USDAs Rural Development, such as the Wood Innovation Grant program, which could also serve as a model for additional and immediate grant and loan programs.

Without such critical support, we fear that some producers will have to cease operations, and if they do, they will not return in the future, putting the entire forest products economy at risk.

Sincerely,

Amanda E. Beal
Commissioner


[1] Workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products, including, but not limited to timber, paper, and other wood products. https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf