Is help really on the way? Another so-called COVID Relief bill has passed through Congress and signed by President Biden in early March 2021. Meanwhile, the loggers and log truckers have yet to see one penny of the $200 million included in the December Covid Relief legislation. As of the writing of this article it is with great disappointment I report there is still no sign as to when this money will be available.
Excuses as to why are abundant and many are without merit. At least in my opinion. First it was because of the new administration, then it was because of the delay in Secretary Vilsack’s appointment. Now the reason seems to be that USDA is trying to develop the perfect plan for distribution aimed at ensuring the money goes to where it was intended. Rest assured several groups who have nothing to do with logging are trying to get a piece of the pie. The language in the legislation is remarkably clear as loggers and truckers were specifically named as recipients for the money. If Congress can pass another COVID Relief package one day, and start depositing stimulus money the next, there is no reason in the world loggers and truckers should not have access to these funds.
The day this article was written, March 15th, 2021, a message comes in an email stating USDA is considering whether the loggers and log truckers really need the $200 million. This is after confirmation by a third-party group stating that the forest industry lost over $1.83 Billion in revenue and that figure is already several months old. Where in the world did USDA get the information which would lead to a statement like that? One guess might be that most people do not know the difference between pulpwood and saw logs, nor do they know the difference between paper product markets and box board markets. Multiple times I have heard folks not familiar with the forest industry refer to a load of logs or pulpwood as a load of lumber. It is an indication they are unfamiliar with the fact lumber is the result of sawing logs to form boards.
By a wide margin, the paper industry consumes the highest volume of pulpwood produced. Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin paper mills clustered in the northern Great Lakes region produce a great deal of writing, printing, and copy paper. Other mills in this region produce various forms of box liner and products used in shipping. These are very different markets and consume lesser amounts of roundwood. Keep in mind consumption of roundwood is generally based on mill size and not because one product requires more roundwood than another.
The lumber and building material businesses have been experiencing record high prices for finished product during the COVID. Those who do not know the difference between finished products made from wood likely assume everyone is experiencing the same positive business climate and profitability. Nothing could be further from the truth and reality lays in the numbers. A recent weekly report on panel such OSB, Plywood/Veneer indicated that in the past year prices f.o.b. per thousand square at the mill have increased just over 200%. In the paper industry the opposite occurred, and we have witnessed the closures of mills in Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The remaining mills are not going gangbusters on profit either, but they are surviving.
Because these roundwood consumers take the lion’s share of pulpwood they naturally have the greatest impact on loggers. It is not hard to figure out where the economic loss in the forest industry has occurred however, explaining why and in what sector the economic loss to loggers has occurred is a real challenge. The decision makers obviously don’t know what they don’t know. Until they admit it and seek information from a credible source, having no access to the logger relief money will continue until such time the funds are squandered on something other than what they were intended for and that would be downright shameful.
Until and if something like that would happen, rest assured organizations such as GLTPA, American Loggers Council, Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota and Professional Logging Contractors of Maine are pulling out all stops to get this money available. Hopefully by the time you read this article submission of applications will be done, and grants will be awarded to those in need.
On a final note, plans are well underway for the 2021 Spring Loggers Celebration April 28th at the Hyatt Regency and KI Convention Center in Green Bay, WI. As of this writing 45 vender booths are reserved and approximately 150 of a potential 350 attendee registrations have been received. To comply with social distancing and appropriate safeguards, seating arrangements have been maximized and it is very important that attendees pre-register. There will be no extra seats available to accommodate a large influx of walk-in traffic. With delivery of this issue of TPA in early April and the event taking place at the end of April the GLTPA and FISTA team should have time to send notice once available seats are filled.
Until next month,