Why We Need the H-2C Program for Forestry
Why do we need individuals with Agricultural “guestworker” visas to meet our treeplanting and silvicultural needs in the U.S.? Consider the reforestation logistics that face just one company, my company, Resource Management Service, in one region, our North Carolina forestlands, in one planting season. Our region is one of seven in our southern U.S. operations, and the issues we face are replicated not only across our company’s lands but by other companies like mine that manage forest land throughout the U.S.
Every time a new year approaches, the preparation and the plans that have been in place for over a full year prior, begin to come to fruition.
Site preparation is almost complete. Each site has had a combination of treatments applied to ensure that it is ready to plant and that the new seedlings will have the conditions they need to get off to a good start come spring.
Seedlings, by family, have been ordered. A year previous, orders with the nursery were placed so that they would know how many seedlings to grow and allocate to us. Seedling assignments for each tract have been made. Maps showing the trees per acre and the family to be planted on that tract have been made. Contracts are in place obligating both the nursery and the company to a volume of seedlings.
Refrigerated vans have been ordered, their reefer units checked, and their contracts in place. A contractor has been hired to operate the vans, pick up and deliver seedlings to the planting sites, ensure the right families are planted on the right locations, perform planting inspections, and make sure the seedlings are properly cared for.
A project manager has been carefully reviewing all of the elements that will make up a successful planting season. 124 stands comprising 11,265 acres will be planted using over 5.5 million seedlings, every one planted in just over two months.
And one component, one absolutely crucial component, has been meticulously planned for, but its reliability cannot be assured because it depends on the senators and representatives and the government employees that determine the number of visas available for the temporary guest workers that the whole system relies on.
124 stands. 11,265 acres. 5.5 million trees. Just over two months. About 50 planting days. Do the math and that’s about 2 and a half stands, 225 acres, 110,000 trees per day. Each planting worker plants about 2,000 trees per day, so we’ll need 55 workers.
55 temporary workers, capable of moving quickly from site to site, with the skills and the physical ability to plant 2,000 trees per day.
And once the trees have been planted? These same workers will come back around to many of the same sites to apply a small amount of phosphorus fertilizer on each seedling. Once spring comes and the grasses begin to sprout on the planting sites, they’ll return to apply herbicides to control the grasses and weeds around the new seedlings.
All of the time, the planning, and the money devoted to establishing the year’s new seedlings will come down to the availability of quality, affordable, seasonal, guest labor.
Most folks don’t see the planning and the preparation that’s required to implement a reforestation program. It’s not something most folks deal with. They look at the issue of guest workers and ask why local people can’t do the work. It’s a valid question, but if you imagine the availability of local labor in the numbers and over the time necessary to conduct reforestation operations, you begin to see that it simply isn’t a feasible way to swarm these areas with labor during the times we need to do them successfully.
And that’s why the Agricultural Guestworkers Act H.R. 4092 (AG Act) and H-2C guest worker program is so crucial to our industry.
The AG Act which reforms the H-2A system and creates an H-2C visa classification would bring some confidence to the entire reforestation industry. It would allow planning and execution of the operations that have to be conducted prior to planting, with the knowledge that the money will not be misspent. It would give the guest workers and their families the ability to plan for their time away and to make more certain decisions about their affairs.
And even more importantly, the AG Act will ensure that the reforestation of our nation’s forestlands occurs as soon as it can following a harvest, that our forests remain environmentally sustainable, that the whole forest products industry has a sustainable wood supply, and that the landowners who invest in new forests do not invest their funds in vain.