Forest Resources Association 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting | Summary of Business

This year marked the first-ever virtual FRA Annual Meeting, held May 18-20. Over 100 members gathered via conference call for committee work and the governance decisions that will guide the association through the coming year.

FRA’s National Committees and the THATS Foundation all met, developing recommendations based on these presentations and other reports. 

Public Policy and Advocacy

During the Public Policy / Advocacy Committee Meeting, attendees heard an overview of the status of FRA policy priorities in Washington, DC. FRA has been successful in advancing its policy priorities of transportation, the H-2B visa program, and carbon neutrality.

Transportation Safety & Efficiency

  • FRA was successful in having the bipartisan Safe Routes Act introduced in both the House and the Senate. FRA additionally supported research completed in March that shows the safety benefits of the Safe Routes Act. FRA’s goal is to have the text of the Act included in the base text of the House Surface Transportation Bill reauthorization. Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8) informed FRA that this bill is his number one priority as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Transportation Workforce

  • FRA continued to build its relationship with the American Trucking Associations. FRA is a member of the DRIVE Safe Coalition and has worked to advance the DRIVE Safe bill that aims to increase the availability of truck drivers.

  • FRA was notified of the Hours of Service (HOS) final rule that will benefit the industry. The rule was set to be published the week of the meeting and go into effect 120 days following publication. FRA has been following the HOS rule over the past two years.

H-2B Visa Program

  • On the H-2B visa front, FRA was successful in including appropriations language in the final spending bill that provided the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to release supplemental H-2B worker visas.

  • Before COVID-19, the DHS announced they would release 35,000 supplemental visas; this was later rescinded due to the pandemic. FRA and others working on this issue were mindful of the optics on this issue with the high unemployment rates.

  • FRA has met with key Congressional staff on how best to proceed in its efforts to increase the H-2B visa cap. FRA’s goal is to include language in the FY2021 appropriations that would provide the DHS more authority to release supplemental visas if they are in demand.

  • FRA led an effort with allied associations to have Members of Congress send a letter to President Trump that requests he exempt H-2B visas for forestry workers.

  • FRA prepared a briefing paper for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that outlined the importance of non-immigrant workers to accomplish critical forestry work. The DHS is amenable to reviewing data that supports exempting H-2B forestry workers from the pending Presidential orders that will pause non-immigrant labor to the U.S.

  • FRA supported an H-2B Coalition letter that was mailed to President Trump. The letter urges the President to keep H-2B visas available for seasonal businesses and assures him that H-2B employers are making every effort to recruit American workers, but that seasonal employers still need access to H-2B workers to meet labor demands.

Carbon Neutrality

  • FRA worked with many other associations to have appropriations language included in the final spending bill for FY2020 recognizing forest-based biomass as carbon neutral. FRA will work to have similar language included in the FY2021 appropriations.

  • FRA also worked towards a more permanent solution through rulemaking efforts. The EPA has been sitting on a proposed rule for close to 90-days.

  • FRA and others have been reaching out to Members of Congress to encourage them to have the EPA publish a final rule before the end of the year, having federal agencies recognize forest-based biomass as carbon neutral. FRA is monitoring this issue closely and will work with allied associations to provide comments on the rule after it is published in the Federal Register.

Other Business

  • With national elections on the horizon, the Committee heard from FRA staff on possible outcomes for the Presidential, House of Representatives and Senate races.

  • Finally, the Committee discussed FRA’s priorities for the upcoming 117th Congress and will be reviewing them for possible action.

Operations

During the National Operations Committee, attendees reviewed the FRA Strategic Plan and where the focus of Committee activities should be placed.

  • Logging safety:
    • Logging continues to be the industry with the highest fatality rate according to OSHA. The Committee will be working with the THATS Foundation to look into various safety resources and to better understand the OSHA findings on logger fatalities.

  • Region reports:
    • The Committee received reports from each of the six FRA regions on issues facing the wood supply chain, which include:

      • The lack of markets – mills are full and there is not as much consumption;

      • The lack of migrant labor, which continues to be a concern;

      • Bats in the Lake States Region – several different species of bat are moving towards being federally listed in the next few years.

  • Timber security:
    • Aaron Gilland, owner of timber security consulting company Dendro Resource Management, updated the Committee on two recent timber security cases and provided timber security recommendations to attendees:

      • Regularly review internal controls or auditing;

      • Do physical validation – make sure what you are seeing in your accounting system matches what is happening in the field.

  • TEAM Safe Trucking:
    • Finally, the Committee heard from Miranda Gowell, TEAM Safe Trucking’s Special Projects Manager:

      • There is now a free, online COVID-19 training course available that can be used by all parts of the industry;

      • There has been an increase in online training;

      • The Entry Level Driver Theory Training Courses have been released and are now available. Some states have already sponsored this course with the $3,400 annual fee. These sponsorships are not limited to state organizations and can also be sponsored by other organizations or associations. A contact person is required for each sponsorship.

Supply Chain Relations

During the Supplier / Consumer Relations Committee Meeting, attendees:

  • Reviewed Committee priorities as listed in the strategic plan:
    • This discussion led to a commitment to review the format of the Supplier – Consumer Workshop, with a goal of developing new thinking on the matter, including possible new technology, and re-thinking how the work can be accomplished efficiently.

  • Examined the Workforce Development efforts in the Western Region:
    • The previous goals of the Workforce Development effort were focused on workforce retention, which was deemed not as relevant in the time of COVID-19. The group made plans to revisit this topic in the future;
    • FRA staff has been making weekly postings to Facebook and LinkedIn providing information and links to forestry education resources.

  • Discussed other workforce needs and development:
    • The Committee reviewed several thoughtful comments that were sent in response to a Woods to Mill blog that Eric Kingsley had written, “Are We Playing Musical Chairs with Logging Capacity (And If We Are, What Happens?)”;
    • Interest was placed in introducing younger (pre-career exploration) students to the forest industry, and FRA will highlight efforts being done across the country to do that via Technical Releases.

THATS Foundation

During the THATS Foundation Committee meeting, attendees discussed:

  • The current THATS financial position;

  • The future of both raising funds and acquiring different types of grant applications:
    • The usual method of fundraising, the THATS Live and Silent Auction, were not able to be held due to COVID-19;
    • The Foundation will not sit on its funds. If members have a possible project with the purpose of advancing safety across the industry and country, please reach out to THATS.

  • A Grant application from TEAM Safe Trucking:
    • The Foundation heard from Miranda Gowell with TEAM Safe Trucking on her project proposal to develop driver refresher courses and training provider supervisor training courses. THATS decided to partially fund the TEAM Safe Trucking request and offered $10,000.

  • The Partnership with SafetyMeetingApp.com:
    • The foundation is continuing to move forward with the SafetyMeetingApp.com partnership to get a beneficial app into the hands of the loggers working in the field;
    • They are sponsoring 20 companies with a 5-user membership for a year to get the word out and to get members utilizing the app for recording safety meetings;
    • Eight spots are left to give away;
    • If any FRA member companies are interested in the limited offer, please reach out to Jacob Minor at FRA or one of the THATS Foundation Members.

  • Serious Injuries or Fatalities Analysis:
    • The Committee discussed how studying Serious Injuries or Fatalities Analysis (SIF) within the industry could potentially assist with lowering the fatality statistical rates.
    • A task group was developed and will work with the Operations Committee to investigate this project more.

Annual Member Meeting and Board of Directors Meeting

At the May 20 Annual Member Meeting and Board of Directors Meeting, attendees:

  • Heard from FRA Chairman Lee Alexander of International Paper, and his assessment of the forest products industry during the time of COVID-19;

  • Heard from FRA President Deb Hawkinson on the state of the association;

  • Reviewed FRA’s financial performance over the past fiscal year;

  • Approved the FY 2020-2021 budget, with the plan to reassess in the fall;

  • Reviewed reports from FRA’s National Committees and the THATS Foundation;

  • Received a report on new FRA members;

  • Heard the Meeting Advisory Committee report on upcoming meetings.
Thank you to those who took the time to participate. We look forward to hopefully seeing you in person at the FRA 2020 Fall Board Meeting in Portland, ME October 14-16.