July 1, 2021
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
The signatories of this letter represent the forest products industry wood supply chain and are part of an industry that contributes $300 billion annually to local economies and supports one million well-paying jobs in the United States1. We write to you today about our growing concerns across the supply chain that require immediate attention to ensure that the forest products industry will continue to meet America’s demand.
Maintaining an efficient wood supply chain process is critical for the viability of the forest products sector and the overall health of public and private forestlands in the U.S. It is well-documented that a strong relationship exists between healthy markets and healthy forests. The main threat to maintaining healthy forests is the wood supply chain’s growing labor shortage, which is a national issue in scope. The impacts of this shortage are affecting stakeholders ranging from small, family-owned businesses to Fortune 500 companies. The lack of labor throughout our industry could have dire implications for the entire supply chain and have a negative impact on meeting the nation’s demand for wood and paper products. Consequently, each part of the supply chain is striving to find workforce solutions.
We need a vigorous response and investment in workers and young people to keep forests healthy and maintain a sustainable forest products economy. One such effort, the Future Logging Careers Act, has bipartisan support and would help facilitate adequate successional planning for the many multi-generational family-owned businesses common in the forest products supply chain. Support for technical and vocational schools, and apprenticeship efforts, is paramount in addressing the workforce challenges. A more proactive approach is needed to recruit and better educate promising High School students on the benefits of exploring forest products career opportunities after graduation, and better yet, eliminate the social stigma that any choice other than the traditional college path is viewed as failure.
One prominent labor concern is the nationwide shortage of qualified truck drivers, as well as overall transportation system inefficiencies caused by outdated federal regulations, which are stressing America’s current wood supply system. Specific areas of concern include an aging workforce, early retirements brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and federal regulations that prevent the transportation industry from recruiting young workers. The transportation industry estimates that over the next ten years, more than 1.1 million drivers will need to be hired just to replace those workers who move into retirement2.
Young workers are not entering the driving profession. A critical obstacle to attracting new drivers is that while virtually all states allow individuals to obtain a commercial driver’s license at age 18, they are prohibited from operating in interstate commerce until they are 21.
These regulations eliminate potential drivers such as high school graduates. When these young adults reach 21 years of age, most of them have already made their career decisions. Our country needs viable apprenticeship and training programs to reach this population.
We recommend that the Administration consider the following actions to address the driver shortage.
- Lower the driving age for interstate travel so younger drivers can enter the workforce. This canbe done safely by requiring young drivers to complete additional classroom training in conjunctionwith a “behind the wheel” program accompanied by an experienced driver. Proposed bipartisanlegislation such as the DRIVE Safe Act provides a framework from which young drivers can safelyenter the transportation industry. The Department of Transportation and the FMCSA should alsoexpand the Veterans and Reservists pilot program to include 18-20 years old who possess acommercial vehicle driver’s license. The program establishes protocols to assess the safety risksof young drivers who have completed additional training beyond the commercial driver’s licenserequirements.
- Improve efficiencies by allowing log trucks to haul short distances on the interstate at legal stateweights and truck configurations. Many states allow weight limits for log trucks hauling on state,county, township, and city roads that exceed what is permitted on the interstate system. Researchhas shown that an interstate route, if available, is safer, more efficient, and reduces the carbonfootprint through less fuel consumption3. Legislation that addresses this issue is the bipartisanSafe Routes Act provisions that provide for the safer and more efficient transportation of logs, pulpwood, wood chips, and biomass.
- Increase the number of women entering the trucking workforce. Women make up nearly 50percent of the country’s workforce, but represent only 10 percent of the trucking industry in theUnited States. The DOT and FMCSA should develop a program that identifies and addressesbarriers of entry for women seeking employment in the trucking profession. The bipartisan bill Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act would require the FMCSA to establish an advisoryboard charged with identifying barriers to entry for women in the trucking industry and helpidentify and establish training and mentorship programs for women.
Forestlands play a critical role in mitigating changing climate. Forestlands in the United States sequester nearly 15 percent of C02 emissions each year5. There is great potential to increase CO2 sequestration of forestlands by planting trees on understocked forestlands and afforestation.
At the outbreak of COVID-19, the forest products industry was recognized as an essential service. Landowners, suppliers, and consuming mills are integral parts of a competitive wood supply chain. To deliver the products and environmental benefits of forestlands, we must have workers. Without them, the system does not work.
We welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these challenges in more detail and further investigate creative approaches to ensure the forest products industry remains one of the top employers and manufacturing sectors in the U.S. We appreciate your attention to this matter.
Western Wood Preservers Institute
cc: The Honorable Marty Walsh
1 Economic Impact (afandpa.org)
2 Coffey, Clare, et.al. Drivers Wanted—Using data to understand the commercial truck driver shortage. EMSI. 2021.
3 Joseph L. Conrad, IV (2020) Would weight parity on interstate highways improve safety and efficiency of timber transportation in the US South? International Journal of Forest Engineering, 31:3, 242-252.
4 Statement of Victoria Christiansen, Chief of the USDA Forest Service Before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Concerning the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Proposed Budget For the USDA Forest Service April 15, 2021, 2:00 p.m. HHRG-117-AP06-Wstate-ChristiansenV-20210415.pdf (house.gov)
5 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals from Forestland, Woodlands, and Urban Trees in the United States, 1990-2018. Resource Updates-227. And Carbon Fact Sheets—Forest Resources Association.