Co-Authored by Anthony Giattino and Jon Steigerwaldt
Exploring the Essential Nature of Forestry
Despite vacant streets in normally vibrant cities and traffic-free highways across the country, there exists a steady hum of essential labor; some things can’t be canceled. The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society is still advocating for healthy forests to promote the creation of habitat for species in danger of being crowded out of existence. In this difficult moment when forest industry products, like basic hygienic items, are in high demand, the RGS & AWS is actively working with partners in the critical industry of forestry to ensure that wildlife also have a voice during this crisis.
Covid-19’s effects on the US are vast. The spiderweb of consequences has bludgeoned the economy and devastated the workforce in both urban and rural communities, many of which rely on tourism and service industries that have been shut down. One sector that has been deemed essential and allowed to continue operations is the forest products industry, which produces many items in high demand during the countrywide lock down. This means that workers who support sawmills and the manufacture and distribution of fiber and forest products, including, timber, paper, and other wood and fiber products are still able to work.
Amazon recently reported that sales in North America increased 29% from a year earlier, driven largely by an “increased demand for household staples”. It’s not hard to imagine the delivery of an Amazon corrugated box containing another cardboard box that contains toilet paper; a Russian doll of forest products.
According to the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), nearly 700,000 tons of tissue were produced by U.S. mills in March 2020, more than any other month since 2007. The AF&PA President and CEO Heidi Brock issued this statement regarding the record high productions, “The men and women who work in the paper and wood products industry continue to do their part to respond to demand for products like bathroom tissue and paper towels during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. United States tissue mills manufactured nearly 700,000 tons of tissue in March, more than any other month since 2007, when AF&PA began collecting related monthly historical data.” It’s not just toilet paper for which we rely on the forest products industry. Especially important during a public health crisis, forestry results in other essential products like hospital gowns, testing kit materials, diapers, and packaging for food and medicine.
In addition to being one of the writers’ hometown, Tomahawk, Wisconsin is the home of a Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) containerboard mill and a Louisiana-Pacific (LP) facility. It also lies squarely in the grouse range of northern Wisconsin. Tomahawk is a city of 3,820 located in Lincoln County, at the southern end of the North Woods. According to the city’s official website, Tomahawk was “[f]ounded primarily as a logging City in the 1890’s,” and “now enjoys economic diversity with Harley-Davidson, Packaging Corporation of America, Northland Stainless, Daigle Bros. Inc. and Louisiana-Pacific all operating manufacturing facilities in or near the City limits.” The surrounding area of Lincoln County also relies on outdoors-based tourism catering to hunters and anglers. Since the arrival of Covid-19, the tourism industry has suffered immensely, and not all of the companies mentioned on the Tomahawk website are open for business right now. That is a big blow for a small city. PCA and LP are still churning out forest industry products, though.
PCA is the third largest producer of container board and corrugated products in North America. The PCA mill in Tomahawk produces kraft liner board (the outer layers of a corrugated container) and corrugating semi-chemical medium (the fluted center layer). Both PCA and LP adhere to the standards set by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. This means they agree to engage in forest management practices that require them to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests with exceptional conservation value. In Wisconsin, much of the raw material for the PCA mill is aspen. When cuts are made to feed the mills, the result is an increase in the age diversity of the aspen. As shown time and again, ruffed grouse and other species like American woodcock, wood turtles, white-tailed deer, cottontails, and so many others thrive in forested areas that span a range of successional classes.
This is not to say that forestry is making the economy in places like Tomahawk thrive. Even imperial Amazon, though its orders increased, saw a decrease in profits because of costs associated with logistics and attempting to keep its employees safe. Employees at mills and other forestry product facilities are just as vulnerable to the virus as are those in workplaces that were forced to close because of its spread. Forestry, though essential, will see challenges ahead, which also means that habitat management will face difficulties.
This is where organizations like the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society can step in to facilitate the creation of habitat that benefits a myriad of species in addition to game birds. One plan is to partner with state and federal environmental agencies to help producers endure this crisis by doing habitat related work. Together, they can use the Good Neighbor Authority Retained Receipts initiative for habitat work, which involves signing stewardship contracts and keeping state conservation grant programs funded. Those dollars will help producers diversify what they are doing in the forest and help them weather economic storms like this by allowing money to flow through rural communities, benefiting both forestry and wildlife.
Forestry is an essential component of the economy. It’s important to remember that in addition to providing us with necessary products during this strange time of lock downs and quarantines, it creates habitat for species that are in dire need of it. It’s impossible to predict if and when our lives and our economy will return to “normal”. For now, forestry should be celebrated for providing materials to medical professionals on the front lines of the battle against Covid-19, necessary household items for those of us at home, and habitat to threatened species.