Orange juice cartons. Toilet paper. Electricity. Coffee cups. Lumber. The one thing all these things have in common? Trees. It’s easy to forget the many ways the forest industry supports our daily lives — from seedling nurseries and truck drivers to sawmills and paper manufacturers. But each step in the chain is dependent on the other, as illustrated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
When Gov. Jay Inslee first issued his “stay home, stay safe” order in mid-March, most area construction projects were put on hold, causing a ripple effect felt throughout the entire forest sector supply chain.
No movement on residential and commercial projects meant decreased demand for solid wood products, from basic lumber and cutting boards to cabinets and insulation.
“Anytime you reduce supply to the end user, production is negatively impacted throughout the supply chain,” says Matt Comisky, Washington manager for the American Forest Resource Council.
This resulted in a slowdown at sawmills, but the production ripples extend out even further. Less demand for whole logs means less demand for truckers transporting those logs, and less demand for people cutting down the trees.
Fortunately, Gov. Inslee has lifted some of the restrictions on commercial and residential construction here in Washington, work has resumed and sawmills are ramping back up. But the exercise underscores an important point, namely that every step in the forest sector supply chain is interconnected.
“Raw logs and lumber, as well as the paper products needed for sanitation and hygiene, do not exist in isolated industries,” says Mark Doumit, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association. “The sector needs demand from lumber users – such as home construction – to support the harvest of timber necessary to keep our sawmills open and producing their essential materials. Likewise, the pulp and paper manufacturers rely on chips and other residual products from the sawmills to power their mills and produce paper and hygiene products,” he says.
“No one element of this supply chain exists in isolation from the others.”
Some sawmills and pulp and paper facilities in the Northwest also serve as co-generation plants, burning wood waste, the byproduct of sawmilling, to produce renewable biomass electricity and steam. Not only does this electricity and steam power the mills themselves, it gets sold to the larger grid, helping to supply additional green power to the general public. Fewer actual logs being milled into lumber also means less wood chips and sawdust being sold to paper manufacturers.
Pulp and paper mills in the Northwest rely on a steady supply of residual wood chips and sawdust delivered from sawmills in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana and Canada, says Chris McCabe, executive director for the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association (NWPPA). From toilet paper, facial tissue, and paper napkins to orange juice cartons, coffee cups and paper plates, mills in the Northwest make essential products that most people use every day, he said.
“The COVID-19 outbreak underscores just how important that resource chain is, and why we must continue to provide a supply of raw materials to keep all aspects of our sector active and engaged,” says McCabe.
So, the next time you pass a home construction site in your town, remember that in a roundabout way, those builders are helping keep your home supplied with essential and affordable tissue and paper products every day.
The Washington Forest Protection Association is a trade association representing private forest landowners in Washington State. Members are large and small companies, individuals and families who grow, harvest and re-grow trees on about 4 million acres.