COOS COUNTY — Like many other industries on the South Coast, the forestry sector is being hit hard by the impacts brought on by the ongoing, ever-evolving new coronavirus pandemic.
A decline in demand for wood fiber due to reduced consumption of wood products has contributed to a large number of steep challenges for both national and local forestry and logging companies looking to stay afloat amid the pandemic.
Rex Storm, the executive vice president of the Associated Oregon Loggers, a statewide trade association which represents approximately 1,000 member companies throughout the state, said at the moment consumers aren’t building or constructing as they used to. Over the past month, companies have recorded seeing a 20 to 40 percent reduction in productivity, said Storm.
Despite companies doing everything they can to produce in today’s market, many are being forced to temporarily lay off their workers as less work comes in, said Storm. However, employment in the forestry industry and in logging, Storm added, is constantly changing as new developments and impacts continue to be felt by the pandemic.
“One company may have a 5% or 10% loss while another company may have a 100% loss,” said Storm. “They may not have any work so they may be totally inoperable, shut down, and/or lay off all of their employees and unfortunately those are the kinds of impacts that are occurring.”
Brad Haga, of D & H Logging in Coos Bay, said he’s been lucky so far that he hasn’t had to lay any employees off, but that they’ve recently noticed things beginning to slow down.
With big construction jobs and demand for wood products being low at the moment, Haga said he’s had to find ways to keep his employees working by taking on odd jobs and duties they wouldn’t normally do, such as repair work.
“We’re running out of work right now and there isn’t a lot of work out there,” he said. “Some of the competition is getting some of their work pulled too. … We’re just trying to do the best we can and keep crews busy.”
Under Gov. Kate Brown’s Phase 1 reopening plan, businesses who are currently open must do so following the state’s new COVID-19 safety guidelines.
According to Storm, over the past few weeks, AOL has worked with numerous logging companies in helping them navigate the new guidelines and remain complaint with social distancing, sanitation and other rules to stop and slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The changes also come with added costs to these companies. Coupled with the reduced production, this could cause some companies to see a reduction in their profits, Storm added.
“What could we do to reduce those impacts is we can reopen businesses right now and return to some normalcy,” said Storm. “We need to get back to business so our economy and society can begin to work again.”
Possibilities of mills temporarily shutting down and increasing their inventory is a major concern Haga said he has moving forward. According to Haga, some mills have already enforced temporary shutdowns, some of which have lasted a week or so, on accepting new loads.
With quotas on the amount of loads they can produce a day, Haga explained mill shutdowns could have a domino effect of other aspects of the forestry sector such as his logging company being forced to close its operations as a result.
“It’s stressful, but we’re loggers and we’ve been in this industry for over 50 years,” said Haga. “We’ve seen ups and downs and we’ve survived. … We’ll survive again.”