January 27, 2022
The undersigned forestry associations urge you to cosponsor the “Returning Worker Exception Act” (H.R. 3897). H.R. 3897 provides critical H-2B visa cap relief for seasonal businesses that include employers of H-2B forestry workers. In addition to raising the visa cap, the bill has program integrity measures, including increasing enforcement and penalties to help ensure compliance with the law.
Each year, H-2B forestry workers plant 85 percent of the trees (1.5 billion seedlings) on 2.5 million acres in the United States. The United States has a tree planting backlog of three to five years. The USDA Forest Service alone has a tree planting backlog of five million acres because of several years of extreme wildfires and hurricanes. In a recent POLITICO interview, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said his agency is “far behind” on reforestation efforts and that labor constraints could become a concern as the Forest Service looks to increase reforestation efforts and work in nurseries.
Congress addressed the tree planting needs on Forest Service lands in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Sec.70301) by incorporating provisions of the REPLANT Act, to remove the $30 million cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund and to help the Forest Service plant 1.2 billion trees in national forests over ten years. But with the ongoing shortage of seasonal tree planters, the well-intended actions of Congress to reestablish trees on damaged forestland may not be realized if there is not greater access to seasonal tree planters via the H-2B visa program.
In fiscal year 2021, during the pandemic, the number of H-2B forestry workers requested (not received) increased by 30 percent over fiscal year 2020 labor needs. The massive shortage of U.S. labor willing to take these seasonal jobs has only worsened during the pandemic. In fiscal year 2022, there is already record demand for H-2B visas due to the continuing shortage of available U.S. workers. Nearly 220,000 guest workers have been requested for 66,000 H-2B visas for fiscal year 2022.
If the H-2B legislatively mandated cap of 66,000 H-2B visas is not increased, it will not be possible to meet the tree planting demands on private and public forestlands in a timely manner. This will further delay the reestablishment of trees in forests damaged by fire and hurricanes. Soils will continue to erode, wildlife habitat will not be established, carbon sequestration will be minimized, insufficient trees will be planted on forestlands, and timber supply will be reduced.
Alabama Forestry Association
American Loggers Council
Arkansas Forestry Association
Arkansas Timber Producers Association
Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho
Associated Oregon Loggers
Association of Consulting Foresters
California Forestry Association
Florida Forestry Association
Forest Resources Association
Forestry Association of South Carolina
Georgia Forestry Association
Louisiana Forestry Association
Maryland Forests Association
Massachusetts Forest Alliance
Minnesota Forest Industries
Mississippi Forestry Association
National Association of State Foresters
National Woodland Owners Association
North Carolina Forestry Association
Oregon Women in Timber
Pennsylvania Forestry Association
Society of American Foresters
South Carolina Timber Producers Association
Southern Loggers Cooperative
Treated Wood Council