November 03, 2021
While Melissa and I drove down to look at furniture we passed a sawmill located just off the road on Hwy 71. The sawmill had thousands of cut and stripped logs stacked and ready to be cut. There were others piles of cut lumber that had been processed stacked and ready for shipping. Other huge piles held the saw dust that was the result of cutting the logs into useable sections, and then into the right size planks for use in construction projects. You could see the steam rising from the drying kilns and smell the fresh cut logs in the air. I was surprised by the piles as I did not know Arkansas had a sawmill. That is a lot of trees.
When I looked online, I found Sawmills are important to the economy throughout the nation. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, the US forest products industry manufactures almost $300 billion in products a year and employs about 1 million workers. Privately-owned forests support over 2 million jobs and provide 91% of the wood harvested and sent to a sawmill in the country. The US is a major exporter of forest products, selling products such as wood pellets, sawn wood, pulp for paper, and paper and paperboard. The demand for lumber continues to be strong, and industry experts expect it to grow with new housing construction and remodeling projects. The average (?) 2,400-square-foot home needs over 16,000 feet of lumber for framing. Each American consumes the equivalent of a 100-foot-tall tree each year in wood and paper products. That is a lot of paper.
According to IBISWorld market research, there are over 3,000 businesses in the United States in the sawmill and wood production industry. That includes hardwood and softwood lumber, as well as wood chips and wood product preservation. The US Lumber Coalition states there are 550 lumber sawmills in the country. In Arkansas, the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas had six sawmills, the southern Ozark Mountains just north of the Arkansas River had two, another was in the southeast of the state, and there was even one located in Fort Smith. Arkansas ranks as the sixth largest lumber producing state in the US, and according to Global Wood Markets Info, the Canadian company West Fraser who owns four of the state’s sawmills, is the largest softwood lumber supplier in the world, producing 6.6 billion board feet of lumber products in 2018. That is a lot of boards.
Thoughts: Working in the lumber industry is extremely dangerous. The equipment poses numerous hazards as massive weights and sliding logs can be dangerous. Operation of a sawmill is also dangerous. Employees suffer lacerations, amputations, severed fingers, and blindness. The wood dust and chemicals used for finishing products cause respiratory and skin diseases. Sawmill hazards are more dangerous when environmental conditions like rough terrain, inclement weather, and isolated work cause difficulties to access health care. According to a recent study, logging is the most dangerous job in America. The rate of fatal accidents in the logging industry is 98 fatalities per 100,000, or 28 times higher than the all-worker rate of 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. That is a lot of people. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.