Tree Planters Feeling Pinch of Cuts

Nancy Cole, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), March 5, 2008

Some tree-planting contractors in Arkansas are going out of business because of a shortage of H-2 B guest-worker visas.

“It put me out of business,” said Chuck Hoover, a Monticello-based forestry contractor who began hiring H-2 B workers in 1999.

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Those wanting their land planted with seedlings will be served, if a bit late this year, said Allan Murray, who manages the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s Baucum Nursery just east of Little Rock. That’s because some land owners were hesitant to commit to seedlings due to the uncertainty of the Farm Bill and its reforestation incentives, and high grain prices make farming more attractive than trees, he said.

Hoover wanted to employ 40 H-2 B planters from Mexico but received none. The inability to plant seedlings jeopardizes the demand for Hoover’s other work, which involves spraying, burning and ripping land to prepare it for planting.

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Finding U. S. workers to plant seedlings has become increasingly difficult during the past 45 years, said Bryan Davis, a forester with Little Rock-based Davis DuBose Forestry Real Estate Consultants.

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The problems with hiring foreign workers are rooted in federal legislation.

Section H-2 B of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 permits nonimmigrant foreigners to enter the United States each year to perform temporary services on a seasonal basis. Forestry, construction, hospitality, fisheries, landscaping and golf course maintenance are just a few of the sectors that use H-2 B workers.

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Demand for H-2 B workers continues to be strong, said Ian Thomas Hardin, an attorney with Immigration Law Associates of Cape Girardeau, Mo.

The 33, 000 cap for the first half of fiscal year 2008 was met Oct. 1 and, “by the first week of January, the April ones were already gone,” Hardin said.

In Arkansas, requests for more than 8, 000 H-2 B workers were filed in 2006 and nearly 7, 000 in 2007, representing more than 10 percent of the national quota.

The Forest Landowners Association, which represents private, nonindustrial landowners, has petitioned the U. S. Department of Labor to permit tree planters to enter the country under H-2 A visas. A companion of the H-2 B program, H-2 A, which is designed for agricultural laborers, has no annual visa cap.

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