"Who Wants to Work in the Logging Business?" by Alpha Unit

The logging business in Arkansas has been down so long, says Jan Cottingham, that people are skeptical of any predictions of an upturn. And yet some observers are that confident. What they wonder is whether or not the workers will be there to meet the demand.
Labor concerns in Arkansas reflect what’s going on nationwide: the lumber industry workforce is reaching retirement age and employers don’t know if they’ll see new recruitment coming in. Even with some modest increases in the labor force, challenges remain in drawing young people to the industry.
Much like farming, the logging industry is often multi-generational and family-run, says Matt Jensen. He is the vice president of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and a third-generation logger. He says:

This is a business that is really hard to learn and it’s really a lifestyle. If you don’t teach your children the work ethic, they’re not going to continue.

One of the biggest challenges facing the forestry industry is the negative perception about wood usage, according to Scott Bowe of the University of Wisconsin. He thinks it’s hypocritical, because people use wood everyday. “We need fresh, young people to carry the business forward,” he says. “We consume more wood every year. The wood’s got to come from somewhere.”
The question is, who will replace the current generation of loggers?
Logging is capital-intensive, requiring an initial investment of roughly $1 million for heavy equipment like fellers, which cut the trees; skidders, which move the felled trees; processors, which de-limb the trees; and loaders, which lift the logs from piles to trucks. Lenders are reluctant to provide money for new logging businesses.
Whether the businesses are new or established, the amount of work you do depends on the weather. In Arkansas, logging time can be about 40 weeks out of the year. So you’re not going to make a lot of money working in this business. The appeal just isn’t there for a lot of young people.
Steve Richardson owns a logging business in Arkansas and says that every logger has either gotten more productive with fewer people or has gone out of business. Some timber companies are considering forming their own logging crews, a practice that largely disappeared when workers’ compensation insurance rates soared. Vertical integration, in which a company owns the supply chain for its products, used to be typical in the industry, but Richardson is skeptical of its reinstation, saying that those companies don’t know how to work this labor.

These folks that work for me are fiercely independent. They’re not college graduates. They want to make a living, they want to go hunting and fishing on the weekend, and some of them want to start getting drunk on Friday afternoon.

And that mindset doesn’t fit with most business plans, Cottingham says.
Marvin Larrabee of Elk Mound, Wisconsin, says that logging almost has to be passed down in the family. He has four sons assisting him in the business but knows how hard it would be for them to strike out on their own. The expensive equipment is just the start of it. Loggers also have high fuel costs and extremely high insurance premiums. The occupation is consistently ranked one of the most hazardous in the country.
Larry Altman of Vermont was a logger for 20 years. He has pins in his ankle from the time a tree fell on him. On another occasion, his arm was crushed between two logs, but luckily he was working that day with a friend who freed him 45 minutes later.
“You’ll get hurt bad at least one time logging,” he says.
Altman says he’d still do it if you could make money at it, but you can’t.

In this whole picture, there’s a ceiling, and that ceiling is the price paid at the mill. There’s very little wiggle room for the individual logger.

The roots of logging run deep in Vermont. Its first sawmill opened in 1739, and by the middle of the 19th century logging had become Vermont’s largest and most lucrative industry. But today, says Larry Altman, many people, especially in Burlington, have no idea that logging still goes on in Vermont.
Those that become aware of it lump the local timber industry in with large-scale, ecologically devastating logging operations in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, South America, and Asia. The fact is, the vast majority of local loggers are sole proprietors, working alone in the woods, usually equipped with little more than a chainsaw, skidder, bulldozer, and truck.
Some young people are drawn, nevertheless, to the logging business. Will Coleman, 26, and his brother Wesley, 24, started Coleman Brothers Logging LLC, in December 2012. They operate out of Richburg, South Carolina, harvesting pulpwood and saw timber.
The Coleman brothers were able to buy a used Tigercat skidder and feller/buncher with a loan from Natural Capital Investment Fund’s Logging Initiative. NCIF is a business loan fund that provides debt financing to small businesses in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, south Georgia, and the Appalachian regions of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio.
The Coleman brothers say they doubled their loads in the first week after running the equipment they purchased with their loan.
Out on the West Coast, Billy Zimmerman, 25, has launched his own company, Zimmerman Logging LLC, in Rainier, Oregon. Zimmerman was raised on a tree farm his great-grandfather bought in the 1920s, and discovered his love of tree farming at age 10, when his father let him set chokers – setting cables around logs so they can be hauled away – for the first time. He helped his father with farming before and after school and after football practice.
In December of last year he decided to go into business for himself. His father gave him a bulldozer, saving him the $160,000 he might have needed for a new one, and his parents gave him $3,000 in seed money. He was in business by March, with a company consisting of Zimmerman, his best friend, and his father Ron.
Zimmerman works 11-hour days and is willing to underbid others so he can build a client base and his reputation. And his specialty are small jobs. As he puts it:

There are a ton of little 5- and 10-acre jobs that the guys with big machines cannot justify bringing out there to work that job. But we can. We found our niche in smaller jobs, at least for now, and for what we have it’s been working well.

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25 thoughts on “"Who Wants to Work in the Logging Business?" by Alpha Unit”

      1. There is an evaluation made that the workers are all getting old and that younger people are not interested in taking up the occupation. However, the article does not make any reference to which parts of the world a survey was conducted upon, upon which the resultant conclusion was reached, and as such, lacks a certain degree of credibility.

    1. And Canada. The Forest Industry has the highest fatality rates of all Canadian industries. Working on the ground around heavy equipment, rigging or high lines and in the immediate vicinity of large loads and on uneven and cluttered ground combined with extreme environmental conditions and long distances to primary medical care make for a very risky environment. There’s a good reason words like widow maker, dead head and such are used. It kills a lot of people every year.

    1. “Wood is a good insulator as a building material”. It conducts much less than concrete or steel, I would disagree its a good insulator, even when chipped. There are better choices.

  1. Sorry for seeming somewhat obtuse in my comments, but come on, what is it with the assumption that everyone in the world must adjust to American thought processes as an automatic default in the manner in which they think. I am forced now in the UK to ask for ” French Fries” in a fast food convenience outlet, even though the person saying to me in the establishment understands the things to be ” chips”. I switch on the telivision and hear a UK advertisement trying to get me to buy a Mobil phone, when that oil company does not manufacture the things for export to the UK. I watch a film where people talk about the IRS, and the world is supposed to bow to an understanding that it is not an abbreviation for irritable bowel syndrome. The entire world plays a game undetstood to be football, which is a game involving the use of the foot, but that is complete nonsense, oh no, that,s not football, it’s soccer. And believe me, it is common to be corrected upon it. Talk about football to any US person, and they will correct you, ” you mean soccer” like it is an annoyance to hem that the entire works does not seem to understand that they use the wrong terminology.

    1. Why shouldn’t americans in an American film refer to the IRS? That’s exactly how they would refer to it so that’s how hey should refer to it in the film. I think we gain by getting to watch them.
      The soccer thing works the other way. Americans are constantly condescended to and corrected for calling it soccer, kind of like you just did, even though the word soccer is a 19th century English word with its origins at the beginning of professional football and even though american football developed from an English game that was called rugby football ie the rugby school version of football. Another interpretation of the word is that you are on foot.
      Lastly, in he fast food restaurant you referred to, the staff may call them French fries but they don’t force you to…you can ask for a cheeseburger and chips, like everyone does, and they don’t refuse to get your order until you have said French fries. If american things are such a problem for you, perhaps you should just avoid macdonalds.

      1. Ps I think it’s unreasonable to expect Americans to call it football when they already have a game called football. It would be confusing. They’ve probably chosen the next best word, in line with English tradition. If you didn’t know, Soccer comes from ‘asSOCiation football’.
        That one works both ways. there are definitely a lot of people telling Americans they should call soccer football and making self confident statements about the superiority and correctness of calling that game football.

  2. Please accept my apology for the nature of my comments. I have reached an age when people can become grumpy cynical old pains in the butt and therefore, upon reflection,so sorry for above comments as they were not deserved. Also, the issue can be found the world over. In my country, the UK for example, there s common reference made to English and specifically Yorkshire Tea. You will have a difficult task finding the tea plantations of the Yorkshire Dales. Similarly, Italian coffee and descriptions of Italan coffee, as you get confronted with in resteraunts. If you mention a preference for the stuff that actually comes from Brazil, you just get looked at like you are the idiot.
    Anyway, all the best with your research and deliberations upon the industry. One thing that I have noticed, is at in many countries, the cost of hardwoods and certain decorative soft woods like red mahogany are becoming prohibitive, which seems strange, because in other paces lie the Far East, it s very cheap, so something odd going on there.

  3. This generation doing logging? Yeah right, the closest they’ve come to flannel shirts is watching a grunge band, LOL.
    Somebody will do the job. Perhaps Mexicans will.

      1. If tattoos were mandatory and you had to have one, of what would it be? I’d have a highly detailed, color RFK … where I’m not sure, but it would be of his face, not his initials.

  4. People hate on Mexicans, but actually, few white men could pick vegetables like them. Well, they could eventually, but it would be hard to adjust.

    1. Wages in Mexico are roughly 1/6 of US wages. American wages roughly $15/hr. Pay an American six times his normal wage $90/hr and I doubt there’s ANYTHING he wouldn’t do. Americans go to Iraq as mercenaries for that kind of money.

  5. Let’s see, there’s a huge demand for math, cause it’s difficult, hence, nobody wants to do it. Same goes with blue collar jobs like logging. So maybe the “oppression” thing is exaggerated. Maybe people are not doing well, cause they’ve gotten soft, and aren’t willing to work.

    1. Or maybe we can get into this “mens rights” baloney, where men aren’t willing to lift weights, but wonder why chicks ignore them.

    2. Do you see what a colossal prick I sound like, HA HA, LOL But that’s how all kinds of Republicans sound. Even Rush Limbaugh mocked Robin Williams suicide, calling him a pussy (in a polite way).

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