‘Fungible Resource’? Not Loggers, As Survey Emphasizes Business Issues

Article by Dan Shell, Managing Editor, Timber Harvesting July/August 2023

Gathering up the results for this year’s Timber Harvesting Logger Survey, and reading the comments that go with each question is always one of the editors’ favorite parts of the survey report process. We repeatedly ask our readers to “Raise Your Voice” in responding to the survey, and once you add up all the comments we have well over 300 deep (and some not so deep) logger thoughts on a wide variety of topics.

One thing really stood out, and I guess it’s a good thing that even with the fading gray hair I can still be shocked at some industry practices: The logger who noted that an acquaintance in procurement told him that when they really want more logs procurement officials may cut their logging rates, knowing that logging contractors will have to work harder and deliver more wood to the mill just to maintain their operating and cash flow positions.

Now no one’s gonna accuse me of being an economist, but I dimly remember that in general if someone has a demand for more of something, the best way to get it is to pay more. That a mill can apparently get more of what it demands by paying less is highly illustrative of the position that many logging contractors find themselves in.

Knowing the pressures that loggers are under, knowing what has to happen to burp out an extra 2-4-6-8 loads a day, can organizations pursuing such “pay less for more” policies only be viewed as adversarial at best?

Again, I’m no expert and some may say a procurement organization may actually pay more for more loads at a lower rate—but let’s not kid ourselves here. Markets may come and go, rates up and down, but operating costs go one way and have only accelerated the past few years as the survey shows. Being the “cost reduction link” in the forest products supply chain, the logging and log trucking industry “can break even for only so long,” one respondent emphasizes. Meanwhile, the old “make it up with more production” remedy is a false cure at best, one logger says.

Years ago during the Iraq War everyone’s favorite U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, made the offhand comment that U.S. troops were a “fungible resource” like water or maybe even diapers: just use them up and go get some more when you need more. The TH Logger Survey comments show that’s the attitude some wood-consuming organizations have—yet the survey results show nothing can be further from the truth considering the pressure logging contractors are under. Let’s hear what the loggers have to say for themselves:

“The logging industry manages a renewable resource and if done correctly the resource can be managed to provide fiber and jobs forever,” comments California logger Myles Anderson, a former American Loggers Council board member. “In order to keep businesses alive in this industry we need common sense regulation that helps the industry sustain a workforce so that the forest can be managed and not burnt to the ground.”

Anderson believes that one reason the logging industry continues to be labeled as one of the most dangerous in America “because the industry is continually trying to train new employees.”

He adds that “The reduction in available work days from regulation, weather, mill quotas, urban sprawl and a host of other issues impacting rural America is where logging takes place impacts our ability to keep highly trained employees to do this job.”

Getting paid enough in the current operating environment is a big concern. “We are not getting compensation for what we do. If logging is going to survive we have to get trucking In line with competition. The big flooring factories can pay a driver a hundred thousand a year and their insurance is peanuts compared to ours,” says Georgia logger Arnold Hooley, who echoes many loggers who commented that the issues facing log trucking that make operations difficult.

The price of everything goes up but the price we are paid for logs never seems to keep up,” says Tom Walker of Connecticut. “As loggers buy more and more expensive equipment to try to produce more they put themselves in a position where they cannot afford to stop working.”

Walker believes that for too long, “Mills and brokers beat into the heads of loggers that the key to success is big production. This mentality is great for them as they get cheap raw materials. A better approach is to limit production and maximize profits on each log through marketing. This is our wood. We should be telling the mills, brokers etc. what the cost is. Not the other way around. If they don’t pay they don’t get.”

The uncertainty is leading some to reassess what in the past would have been an easy decision. “I would like to pass the business down to my son and grandson, but I now am encouraging them to pursue other careers,” says Louisiana logger Keith Chenevert. “I don’t see how logging will be sustainable for the long term with the cost of everything we use being so high and the cut and haul rates so low.”

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