The term logging capacity appears to be the latest buzz word in our industry. There has been considerable discussion on the subject from mills to timberland owners to loggers and most everyone in between. While I admit that the issue is serious to the long term sustainability of the timber industry, the reasons for the shortage are as varied as the potential solutions being offered up. To complicate things even further, the reasons and potential solutions are generally quite different depending on which segment of the industry one is speaking to.
Numerous articles have been written dealing with the many facets of the logging capacity shortage but the one I’d like to touch on is labor. For a business to succeed it has to have an experienced and stable workforce among other things. For a business to continue for generations it needs an experienced management team that can take over when the current owner decides to call it quits.
Like many in this industry my brother and I got started at a very early age by following dad to the woods on weekends and summer vacations. We learned to run each machine by “getting in and pulling levers to see what they do” as our dad would always tell us. We learned to run the operation by following in his footsteps, asking a lot of questions, and learning from our mistakes.
While it hasn’t always been easy there is nothing that I would rather be doing. Logging is all I’ve ever done and all I’ve ever wanted to do. With each passing year we get older and closer to calling it quits and the need for someone to take over our operations increases. The question is “Who is that someone and where are they to get the experience that is needed to take over a logging business?” For many the answer could very well be our children just as many of us learned and took over from our parents.
Logging, much like farming, is a generational industry where many of the businesses are family owned and operated and are past down from generation to generation. The two are also very similar in the sense that you are either born into it or are married into it. The number of young people getting into the industry without any family history in logging is few and far between and with good reason.
While many of us started learning the ropes at a young age in the past, today that is not possible or should I say it is not legal per Federal Child Labor Laws. Logging is considered a hazardous occupation and therefore no one under the age of eighteen may be employed in it.
I understand the reason for the law is to protect the young and inexperienced and I surely wouldn’t want to see anyone get injured whether it is one of my kids or someone else but I believe the law is a bit antiquated. The reason I say that is that I feel it was written in the days when hand falling and bucking with chainsaws were the norm, but today, at least in the Lake States Region, chainsaws are the exception not the rule. Mechanization has greatly improved safety over the years and many of today’s modern machines are safer to operate than some of the jobs our kids are allowed to do.
The American Loggers Council (ALC) has been working on this issue for a number of years now with members of Congress and the Department of Labor. We have been trying to get the same exemption afforded our counterparts in agriculture for our immediate family members between the ages of 16 and 18. Today’s modern logging operations are labor intensive, highly mechanized and technical careers that require on-the-ground training in order to train the next generation to be proficient and productive.
This exemption would ensure that the next generation of mechanical timber harvesters can gain the needed on-the-ground training and experience under the close supervision of their parents who have a vested interest in their children’s safety and in passing down the profession to the next generation of timber harvesters.
Brian Nelson is the current President of the American Loggers Council and he and his brother David and father Marvin own and operate Marvin Nelson Forest Products, Inc. based out of Cornell, Michigan.
The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c) (6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact their office at 409-625-0206.