By Danny Dructor – Executive Vice President
With our Spring Board of Directors meeting in Washington, DC taking place toward the end of March, we thought that it would be important to keep you informed of the many issues that the American Loggers Council (ALC) would be presenting to our elected representatives on your behalf.
For the past few months, members of the American Loggers Council have used this editorial as a platform to keep you informed on the necessity of reforming the Clean Water Act through the passage of the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act that would make permanent the silvicultural exemptions from the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program. While this issue continues to be a priority issue with the ALC, and we remain heavily engaged in seeking a favorable outcome that would take away yet another regulatory burden on our industry, it is not the only focus of our legislative advocacy.
There are other issues that are impacting all of our businesses and ability to operate profitably in the woods, and although some might be more regional in scope than others, we feel that to have a viable industry, then all must be addressed.
In early February, the House Transportation Committee marked up and passed its version of the Highway Bill, which at first included language supporting increased truck weights on the Federal Interstate Highway System, but that language was amended favoring a three year study on the impact of heavier truck weights on safety and the highway infrastructure. While the ALC as an organization favors allowing already existing state truck weight tolerances on the Federal Interstate Highway System to allow a safer and oftentimes shorter route to the mills, the question remains, how do you get the heavier weights to the Interstate? With shrinking county budgets, we will be hard pressed to get support from state and local governments to approve a blanket policy of heavier weights. We will once again be offering up a solution that all states could support, instead of a one size fits all type of program, and one that does not offer up the potential of reducing freight rates simply because our payloads will be increased.
The heavier weights and funding for road repair on secondary roads leads us into another issue which is the ability to access and harvest federal timber sales through a viable federal timber sale program. For years, counties that have a large percentage of federal timber land ownership have depended on the receipts of the federal timber sale program to fund both their schools and county road systems. With the downward spiral that the federal timber sale program has taken, and the inability of Congress to pass an extension of the program that has propped up those funds while seeking a permanent solution, our rural road infrastructure in those counties has taken a hit. County commissioners are not going to support heavier truck weights at a time when their budgets are being cut. We will be asking members of Congress to support a budget for 2013 which will increase the allowable cut on federal forest lands that should, in turn, give the counties more funding to work with, thus allowing an opportunity to transport the increased weights.
Another issue that continues to burden our industry and those that we service and supply is the concern over the loss of logging capacity and where will the next generation of loggers come from. Logging, like farming, is what we like to call a generational industry, where the family business is oftentimes passed down from one generation to the next. Under current regulation, a young man or woman is unable to work in the timber harvesting profession until they have reached the age of 18. Many, by that time, have already made the decision to seek other opportunities and professions that they have worked in at an earlier age. We will be asking members of Congress to consider allowing family members of a logging business the opportunity to begin working in the woods at 16 years of age. Safety will continue to be a priority concern, but if we are going to pass our businesses down to our children, then we must have the ability to begin training them at an early age just as many of those in the farming community are able to do.
We will also be reminding Congress that markets play a critical role in the future of our industry. Although woody biomass utilization continues to be plagued with both real and artificial hurdles, it will be a pathway for creating new domestic and export markets for our products. Reauthorization of the Farm Bill is up for discussion in 2012, and we want to make certain that there are no artificial barriers placed in the way of woody biomass utilization. Our goal in the 2012 Farm Bill will be to ensure that the definition of renewable biomass continues to be broad based and that all fiber sourced from all forest ownerships, both private and public, will be included.
There will be other issues brought to the table by ALC representatives in Washington, DC this year, some focused on individual state issues and others on federal policy that either restricts or enhances the industry. Whatever the issue is, you can bet that the overall focus of the American Loggers Council will be to promote those issues that will help to create jobs, provide regulatory burden relief, and inform members of Congress on the importance of the timber harvesting industry to the nation’s economy.
Our hope is that as you learn more about these issues, then you also will become involved with the many volunteers out there working on your behalf through state, regional and national timber harvesting organizations to support the industry. While our visits to Washington are important, your voice on the issues is critical to our success.
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.