The pain of being a New England logger

2010-04-27 Ashley Bach

Last week we wrote about the radical manuever by state officials in Massachusetts to more than quadruple the amount of state forestland that is off-limits to harvest. Now we are hearing about the consequences of that decision.

The Boston Globe just wrote a compelling story about the plight of Massachusetts loggers now that the new policy has been approved. The forestry industry there is small — 28th out of 50 states — but the state’s decision was drastic and it will have a devastating impact on anyone who makes their living on forestry.

Just the numbers alone tell a sad story. According to the Globe article: “Today, about 40,000 acres, or 13 percent of the forests and parks managed by the (Massachusetts) Department of Conservation and Recreation, are off-limits to logging. Under the new plan, logging will be banned on at least 185,000 acres, or 60 percent of the lands.”

According to the Globe story, the demand for wood products in the state remains high, and yet the timber industry has had to rely on relatively small projects to survive. And this is before the wider forestry ban goes into effect.

The tale of this particular logger and his son is a clear window into how the forestry ban will impact the industry:

Tom King, 61, of Hubbardston, has made his living harvesting DCR lands. But with the slowdown of logging on state lands, he and his son, who works for him, have been out of work for seven weeks. “It’s the first time we’ve been shut down,’’ said King, who has been working state lands for 25 years. “It’s basically a bunch of antilogging forestry people who want no cutting at all.’’

“Governor [Deval] Patrick is selling us down the drain,’’ King said. “He’s promoting things that will create jobs. Well, this won’t.’’

He is struggling now: two pieces of machinery worth $900,000 require a $10,000-a-month bank payment. Health insurance costs are high, as is workers’ compensation, for a job that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ranks as one of the most dangerous in the country.

While things might be better for loggers in the West, the move by state government in Massachusetts is alarming. Certainly if some environmental groups had their way, the forestry industry as we know it in the West would cease to exist, so it’s important for us to keep an eye on any threats to our way of life.