Sept Oct, 2003





Guest Column

Times Have Changed, But So Have WeÖ

Timber hauling has changed quite a bit since I started more than forty years ago. Gas was nine or ten cents a gallon, a thirty-mile trip to the "dump" was considered far and I was making a whopping twenty bucks a day. I was sitting in tall cotton for sure! My truck was a 1951 International with a 501 Red Diamond gas engine. We could make three trips a day from Red Bridge (near Granite Falls, Washington) to Everett, hauling big spruce (6 to 8 logs) and never dreamed there would come a day when weíd see 130 piece "pecker-pole" loads! Nowadays, diesel is pushing two dollars a gallon, we put on roughly 150,000 miles a year, we face constant danger of environmental terrorism and government regulation creates more paperwork than you can jump over.

We have seen harvest curtailed, wildfires burn thousands of acres of prime timberlands and watched the previous administration march in lock step with preservationists and radical environmental groups. The past decade, deregulation of hauling rates hit hard on the heels of the Northern Spotted Owl fantasy. We faced two major issues at once. Revenues dwindled and costs soared. Hauling competition rose fiercely as the Feds put up fewer sales and those on the block met appeal and protest. Hundreds of loggers and haulers went belly-up in the wake.

Operating costs across the board have skyrocketed with fuel being the major player. I donít think the general public realizes transportation expenses are directly tied to product to- consumer costs, whether youíre hauling logs or donuts. Another impact on trucking has been in the availability of insurance. Fewer companies are willing to underwrite the high-risk logging industry. You just about have to dance to the piperís tune when it comes to premium costs. Loggers have taken a harder hit with environmental terrorism and sabotage of equipment as it has made its way into the woods. About ten years ago, we even started carrying unspecified perils insurance on our trucking equipment to cover vandalism, fire and other unforeseen calamities that can happen if the equipment is left out on the job.

People outside the timber industry donít have a real grip on what we do. Many think that logging is spying a big stand of timber, cutting it down and leaving a "big hole" in the woods. Theyíve been led to believe that there are no rules, regulations and that we donít care what happens in the woods. If they thought about it they would realize that the timber we have today is there because of us not in spite of us! Logging has been a learning experience over centuries. We have been accused of destroying more than weíve maintained, but the truth is that we have better techniques and management programs than ever.

Research and development of environmentally sensitive equipment has changed the industry forever. Even more than that, loggers are aware of issues affecting operations and harvest and are more politically involved than ever. Itís no longer business as usual, everyone from the rigginí crew to the forester, logging contractor to the trucker knows we have to stay alert if we are going to stay in business. The Bush Administration is moving forward with the Healthy Forests Initiative to balance harvest and protection. We need to participate in the process. We canít get complacent just because thereís a crack in the door. Itís important to stay aware and monitor what is happening.

I know a lot of guys who swear they couldnít write a letter to their congressman if they were paid. Itís time to get over that attitude. Itís not how fancy you say whatís on your mind, itís that you say it at all. Since 1990 I have gone to more hearings and meetings than I care to remember. Iíve been overheated by hot air politicians with empty promises, but I believe the industry wouldnít be alive today if we hadnít been proactive. Logging is a key component in the economic equation locally, statewide and federally. There have always been peaks and valleys, but the last go-round was an extreme effort to shut down all harvest by people who donít understand forest dynamics.

Its up to all of us to make sure it doesnít happen again. Yes, times have changed but so have we. We are professional timber producers whether landowner, loader operator, riggin-rat or log trucker. Thereís a new realization that we arenít knuckle-dragging cavemen with snoose dripping from our lip, an axe in one hand and a beer in the other. Timber production is a vital industry and we have an important part to play in its future. Letís make sure itís in a leadership capacity.

Bob has been hauling logs for over four decades. He was chapter chairman of the Washington Log Truckers Conference a division of the Washington Trucking Association Ď82-Ď91; VP of the Washington Lands Coalition from í91-í98; served as a charter member of the Kenworth Drivers' Board, organized to promote trucking safety and education; and co-chaired the Insurance Committee for the Washington Log Truckers' Conference for five years.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004