Glacial Recovery with a Twist

by Mike Crouse, Publisher

Several years ago, at an Associated Oregon Loggers Annual Meeting around 2009 or so, we heard a speaker who suggested we could all significantly reduce our stress levels and blood pressure by changing habits, which included watching network television news, primarily because stories reported, and repeated, typically had little to do with our daily lives, and were rarely given sufficient context, background, or means of resolution to act on changing or solving those events. Thus rather than informing, we were left as observers distracted momentarily and cumulatively adding anxiety to daily lives. Essentially he suggested if you’d like to reduce anxiety levels and maintain a positive outlook, do away with network news, which we have. Works wonders.

We’re not at all sympathetic to the electronic media news people, beyond their choosing to work within a hype-intensive business where style trumps substance. As a whole they’ve made their bed and are sleeping in it. The old adage of “…sleep with dogs, rise with fleas,” applies. The reality of network news resides in the concrete and asphalt of New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles. Independent analysis has given way to pandering for polling numbers, and where bucking the “prevailing wisdom” can kill a career.

We have two realities in our country, and a chasm that’s been greatly expanded, demonstrably by design, during the reign of current administration. Should you work and live in the nation’s capital, in your state’s capital, and be a part of government (especially true at the federal level) over the past six years, life’s been good: increased wages, spectacular benefits (compared to private business), solid retirement, and job stability. As reported from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Reported January 2014, since January 2009) workers (not including postal) on the federal payroll number more than 2.1 million, a 3.2% increase. The budgets, which fund government, come from taxes extracted from business and individuals, that have to be worked for, earned, and paid, in the case of businesses, from profits remaining after expenses and competition. The perspective from government: what recession?

Outside of government, and into the competitive world, markets are gradually improving at a glacial pace, which seems to baffle and annoy the elected class, and with good reason: it’s hard to truly understand that, which you’ve never been a participant in.

Thus it should come as no surprise their approach towards business is motivated not from creating a level playing field, with stable, predictable rules, but from business being a revenue stream for government. The sheer, and ongoing, onslaught of rules and regulations under the guise of “better government” aside from their complexity and the expense of dealing with them, has resulted in a growing body of law that continues to prolong and spawn uncertainty.

While this is a boon to the legal community (who not surprisingly writes these volumes of rules), it is not a boon to business (which hates uncertainty).

And there is no end in sight to the administration’s enthusiasm.

Yet they see no connection between the uncertainty they foster and businesses reluctance to hire and expand. Imagine that?
In spite of all these ongoing barriers, gradually business is recovering, as in the housing market, the demand for housing now exceeds the available number of existing homes. Government’s part in this: close to zero.

And logging’s fortunes?

Over the past several months we’ve heard a common theme from economists and industry leaders of the increasing demand for wood and wood fiber over the next several years, as is evidenced in virtually everyone working and scheduled for jobs well into the future. Recovery is here, and the conversation now includes logging capacity, with the question being can loggers produce enough wood to supply the demand?
In previous business declines of the past few decades as markets recovered there were logging contractors and loggers ready to pick up the and answer that demand, and while there were fewer loggers in numbers, technical advances in equipment allowed production to increase and supply that demand.

However this “Great Recession” cycle we’re just now recovering from was like no other any of us (under the age of 80) have ever seen. The breadth and scope of the economic downturn eliminated a number of logging companies, a number of mills, and a large segment of the work force.

The companies standing today are diverse, staffed primarily by versatile, experienced veterans, with equipment that’s run on the front line of production far longer than most would have thought possible even 15 years ago. Better designed, better built, better maintained, and while due for replacement perhaps several years ago is still running strong.

Yet regardless of how well built, designed and maintained, deferring purchase for the past six to seven years creates a different environment entirely from what you’ve been involved with over the span of your company’s life. Trade-in values have changed significantly just due to time, and replacing with new (or newer) equipment will be far more costly… equipment manufacturers costs have continued increases both from the cost of labor and materials.

So we are seeing a recovery after years of draining reserves, with equipment that should be updated, higher costs for new equipment, and the recent painful memory of the Great Recession.

In December 2013’s “From the Stump” we’d talked at length about the paper by the Wood Supply Research Institute (WSRI) titled: Wood Supply Chain Analysis 2013. Essentially this study stated that, “…wood suppliers will need to have a reasonable investment environment to be willing to spend capital to expand operations on a timely basis.” Indeed they (meaning you) will.

Even more to the point, will the business environment change to the point where logging can attract and retain a younger work force, who have a number of options available to them?

For the many issues that face our industry, the uncertainty of the past several years is not only unnerving to business, but unnerving to our younger generation who is hungry to be a part of the American Dream.

It’s a twist the in recovery story that will not go away with platitudes and promises. It will take a reward commensurate to or exceeding the risks, not just in the immediate but in the long term to attract tomorrow’s work force. Comparatively speaking, equipment to answer logging capacity demands is the easy part of the equation. Skilled operators for that machinery takes time, experience, wages and benefits that can attract and hold tomorrow’s work force.

The good news

The 1970’s produced a flock of legislation passed and enacted without a lot of forethought (imagine, congress would do something so dense?), including child labor laws eventually removed those under 18 from working. Sounded good, but had some unforeseen consequences. The agriculture industry has long enjoyed regulatory exemptions that permit family members between the ages of sixteen and seventeen to participate and learn the operations of the family business under the direct supervision of their parents. Finally Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) introduced H.R. 4590, the Future Logging Careers Act to the House on May 7th. This bill amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to allow for sixteen and seventeen year olds in mechanized logging operations to work in the business under parental supervision.

The Future Logging Careers Act, if passed, would ensure the next generation’s opportunity to learn and operate mechanical timber harvesters, safety training and experience under close supervision of their parents.

Contact and encourage your local congressional representative to sign on, sponsor and support this legislation, and the reasons why.
Our compliments to Congressman Labrador, and the American Loggers Council for their support of this legislation.

Innovations

There wasn’t sufficient room in the April issue to display some of the innovations introduced at the April Intermountain Logging Conference in Spokane that may be worth your interest.

The first was a dual arch telescopic boom swinging grapple mounted on a John Deere 848H skidder, which Bill Jones designed and has had in field use for some while (30,000 hours roughly). It’s a serious swing grapple which extends several feet. We found it an interesting and innovative approach that could be worth your time and interest. Jones has been a long-time fixture in the logging business and currently is the used equipment manager for Triple W Equipment in Missoula, Montana (406) 549-4171.

The other came out of the University of Idaho and called The Choker Keeper, which we found at the Intermountain, which appeared as a large (10-13 inch roughly) aluminum donut. But it’s what’s inside that counts: a series of magnets arranged within the aluminum housing, which rides below the carriage at the same length as the chokers bells. Where chokers typically are swinging loosely and need to be corralled and untangled, The Choker Keeper will magnetically attract those chokers to the aluminum ring and hold them securely. They’ve filed a patent on the device and it’s currently undergoing field trials for contractors to evaluate and improve the design.