November Issue: The Long Vision...American Loggers Council

This past month (late September) we flew across the country to the Midwest for the first time in several years to attend the 17th annual Meeting of the American Loggers Council, catch a story with outgoing ALC President, Matt Jensen, and spend some time with some family back there, driving several hundred miles in the process. In the past 20+ years we’ve traveled all over the state of Wisconsin, through the array of timber types, with the local logging professionals using an array of harvesting systems, mostly ground based, and cut-to-length systems.

All in all it was a very good trip in no small part to the changing fall color displays in the Wisconsin hardwoods and the good company of the loggers and friends we have there.

It was on a similar trip to the Lake State Logging Congress in the early 90s held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that Finley Hays introduced me to a friend he’d known for several years, Spalding, Michigan logger, Earl St. John. That meeting was fortunate in a number of ways in that St. John had been active in Michigan politics a number of years, in addition to being a very active logger involved in community and the growing politics involved with logging industry.

Amongst the interests St. John shared with Hays was the mutual dream of eventually forming a national organization of loggers, a daunting task but still something that was on the radar screen even then.

A few years later, with the original Sustainable Forest Initiative’s (SFI) proposal contained some sections that caused considerable heartburn to many professional loggers, which set the wheels in motion, incentivizing loggers to clearly define their own interests as a professional group of loggers, organized and run by loggers.

The driving force drawing loggers from all over the nation was earl St. John, along with MLA executive Keith Olson (and member of the Western Logging Council), George Mitchell (Northeastern Loggers), Joe Allen (Southeast Loggers in Georgia and Florida, and several others, who then assembled some 44 members strong in St. Louis, Missouri the end of September 1994, and by the end of Saturday (October 1st) had established the American Loggers Council (ALC), naming St. John as its first president.

That was 17 short years ago, and over those years the ALC continues to evolve and refine its mission in fulfilling the expectations outlined by St. John in 1994, noting it was, “...an opportunity to guide the destiny of our profession.”

There is a uniquely distinct difference between the American Loggers Council and other national organizations involved in the logging industry that begins with funding. While there are other national organizations involved with loggers, the lion’s share of the funding (and thus the allegiance) comes from industry. The result of that is when push comes to shove, when lumped with industry, the professional loggers point of view can be, and has been, either entirely lost or significantly diminished. The signature on the check dictates your point of view.

Another distinct difference: leadership. The ALC’s board of directors, and general membership, are all professional full-time contract loggers. Their executive director, Danny Dructor, is both a forester and a former contract logger. There is no question as to the legitimacy of that membership, and who they represent.

The greatest distinction comes from the ALC's presence, and respect, in our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. While some of you may scoff at that having no effect on you, consider carefully the issue of “public license” when dealing with forests in our nation, rather they are on public or private land. No license, no logging. For all that transpires with changing laws, rules, regulations, and perpetual federal planning, when the tire hits the road the hands that physically do the work on the ground are not the gions of attorneys, lobbyists, demonstrators, or media, it is the logger.

In today’s world, like it or not, being active politically, being visible and present within the legislative process, and bringing your recognized expertise and point of view to the political table is not an option, but a necessity. Prior to 1994 the voice of loggers nationally was indistinct, filtered through the lens of industry, or the viewpoint of the environmental industry.

With the American Loggers Council, you have an unfettered voice, a clear image, and a refined vision that may be in concert with industry, but is distinct both in perspective and point of view.

The ALC is a benefit to both your business and your profession that delivers a great deal of bang for the buck, not only in the short range but also the long range. Funding is tight for everyone over the past several years, and the moneys that support the ALC comes not only from individual contractors but collectively from the many state and regional logging associations throughout the nation. As each state association considers allocations for the coming years, it is critical they maintain not only the short, but the long term vision of the future of our industry, which in today’s world is directly linked with not only state but the federal legislatures. The investment over the past two decades of the ALC has elevated the status of logging and loggers, both as a profession and as the practical practitioners of on-the-ground forestry. The ALC is a respected voice on Capital Hill both with a seat at the table with decision makers, whose opinion is sought, and whose insight is valued.

Invest your time to know, then give your time and support to the ALC. It has evolved with the changing landscape of time, and continues to work diligently on your behalf. Rather you sweep the floors in the shop, work in the rigging, operate machinery or drive truck, the ALC works for you, and delivers on the promise of better logging, improved public perception and sustainable forestry.

Given the season, you have cause to give thanks for the foresight of the men such as earl St. John who formed the aLc 17 years ago. the issue is do you have the foresight to see the importance of being a part, investing, and supporting the influence the American Loggers Council has on the legislative and regulatory framework that affects our business presently and more so into the future? “I’m going to a meeting to protect your job.”

The pleasure in attending the ALC annual meeting comes from the company of busy people, true leaders, and doers... common traits amongst most people in this business. they share the perception, which they’ve acted upon, that we are in a public business that demands participation and if we don’t speak up and act, we sacrifice our future.

Many members we’ve come to know well over the past 17 years, and they share their dc lobbying experiences in a very positive light.

Florida logger Charles Johns (and former ALC President) noted the ALC often shocked members of congress. “they were pleased to find we didn’t want any money,” Johns said with a smile, “and that we came with solutions.” Solutions that made money, provided jobs, enhanced the local economy and benefited the forests, and provided an income stream to government... a very different message, and one we can deliver on.

Time is limited, especially in the business of logging. When questioned his leaving the job site early one day, this year’s president Matt Jenson replied explaining, “I’m going to a meeting to protect your job.”

We hear similar comments throughout the courses of the annual meeting each year. In addition, there’s a lot of sharing on different logging systems, challenges with various state rules, regulations, changing BMP’s, finding new crew members, and emerging technologies that increase efficiencies and improve the quality and bottom line of the operations.

But in the final analysis, the common thread is being re-energized by the energy and enthusiasm from the membership at the conference, from not just sharing problems but sharing solutions.

A final word the appallingly shallow view by both media, and many in government, on business and capitalism, revolves on the concept of greed, and particularly in today’s political arena of this administration’s shameless promoting of class warfare.

The message’s framework appears to be that in business, “greed is bad,” yet at the same time “growth in government in both size and power is good.” The irony here comes from the word “growth” in government is in practice no different that the world “greed” yet it embodies precisely the same issue.

Our federal government, contrary to the expressed interests of many in government, was specifically intended to have precise limits in power, size and scope. Yet self-deemed “progressives” would cheerfully abandon all sense of limits on taxes, spending, or growth of power for their own aggrandizement, which seems to define greed very well... knowing or recognizing no limits.

The grandest gap in understanding between business and government is understanding risk. The nature of business is risk... there are no guarantees. When you “invest” in business, you’re placing your own money at risk, in the belief that you can make a good profit. On the other hand, when we (the public) “invests” (is taxed), we’re pushing money into a demonstrably wasteful system, in no small part because the consistency of controls and accountability is questionable, there’s limited accountability, and no particular interest by the management team to control (or limit) either those expenses or the long term sustainability of the outcome.

Thus when this particular president, and his management team, are touting “investment” the meaning of the term, and sincerity of the long term claim of “investing” is challenging to believe.

The difference that truly has no response from the (largely public relations term) “progressives” is accountability, for which their side at the table can speak in theory. In capitalism, success is survival, and failure is termination. In progressive circles, success is growth, failure is more growth, and more public monies spent with reckless abandon. Thus the “understanding” gap is so demonstrably vast between this administration and reality, his addressing issues business beyond pretentious. The solution, we hope, is forthcoming a year from now.