Maine logging and forest trucking contractors have joined a national effort seeking federal relief for their industry at a time when COVID-19 and its economic impacts are threatening the survival of the companies on which the entire U.S. forest economy depends.

Here in Maine, the industry was introduced to COVID-19 back in January and February as export markets started to shut down, bringing about an abrupt end to their busiest time of year even before the state began to see the impacts of the disease. A short and warm winter added insult to injury for most loggers as they hoped for the best but prepared for the worst. Yet, with typical tenacity, our state’s family logging and forest trucking businesses persevered, as they were deemed essential and felt that a growing demand for wood fiber during the pandemic could lift them back to health.

This optimism quickly turned to despair as the twin shocks of the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Maine and across the United States as well as the explosion at the Pixelle Specialty Solutions pulp mill in Jay struck within weeks of one another, and everything changed.

How bad is it? A recent survey of the membership of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the state’s trade association for loggers and forest truckers, found that 88 percent of respondents have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Those impacts include revenue losses, layoffs, loss of clients, reduced productivity and inability to plan for the future. Many respondents reported experiencing all these effects. The companies responding to the survey represented 44 percent of the total membership of Professional Logging Contractors, and the predicted harvest losses for this subgroup alone would represent a minimum 6.8 percent of Maine’s total wood harvest for 2018 (the most recent year for which data are available). As time goes on and market impacts are continuing to spiral, it is our prediction that a minimum of 20 percent of the annual timber harvest could be affected. A 20 percent reduction in timber harvesting means a nearly $86 million direct economic loss for the Maine economy and over 600 jobs eliminated. Clearly, a lot is on the line.

Maine’s story is very consistent with other timber-producing states where mills have reduced their consumption of wood during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of reduced or lost markets. Combined with high operating costs and low returns on investments, this collapse in wood demand threatens the survival of logging and log hauling businesses and means that capacity throughout the United States could be deeply reduced by this crisis. In Maine of course, the loss of the Pixelle pulp mill in Jay has greatly compounded this issue.

In order to sustain the supply chain, the 34 member associations of the national American Loggers Council, which includes the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, have coalesced around a proposal that would provide direct federal assistance to both professional timber harvesting businesses and log trucking businesses.

Under this proposal, $2.5 billion would be reserved for contractors that harvested and/or delivered wood to various mills across the country in 2019 to apply for low-interest loans or grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist them with their ability to continue business operations for the next 12 months while their markets attempt to recover, much like the assistance already given to producers of agricultural and seafood commodities.

If a company that applies for and receives the funding can prove that their revenues or volume delivered are down 10 percent or more from 2019, the funds will be treated as a grant and forgiven. If company revenues are down less than 10 percent than what they declared in 2019, the funds will become a low-interest loan and need to be repaid.

The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine led early efforts to seek this proposed relief package and has urged Maine’s congressional delegation to support it. If successful, it would be the first direct aid to the logging and forest trucking industry of the pandemic and perhaps one of the only times in U.S. history that Congress has helped loggers and truckers directly.

Maine loggers and forest truckers have seen what has been done to help their sisters and brothers in the farming and fishing industries, even before the impact on those industries had been realized, and now they hope that their representatives in Washington, D.C., will do the same for them. Loggers and truckers are essential to our economy only if they are in business to do the job.


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