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May 10, 2024

After crippling storms, disaster relief could be on tap for loggers

streets with snow and vehicles Photo / COURTESy, PROFESSIONAL LOGGING CONTRACTORS Washouts and destroyed infrastructure on Route 16 through central Maine resulted in costly trucking delays in the logging industry.

Maine loggers could receive some economic help after suffering at least $2.6 million in losses from December’s “Grinch” storm, followed by two major storms in January.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine 2nd District, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, this week introduced the Loggers Economic Assistance and Relief Act, which would establish a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program to support loggers who have lost income due to natural disasters. 

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, are cosponsors.

“Currently, there are no programs that help assist loggers with natural disasters,” said Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of the Northeast. 

“After a terribly wet summer and two consecutive warm winters, the Loggers Economic Assistance and Relief Act could provide a lifeline for loggers and forest truckers in Maine that have faced significant obstacles due to extreme weather conditions interrupting their work.”

The Professional Logging Contractors of the Northeast was formerly the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. The trade association of 30 years rebranded last fall to reflect its expansion beyond Maine.

Loggers are excluded from the kinds of disaster relief and assistance available to other industries, including fishing and farming. 

Under the proposed legislation, a disaster declaration from the president or a governor would unlock federal assistance eligibility for logging businesses with at least a 10% loss in revenue or volume compared to the previous year. Covered damage would include high winds, fire, flooding, insect infestation and drought. 

Last December, Maine’s logging industry lost more than $2.6 million — about $51,000 per member company surveyed — after particularly damaging winter weather. The survey, released by the Professional Logging Contractors of the Northeast in January, found that more than 90% of the industry’s businesses suffered damage to equipment or logistics from the Dec. 18 storm alone. 

The survey included responses from more than 50 logging and forest trucking companies ranging in size from one employee to nearly 100. 

Applying a multiplier for the industry utilized by the University of Maine and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center in a recent logging economic impact study for Maine, the total loss to the Maine economy due to the loss in logging revenue and productivity was more than $5.5 million.

“Northeast logging contractors have been hit hard with an unprecedented series of weather challenges over the past 18 months, said Doran. “This has triggered expanded state regulations, which impede harvesting and hauling for long periods of time. While this has created an environmental success story, it has also created an economic disaster due to no fault of the logging community.”

Far-reaching impact

Golden, who authored the legislation, said the industry’s businesses are “pillars for some of Maine’s most rural communities.”

Maine’s forest products industry has historically supported good-paying jobs, driven local economies and strengthened rural communities, noted Collins. 

“Loggers were already facing significant headwinds due to a changing 21st century economy and recent price instability, and the recent damaging storms only compounded those challenges,” she said. 

Maine is not the only Northeast state where loggers are experiencing weather-related losses. In neighboring Vermont, losses from severe storms and flooding have also been extensive. 

Meanwhile, unusually warm winters and rainy conditions are wreaking havoc on the logging industry across the region. Persistently rainy conditions have made many forested areas too wet to harvest and required time consuming and expensive efforts on the part of logging contractors to protect water quality and soils in others. The lack of deeply frozen ground in the winters is having a chilling effect on operations and profitability.

“Protecting forest health, infrastructure, and water quality are things that benefit all citizens in the Northeast, yet in many cases logging contractors are bearing the full cost of hardening log landings, installing additional culverts, repairing logging roads and bridges, and undertaking sediment control efforts,” Doran said. “We need to provide relief to the industry by reducing their costs while there is still time to help, because losses are mounting quickly.”

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