Maine’s logging industry has a problem, according to a University of Maine study funded by the trade group Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.
“Using information from the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages, in Maine the industry saw a 15% decline in total number of jobs, while the jobs in the industry nationally dropped 9%, between 2014 and 2021,” the study said. That was with annual 2021 earnings of $65 thousand per job.
“In the last 3 years… about a third of the logging company has essentially walked away for a multitude of reasons, the suppressed market prices that they get paid for wasn’t keeping up with inflation,” Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, told Scripps News. “They couldn’t hire people because other industries were able to pay more than what they were willing to pay. So, we’ve seen about a third of capacity and a third of the employment walk away within the past three years.”
Scott Ferland, general manager of hard maple producer Maine Woods Company, told Scripps that “we have yet to go back to a fully staffed production rate and I don’t know when they will.”
A question is what the impact might be on commercial construction. Ashley Boeckholt, chief revenue officer at MaterialsXchange, says that he doesn’t think it would be much. He said that Maine’s production is largely hardwoods, like the maple from Maine Woods Company.
According to the university study, in 2021, 48% of the harvest was for sawtimber, 41% for pulpwood, and 12% as biomass.
But according to Boeckholt, relatively little of this is the softwood that goes into framing. Much of that production has moved south, where compensation is lower and there is a longer production period because of warmer weather. While hardwoods can be used, that tends to be in such things as doors, trim, and cabinets.
As for fewer people available to work, Boeckholt says, “Labor’s tight everywhere, logging is no exception.” Logging is also hard and dangerous work and far less attractive to younger people than many other available jobs. There is also automation, as large machines to much of the work, cutting down the demand for labor.