The Fall of Timber: A Critical Turning Point for Loggers
COOK - The logging industry was once a booming business in the Northland.
Loggers continued to pump out product to meet the growing demands of the housing market.
"When I got out of college my dad was logging," former logger Rich Holm said.
People like Holm followed the promise of a decent living and became the second generation to pick up the trade.
"I enjoyed it," Holm said. "I was a company logger which is a little different than the open market."
However, the future started to look uncertain for people like Holm; a recession hit the industry close to home.
"Up until 2006 before the housing bubble burst the board bills were producing product, or OSB for the housing industry," Executive Director for the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota Scott Dane said.
Dane keeps close tabs on the changing industry.
"They refer to this area as the black hole right now," Dane said.
From 2007 to 2008, four major local board plants closed in Deerwood, Bemidji, Grand Rapids, and right in Holm's back yard of Cook.
"There really wasn't much sense to keep logging," Holm said.
His once–vibrant hometown mill turned to a ghost town and it became a reality check.
"I just woke up one day and looked at things and said you know I can keep doing this but I'm just going to keep going backwards so why do it?" Holm said. "Once you shut three board plants down there's a surplus of loggers and once you get that surplus, where do they go?"
But the surplus of loggers is starting to dwindle.
Several loggers have turned to other trades like mining.
Former loggers have said the remaining mills provided them with marginal, often negative profits.
"You could work all year and not make any money so why would you keep doing it?" Holm said.
"You run the numbers and if they don't work at the bottom line there's no reason to keep doing it," Dane said.
A new report from the Wood Supply Research Institute explains that the forest industry is at a "critical turning point."
According to the report, loggers, or suppliers, are frustrated with the inability to earn a decent investment for the wood they harvest and haul.
It added that the mills, or consumers, are concerned about the loggers' sustainability, adequacy and capacity.
However, Dane said those problems can fix each other; that if mills pay more, loggers will provide.
"We can solve this problem of loggers leaving the industry," Dane said. "As soon as this industry becomes more profitable, meaning the mills are able or willing to pay more for the product coming into their mills, they'll stabilize the work force."
Still, more loggers like Holm have gotten out of the business and statistics show less young people are getting in.
The changes have brought fears that the once flourishing forest of the Northland could hit a point that cannot be reversed.
"In the long run, if we don't take care of these loggers and they're not profitable today and they can't reinvest in their equipment needs to sustain their operation then down the road we may not have those loggers," Dane said.
FOX 21 reached out to local mills for comment, and Wayne Brandt from the Minnesota Timber Producers Association and the Minnesota Forest Industries provided the following comment:
"Our industry, from landowners, to loggers in the woods, all the way to finished products manufacturers, has been in an economic downturn for the past six years. It's anyone's guess as to when our industry will see full recovery. It won't happen until the whole economy rebounds as well. We look forward to the day when everyone in the forest products industry, including loggers, can enjoy the benefits of an improved economy."