The extended period of rainy weather in July and August and major flooding on July 10 has severely impacted many Vermonters. The damage to homes, roads, bridges, businesses and farmland is visible across the state. One sector that has been experiencing major impacts from the weather, but is far less visible, is Vermont’s forest economy.
Logging contractors rely on suitable soil conditions to operate heavy equipment in the forest to avoid rutting, erosion, damage to tree roots and the forest ecosystem. On average, loggers can operate equipment 160-180 days per year on the rich topsoil and steep slopes in Vermont’s forests. Many Vermont loggers have lost most of the potential days they could work from late June through mid-August, and subsequently forest truckers have less loads to haul; mills, firewood producers and biomass plants have less wood in the yard; and the entire supply chain is experiencing a significant loss of revenue. Loggers have reported a number of issues, including:
- Reduced operability with production measured in days or hours rather than full weeks.
- Timber that is cut in the woods, but not accessible for skidding or forwarding it to a landing area.
- Inability to reach jobsites for up to two weeks due to roads being washed out.
- Increased expenses for frequent installation of waterbars, mulch, or stone to maintain access and protect trails from erosion.
- Increased expenses to relocate equipment to drier jobsites and temporarily close out existing harvests.
- Maintaining payroll to retain skilled and valued employees, particularly in this job market.
Sam Lincoln, author of this article, noted his own mechanized logging operation has seen a nearly 80% reduction in revenue this summer. While the corresponding operating expenses have been reduced, the significant overhead costs of a mechanized logging enterprise remain. Business owners have reported their cash is used up, savings are being depleted, and lines of credit are being accessed to keep their operations in good standing with vendors and creditors. This situation is occurring just after mud season shutdowns and a winter of limited operations due to a much lower number of days with frozen ground than usual. Some loggers and truckers have been able to deploy their excavation equipment and trucks to assist with municipal and state road repairs, or turned to other diversified enterprises to maintain a portion of their usual cash flow.
Due to the awareness, training and culture of loggers, foresters and forestland owners who have limited or stopped operations to protect the forest ecosystem, this situation can be described, in part, as an environmental protection success story that has created an economic disaster. Vermont farmers have experienced severe damage as well, but there are mechanisms in place for them to report damages, existing state and federal programs in place and non-profit organizations raising funds to help them recover.
As awareness of the emerging situation in Vermont’s forest economy grew, the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation developed a survey specific to this sector that will assist state agencies and elected officials in determining how to respond.
If you are a forest economy business owner in Vermont, please complete the Vermont Forest Economy Loss & Damage Survey by August 28. If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Katharine Servidio at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.
This article was contributed by Sam Lincoln. He operates Lincoln Farm Timber Harvesting, a mechanized Master Logger certified company, in Randolph Center, Vermont. He recently served four years as the Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation with a focus on forest economy policy.