State faces shortage of loggers in the next 10 years

State faces shortage of loggers in the next 10 years
Alabama's logging industry faces a problem because there is a shortage of loggers on the way and forestry experts say they know why. (Source: Bryan Henry)

BUTLER COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) -Jared Brogden is a 17-year veteran logger and easily manhandles a 25 ton, $300,000 loader. He loves his job.

“To this day, I still enjoy it. You gotta pay real close attention out here," said Brogden.

The industry faces a problem because there is a shortage of loggers on the way and forestry experts say they know why.

“Over 60 percent of our logging workforce is over the age of 50," said Ashley Rowe, director for workforce development for the Alabama Forestry Association in Montgomery.

Coupled with the fact that not enough younger people are getting in the business.

“It does concern me," said contractor John McGowin.

McGowin admitted not everybody is cut out for this. While technology has made the work easier, it’s still a tough row to hoe in the woods, such as in the heart of Butler County. Brogden said he averages 12 hour days, five days a week.

“It’s not an easy job. It’s a mental strain," said McGowin.

The Alabama Forestry Association has come up with a plan to try to fill the gap: classes to recruit more harvesters.

“Students who have never been in the woods before, no experience on equipment and we train them to give them basically everything they need to start out and work on a logging crew," said Rowe.

The association held its first class of the year in Butler County a couple months ago; three graduated, one dropped out, and the other was dismissed. The recruiting classes will be moved around the state in order to tap in that pool of potential harvesters. The starting pay is around $16 an hour.

There is cautious optimism the industry will eventually fill the need for more loggers.

For now, harvesters like McGowin and Brogden are doing more with less, feeling the weight of a loaded log truck of the coming shortage.

The Alabama Forestry Association says there are 2,100 loggers currently employed in the timber industry. Forestry experts say the shortage of harvesters could mean higher lumber prices down the road if the gap isn’t filled, and that could impact everyone since wood is used in countless products other than paper.

If you’re interested in starting a career as a logger, call 334-265-8733. The classes are free.

Copyright 2019 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.