Survey offers a new look at Wisconsin logging
November 5, 2012
Wisconsin's logging business is following the same trend as many other industries: Fewer, larger, more mechanized operations.
That's according to a survey of owners of Wisconsin logging enterprises conducted last year by a team led by Mark Rickenbach, professor and extension specialist in the UW-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and a faculty affiliate of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
"One of the challenges that the industry faced in the last ten years was an aging workforce and a reduction in the number of people in the logging business," Rickenbach says. "That trend is going to continue, and so I think the challenge is: How do you recruit a rural workforce that wants to work in this industry? A big piece of that is mechanization-being able to make that easier so that people aren't necessarily out there running a chainsaw all day."
Among the findings:
- Overall production is steady, but harvests are more intensive. Average harvest per logging firm was 5,849 cords in 2003 and 6,893 cords in 2010, but the average volume per acre rose from 12 cords in 2003 to 15 cords in 2010.
- About two-thirds (62 percent) of the loggers' reported timber harvest comes from private forests, followed by county forests (17 percent), industrial forests (12 percent), national forests (4 percent), state forests (3 percent) and tribal land (1 percent). That's roughly the same distribution as in 2003.
- Asked to describe their profitability, operators' most common response (38 percent) was "broke even," followed by "good" (30 percent), "poor" (22 percent), "very poor" (10 percent) and "excellent" (1 percent.)
- Capital investment hasn't changed. Median investment per firm in 2010 dollars was $223,000 per firm in 2010 vs. $202,000 in 2003. But that varies considerably depending on mechanization. Median 2010 investment for a chainsaw-based operation (about a third of the state's logging firms) was $60,000, vs. $480,000 for mechanized operations. Fifteen percent of firms reported investments of $1 million or more in 2010, up from 10 percent in 2003.
- Wisconsin had 20 percent fewer logging firms in 2010 than in 2003. The earlier survey foretold this. In 2003, 22 percent of operators said they'd be out of business within five years. This level of attrition will continue, the new survey indicates. Among 2011 respondents, 21 percent said they'd be out of business in five years, about two-thirds due to retirement, the rest because of economic difficulties.
- Retaining and attracting new loggers remains a challenge. Current firms are hiring more workers. Just more than half of the state's logging firms have employees, up from about a third in 2003. On average, firms employ 2.8 workers, up from 1.7 in 2003.