Legislators, owners, discuss logging industry challenges

Discussion about various aspects of the area's logging industry was the focus of this year's Elk County Farm Bureau's Legislative Tour held Monday at Dave's Saw Shop in St. Marys.Congressman Glenn "GT" Thompson (R-5) and state Representative Matt Gabler (R-Elk/Clearfield) attended the event to discuss areas of concern within the logging industry."Logging is pretty much the same as farming, just on a longer-term scale," Cooney said, adding the industry typically does not receive any type of government subsidies. He said both are agriculture-based industries and are extremely weather-dependent. The wet spring wreaked havoc on loggers as they were unable to haul on the soft, muddy roads. However, the dry summer has been a busy time for them. According to Cooney, if the weather is good, production is good and loggers can meet quota. On the flip side, when that happens, sawmills can become overcrowded with product and tell their loggers to slow down. "You plant, harvest and replant. We do the same things in the woods. Mother Nature does a lot of replanting for us," he said.He recollected that the area along SR 255, near the Byrnedale hill, is now thick with trees, having been clear cut 25-30 years ago. Cooney has logged one specific tract of land three times since the early 1970s.A current issue facing the industry is the bonding of roads, particularly now with many Marcellus Shale drillers doing the same. "The single biggest feedback that I've been getting from the timber industry has been the increase in road bonding around the region. PennDOT's been making a lot of administrative actions on bonding roads and that is something that is part of the ongoing conversation, is the timber industry is very weather-driven and it's very illuminating at what you've got invested, you can't afford to be rebuilding roads, there's not enough profit margin on a timber stand to pay for a new road everytime you got into that stand," said Gabler. "If you're willing to not run when the roads are soft, then we need to find a way to protect the timber industry and I 100 percent agree. I'm definitely committed to working toward a solution on that."Cooney noted that there is a significant amount of paperwork involved in bonding roads and that he prefers not to have a timber sale on a road where a drill site is located. "Some area roads were not a problem several years ago to run. Common sense is all these water trucks that are running right now, maybe they're the ones tearing up the roads. Why don't they fix what they ruin?" he said."The problem is that PennDOT is trying build roads that have never been built before on the backs of the gas companies, which isn't right. You bond roads to bring them back to the level of what you found them when you started," Thompson said. "They're using this new opportunity to fund total new road construction, so the gas companies are pushing back saying they're not the only ones that are bonded. So that's what it really comes down to. PennDOT's got to knock it off, in my opinion. I think they ought to use history to help figure that fairness out."Cooney also explained the drastic increase in the cost of equipment and supplies, including $170,000 for a 2004 Timberjack skidder made by John Deere, which would cost $225,000 today; $105,000 for a timber felling machine; $450 each for two radios which the loggers wear on their safety vests along with another radio unit in the skidder; $2,800 for a set of tire chains and $424 per tire on an 18-wheel tractor.