2014-05-08 / Outdoors

From the Forester

Logging trucks are one of the more visible signs of forestry. Yet, they are the tip of an iceberg of a major economic, environmental, and social sector across the Lake States.

Michigan moves about 300 million cubic feet of harvested trees each year. If you travel in the northwoods, you’ve undoubtedly seen logging trucks. That might seem like a lot of trees. And it is. But compared to what?

An annual harvest of 300 million cubic feet is probably a number too large to conceptualize without some context. Using 80 solid cubic feet per standard cord, that’s about 3.7 million cords. Still a huge number. At, say, 18 cords per logging truck, that’s a bit over 200 thousand truckloads per year, or about 570 loads delivered per day. Any way that you look at it, that’s a lot of transportation.

With all that hauling, crashes involving logging trucks are amazingly rare.

If the average hauling distance for a log truck is, say, 50 miles, then the round-trip would be 100 miles. Most back-hauls run empty. Very roughly, that’s 20 million miles of transport per year. That’s about 43 trips to the moon and back. Or, about 830 rotations around the Earth. Fuel consumption amounts to about seven million gallons of diesel, costing about 25 million dollars, which is just one (small) indicator of how timber harvest adds to the larger economy.

According to the DNR Wood Products Directory, there are over 450 companies that haul wood products in Michigan. Many of these companies also do contract logging. At even one truck per company, a new fleet of these trucks would cost about 170 million dollars.

Log-hauling is a unique element within the much larger transportation sector. There are at least two trade organizations that represent the logging and trucking end of the forest industry; the Michigan Association of Timbermen and the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. Harvesting trees and delivering cut products to a mill is more complex than what most of us might realize.

These truckers help supply a 17 billion dollar industry in Michigan and many tens of billions of dollars across the Lake States. More importantly to many, the forest industry is sustainable and spinsoff numerous environmental and social benefits, from more diverse habitat to forest restoration. There is no more environmentallyfriendly raw material than wood.

Well, how much wood grows in Michigan each year? After the harvest, another quarter-million truckloads of wood are added to the living inventory. That’s enough to double Michigan’s forest industry capacity and still have wood left over. That could mean another 100,000 jobs or more. It would translate into more forestland under sound management (hopefully), with a healthier and more vigorous forest. The benefits would be many.

The harvest cord pile, if the cords were stacked side-by-side, would stretch from the Mackinac Bridge to Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon Territory. One industry source suggests that each green ton of wood generates about $100 of economic activity. That’s around 850 million dollars.

The added inventory represents a cord pile that would run from the bridge almost to Anchorage, Alaska. Incidentally, the cord pile from natural mortality contains almost as much wood as what is currently harvested, which suggests better management may be warranted on more acres.

The term “forest industry” encompasses a much broader range of business than those involved with trucking and logging. The process begins with the forest owner that sells standing trees to loggers, often with the assistance of a forester.

Loggers manufacture raw wood products and truckers deliver those products to a primary manufacturing mill. Usually, these primary mills sell their products to secondary manufacturers. After this, there may be other value-added steps before we, as end-consumers, use the wide variety of forest products - over 5000 different products that use trees. Many of these products we don’t directly consume, such as shipping materials or telephone poles.

Incidentally, using less paper doesn’t save trees. Trees die no matter whether we use them or not. But using paper helps provide opportunities for forest owners to better manage their forests for multiple benefits, and better allows all citizens to gain from one of the region’s most plentiful natural resources. And, a printed page may have a smaller carbon footprint than an email.

So, the next time you see a logging truck, it still might be slow and block your view, but maybe you’ll better appreciate its role in improving our lives a bit more.

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Bill Cook is a MSU Extension forester. Contact cookwi@msu.edu.

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