The number of logging companies in Wisconsin has dropped by 20 per cent over the past decade. But a new study from the U-W Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology finds that the remaining companies are harvesting more timber per acre than the did ten years ago.
The average annual harvest for a Wisconsin logging firm has increased by about one thousand cords of wood since 2003, from just under six-housand in 2003, to just under seven-thousand in 2010. Study author Mark Rickenbach says increased mechanization is responsible for both the drop in the number of logging companies and the increased intensity of the harvest. He says smaller companies are going out of business, and larger companies are depending more and more on high tech equipment to cut and haul trees out of the woods. And, he says, despite the advantages increased mechanization has brought, it's sill hard to recruit the modern day lumberjacks needed to do the job.
"You know, you're not out there doing what people were doing 30 years ago and cutting down trees with chain saws and spending long days with bugs or in the cold," he says. "I think that's helping. But I think much like we see across much of rural Wisconsin is how do we keep people in these communities to take these jobs"
The profit margin for logging firms has dropped by three-percent over the past decade, according to the report, with 38-percent of firms reporting they just broke even, and only 30-percent ranking their profitability as good. Rickenbach says 67-percent of the timber being harvested comes from private woodlands.
"Land that might be owned by somebody like me, somebody like you who has 60, 80, 160 acres," he says. "Most of our timber supply comes from private individuals and families".
The rest comes from county, state, industrial, tribal. or national forests.