January 23, 2008 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, Ky.,

In a competitive marketplace, what sets some firms apart from others? It could be solid business practices, an outstanding safety record or environmental stewardship. Or, as is apparent from the curriculum of a pilot certification program for loggers overseen by University of Kentucky Forestry Professor Jeff Stringer, it could be all of the above.

Stringer developed the Certified Master Logging Program as an outgrowth of the existing Kentucky Master Logger program, a joint effort between UK, the Kentucky Forest Industries Association and the Kentucky Division of Forestry. The 1998 Kentucky Forest Conservation Act mandated that all commercial timber harvesting jobs in Kentucky had to have a Master Logger on-site and in charge. The Master Logger Program consists of a three-day workshop where loggers are trained in safety issues and Best Management Practices designed to prevent water pollution. Other than the Division of Forestry visiting logging sites to make sure that loggers are following BMPs, there is no on-site follow up to make sure that loggers are taking proper safety precautions and practicing sound business techniques. 

The Certified Master Logger Program differs from its predecessor in that it is performance-based and completely voluntary. Stringer sees it as a means to maintain or improve the competitiveness of the state’s logging industry in a global and environmentally conscious marketplace. The impetus for the program came from NewPage Corporation, a paper manufacturer whose pulp mill in Wickliffe produces white, glossy paper stock for the likes of Time Warner Inc., publisher of Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated. Stringer said Time Warner wanted to be proactive on the environmental end of things and assure people that the paper in their magazines was produced in an environmentally sound manner.

Meeting with NewPage and Time Warner representatives, Stringer devised a pilot program that would produce the green certified timber the businesses were seeking. But in his mind, it is more than just meeting corporate demands.

“I looked at it and constructed it in such a way that it could be used statewide – that it was something that eventually our whole logging industry would potentially be interested in,” he said. “I look at this as a means for trying to maintain or improve the competitiveness of our logging industry.”

NewPage Corporation is funding this initial stage of the program in the western regions of Kentucky and Tennessee. To-date, 39 logging firms have been certified. These are firms that voluntarily agreed to abide by the standards of the program and allowed field audits of their logging operations to verify that they are using good logging practices when it comes to water quality and safety issues, as well as sound business practices.

“So where the regular Master Logger Program is a training, education program, the Certified Master Logger Program is actually a performance-based program,” Stringer said. “So we can say we certify that these guys are actually using all the things that we talk about in the Master Logger Program. They’re actually going out there and doing it. It’s a phenomenally big difference.”

The standards of the program cover five subject areas: Best Management Practices, local, state and federal laws and regulations, pre-harvest practices, harvest operations and business viability. Within each subject area is a set of indicators for which the logging firms are audited. Stringer said firms are audited in 38 specific areas including making sure they’re doing such things as meeting OSHA regulations, following child labor laws and transportation laws and following a written contract or a harvest agreement with the landowner. Auditors are also looking to ensure that the trees remaining after harvest and the land are minimally impacted. 

It may mean extra work for a logging firm to receive the Certified Master Logger designation, but Stringer and Bob Bauer, executive director of Kentucky Forest Industries Association see benefits to such a program, including the potential for increased income and recognition. Stringer sent the list of 39 certified loggers to county agents in western Tennessee and Kentucky. When landowners call their agent for a recommendation on a logging firm, the agents have this list at their fingertips.

“As more landowners become informed, that logger could say, ‘I’ve been through this,’ and he could get business above someone who hadn’t,” Bauer said. “If they promote themselves, they can say, ‘We’re not just a master logger, but we’re certified and field-checked.’”

NewPage offers financial incentives to loggers who pass and participate in the Certified Master Logger Program. The corporation also offers preferred supplier status to certified loggers as well as professional assistance to the loggers in laying out roads and other parts of the harvesting operation.

“That’s an automatic guarantee that this program’s having an impact to the loggers involved and direct economic impact for the rural communities they live and work in,” Stringer said. 

Bauer thinks the move toward more environmentally friendly products might change the face of the market for Kentucky loggers in the future. A certification program such as this could give the state’s loggers the competitive edge they’ll need to receive top dollar for their product.

“Most of our industry’s hardwood sawmills are not selling directly to the consumer. But whether they’re selling to a flooring manufacturer or a cabinet manufacturer, these people are asking for a little more information so they can tell their end consumers that this wood is coming from sustainably managed forests,” he said.

Bauer is also working with the state’s workmen’s compensation board in an effort to reduce rates for certified firms. Stringer said this could have a huge impact on a small firm.

The rate for mechanical harvesting operations, Stringer said, is approximately 20 to 21 cents on a dollar, which is fairly in line with construction work. But those firms that are cutting trees with chainsaws can pay a rate that is one dollar for every dollar of payroll. 

“These rates are so high, it keeps your firm small; it keeps everybody a partner. It keeps guys from hiring someone as an employee because they can’t afford it legally, or if they do hire someone, they run under the radar screen. And none of that is good. It’s not good for the industry,” he said. “So when this opportunity came up to deal with this NewPage situation, I saw an opportunity to develop a system that can improve the business climate and the business ability for our logging firms in the state.”

Forest industries are responsible for funneling close to $6 billion a year into the Kentucky economy. Of that, logging directly accounts for $1 billion. Improvements in this sector can ripple positively through the state. At least, that’s Stringer’s vision for Kentucky and the logging industry.

For more information about the Certified Master Logger Program, contact Stringer at 859-257-5994.

Contact: 

Jeff Stringer, 859-257-5994