Logger works to “Escape the Beast”

Third generation logger, Mark Brickman from Iron Mountain Michigan, first sat on the driver’s seat of his father’s log skidder at the age of seven.  “Right then I knew that all I ever wanted to be was a logger,” said Brickman.   He has done it all in the logging business across the Midwest;  Timber felling, pole-skidding, bulldozer operator, truck driver, sawmill worker, and he now drives a large modern forwarder (with joystick controls, stereo music system, and cab climate control).  Today at age 46, he knows that all he wants now is to escape the pressures of the modern timber industry.


He describes his life today as being controlled in many bad ways by the forces of the timber industry – an entity he repeatedly names ‘The Beast.’  “The Big Corporations are the head of the beast – a few people on top make all the money.”   All the trends are going in a bad way for the forest, loggers, and forest owners - according to Brickman.

Mechanization is bad
Mechanization of the logging operation – using a few big machines to harvest large volumes of wood is producing many bad effects.  “The industry wants fewer workers and less insurance claims.  The big equipment manufacturers don’t make any small logging machines any more.  By focusing on cutting big volumes, the waste in the woods is very discouraging,” said Brickman.  “Mechanical harvesters cut too many good young trees that should be our future veneer logs, just to get through.  I see serious damage to the land from these huge & heavy machines that was not evident with smaller machines I operated in the past.”

Corporate Profit Taking
He sees the big mills changing ownership, resulting in more problems.  “Consolidated Papers was an important mill in Wisconsin for 95 years.  They owned a lot of land and replanted for the future.”  Now foreign owned corporations control much of Wisconsin’s pulp and paper industry.  “New owners are raping the land, they slick off the timber and sell it off for recreation land.” 

Our timber has been over-harvested
“We are now paying for the greed of our ancestors.  Logs being processed in the sawmills are getting smaller and lower quality – the good timber is about gone.”  Brickman has been on the road for 8 years now, just to find work.  “It has been tough on my family.”

Managed Forest Law Feeds the Beast!
More and more landowners join the Wisconsin Managed Forest Law to save on quickly rising property taxes.  “Then the State tells them they have to cut their timber and how it will be cut.  The big corporations love this!  Their foresters get big piles of MFL management plans from the DNR office and the forest owners have to cut their trees.  The consulting foresters like this too.  It puts a lot of wood on the market!”, said Brickman.

‘Certification’ is a Sham!
“Everything is “certified” today, but I think we went backwards – not forward.  In reality, devastating harvests happen in the forest everyday.  Certification is just another way of B.S.ing the public.  I see “certified” loggers use that to get new jobs, but nothing has changed.”

The Lumberjacks are about gone
“Twenty years ago, there were a lot more men in the woods.  Pole-skidding with small machines was better than today’s mechanical harvesters and forwarders.     Men were in control – you made your own game plan.  Now the big machines dictate how a harvest is done.  It is all about speed and volume.   Good quality works takes time.  The elite Lumberjack has all but disappeared.”

Brickman sees four common management strategies
that he feels are wrong;

  1. Some forest owners don’t care about the forest, they just want to get as much money today as possible from a timber harvest.
  2. Paper mills just want to grow fiber.  They don’t sort out the good logs from the grinder.
  3. Sawmill loggers just cut anything with a sawlog in it.
  4. Many loggers want to be honest, but when you have big machinery payments - you are pushed and shoved to cheat the forest owners, just to put food on the table for your family.

“I get to talk with a lot of landowners.  Today they feel they are losing their freedom – to the Beast – the Big Corporations.  It is now a race to see who is going to cut the last good tree from the forest with their big machine.”

Brickman is ashamed of his industry.  He feels that it is a privilege to work on privately owned land, the industry should respect the forest owners and their property.  But he is unable to change anything.  He is looking for a way out. 

Brickman has heard how some small forest management businesses now sell high value wood products direct to customers.  This intrigues him no end!   Making and selling log homes, flooring, furniture, etc. offer a new opportunity to run a business where he could be in control and earn a good wage again, but he is unsure how he can afford to start a new business.  “I want to get back to a family wood business – a ‘way of life’ based on our timber.”