No Apologies

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Logger of the Year: ‘I Won’t Apologize for What I Do,’ Says Award-Winning Logger

Travis Reed, recently named Outstanding Logger of the Year by the Forest Resources Association (FRA), views the honor as another tool in his arsenal to defend logging and the wood products industry. “I won’t apologize for what I do,” Travis said. “I am a real environmentalist.”

Travis and his company, Reed Logging in Lincolnton, Ga., received the award at the recent annual meeting of the FRA, formerly the American Pulpwood Association. The annual FRA award is given to recognize outstanding logging contractor performance. In addition to receiving a plaque, Travis won cash awards from Stihl and Husqvarna and equipment vouchers from Franklin Equipment and Tidewater Equipment.

“Travis Reed has not only demonstrated that he is a forward-thinking logging professional but has also seen fit to give back through his leadership in advancing the causes of the forest industry,” said George O’Brien, International Paper’s vice president of Forest Resources.

Nominees for the award pass through state-level recognition to regional award programs administered through FRA’s technical division structure. The top logger is chosen by a jury of 25 national leaders in forestry and conservation.

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Other nominees for the FRA Logger of the Year Award were: Andy Arey of Arey Logging in Warren, Maine; Aaron Burmeister of Burmeister Logging in Seymour, Wisconsin; Jeff “Bodine” Dodgen of Jeff Dodgen Logging in Marcoot, Ala.; Jim Doll of Doll Lumber Co. in New Hiram, Ohio; and Babo and Joy Gardner of Gardner Logging & Trucking in Chewelah, Washington.

The forest products industry undergoes constant change, Travis told the FRA gathering. “And we must change what we do.”

Travis is a leader in pro-logging activism, and he encourages others in the forest products industry to take a role in shaping the future of the business. Loggers who are not members of a trade association should join one, he said. “If you are a member, be active.”

“We’re always on the defensive,” Travis said in an interview with TimberLine, “and that irritates the punk out of me. They paint us as the bad guys because we cut trees. But we’re also the guys who prepare and plant. We’re not ending a forest, we’re starting one. We have programs in place now…educating our members what to say when they’re asked hard questions. The more of an economic benefit you can show people, the more forests you’re going to have,” Travis said.

“The forest is where we work and live,” he added, “and you don’t mess up where you eat. What I don’t like is those who call themselves environmentalists who are critical of what we do. We’re the ones whose livelihood depends on the resource. I’m sick of somebody else being called an environmentalist. We’re the environmentalists.”

“People don’t think about the necessity of using the resource. They had to cut down the tree that made the paper upon which the court injunction is written to stop you from cutting trees. We have a beautiful, resource-rich country. We have more trees in Georgia than when Columbus landed.”

The forest products industry is nearly a $20 billion industry in Georgia, noted Travis. Those dollars also have a seven-fold multiplier effect, generating $7 in additional economic activity for every $1 in the forest products industry. Without the forest products industry, the state and others in the Southeast would be full of ghost towns.

Travis cited Home Depot’s new environmental policy as an example of the market forces that are at work. Home Depot sells 25% of all lumber sold in the U.S. The home improvement chain recently announced it will not buy lumber from suppliers unless harvesting has been done in an environmentally acceptable manner. “Home Depot’s decision was market driven,” he said. “If their customers didn’t’ care, they wouldn’t either.”

Reed Logging employs from 30 to 40 people, including contractors, and Travis takes pride in all of them. They are “extremely good and professional,” he said. His company uses a state-of-the-art communications system that has helped improve productivity safety: Reed Logging has done business for seven years without a single lost-time accident.

Travis understands the relentless efforts of environmentalists, whose goal is to shut down logging. However, he is not going to surrender to a political agenda that puts preservation above people. When it comes to logging, he is the only one who will decide when it’s time for him to leave his company.

“This is not Appomattox,” he said in an interview with TimberLine, referring to the Virginia town where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered. “I’ll pick when I quit.”

In addition to FRA, Travis is active in the Wood Supply Research Institute, the American Logging Council, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative of the American Forest and Paper Association. He also is vice president of the Southeastern Wood Producers Association. Travis was on the Georgia Department of Forestry committee that wrote the state’s Best Management Practices. “All the relevant people were on the committee — loggers, industry people and bureaucrats,” said Travis. “It amuses some of us because we have used BMPs for years.”

Travis once had to defend himself against an allegation that his company had committed a BMP infraction, but he has no regrets. A landowner adjacent to a tract he was cutting complained. “We harvested a tract behind a Georgia Forestry Association field office,” he recalled. “We left some areas intentionally gray. But there was a ditch that had been dug with a backhoe, so the complaint was that we didn’t have proper streamside management. I defended my actions effectively, but it was very educational. I helped establish the BMPs, and here I am being watched. And I should be. Everybody should be. We’re policing ourselves, and it’s working. If we don’t follow the Sustainable Forestry Initiative rules, somebody will legislate them, and we’ll be out of business.”

As vice president of the Southeastern Wood Producers Association, he monitors legislation that would impact the forest products industry and lobbies. “If we could spend all the time in the woods that we spend stopping bad legislation, we could make a lot money. But if we didn’t stop the legislation, we wouldn’t be allowed back into the woods.”

Legislating rules restricts the flexibility and effectiveness of BMPs. Now, “if we see there’s something unworkable, we can make course corrections.” Once a law imposes regulations, that flexibility is gone, Travis explained.

From talking to the children in his wife’s fifth grade school class to explaining the facts of natural resources to Georgia legislators, Travis finds his people skills are the most important. “Loggers, landowners, and timber-paper company executives — we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all gotten along pretty well, but we have to keep that up.”

Loggers have to be pugnacious about maintaining environmental standards, Travis explained, because of all three groups in the wood industry — loggers, landowners, and timber-paper company executives — loggers are the most visible. “People can see logging sites,” he noted. “They can tell if we’re doing things the right way.”

Travis is always looking for ways to improve profit margins, which have practically remained the same for two decades. “If we can cut our costs, you have the same thing as a raise,” he noted. Take truck turnaround times, for instance. If trucks wait four hours at the mill, it will take twice as many trucks to move the same amount of wood. “Your bills come do every month, so you can’t research something to death for too long. Costs have gone up. We’re actually making less on increased production.”

Logging is “more than a business,” said Travis. “It’s a way of life. One of the most rewarding parts of being a logger is the people in the industry. Most have heartfelt sincerity about what they do, not just the varnish kind. Mostly, they are dedicated to protecting our work place and our way of life.