by Pat LaMarche
Pat Sirois, the coordinator of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, painted a rosy picture of the Certified Logger Professional training in a recent Bangor Daily News article. The program does not have the same rosy appearance in the eyes of veteran Maine logger Hilton Hafford. Hafford is one of the men who recently blockaded the border to protest the over-abundance of Canadian lumbermen in the state's northern woods as well as the lack of jobs for Maine woodsmen. I visited Hafford to hear his stories of anti-American labor practices used by logging contractors, both Canadian and American.
"The Certified Logger Professional program is nothing but a scam to con the public," says Hafford. "It's a 4-day course designed to teach loggers how to be safe in the woods and how to care for the land they harvest, and it doesn't accomplish either thing."
According to Pat Sirois, the CLP program is a sterling example of what safety training should be. But Hafford, who's been a lumberjack for 22 years, says the chief CLP instructor has never worked a day in the woods. Hafford has been told by instructors to use chain saw techniques that, because of the dangers involved, are expressly forbidden by the operator's manuals. One example: Hafford says CLP instructors have told him that using the tip of the chain saw blade to pierce the tree trunk is an acceptable practice. Hafford says any logger will tell you never to use the tip because that can cause the saw to buck violently out of the wood and cut the saw operator.
Hafford objects to the CLP safety practices for economic reasons also. He says that in order to harvest one piece of marketable wood in a stand of dead trunks, Certified loggers are required to cut down all the dead wood surrounding the marketable tree. The alleged intent of the practice is to prevent the dead wood from falling on the logger when harvesting the marketable tree. The problem, says Hafford, is that employers do not pay a cent for all the extra cutting he must do to harvest the one tree. Instead, employers have created a system where the logger is paid a substandard rate for each harvested tree and is then forced to use precious time and fuel to cut wood that will never bring him a penny of income. So loggers race from one tree to the next, cutting so fast that they barely have time to look up. Hafford says a CLP instructor told him "just say you'll cut the dead wood and that'll be good enough." Hafford refused, claiming that he would not say he would do something he didn't intend to do. That is why Hafford is not a Certified logger.
Hafford says, with all the money the contractors save on insurance premiums because of CLP-related deals they've made with insurance companies, the contractors ought to be able to pay for the extra cutting that loggers must do. He has heard contractors say, "if you won't cut the dead wood for nothing, we'll get a Canadian who will."
It seems that some of the Canadians who are Certified loggers won't cut the dead wood either. I've heard with my own ears the admissions of Canadian CLP loggers who say they don't have time to cut dead wood, and that if they did cut dead wood, they'd never cut enough marketable wood in a day to make a living.
As for Sirois' assertion that the CLP program is directly responsible for reducing the injury rate in Maine's forests, Hafford says that is also a scam. The reduction in the injury rate, says Hafford, is due to the fact that heavy machinery operated by one man can and does replace a dozen loggers nowadays. With fewer loggers on the ground, the injury rate decreases. Also, recent changes in Workman's Compensation laws make it more difficult for loggers to win claims. Even when loggers win, the benefits are based on the logger's income, which is usually small because of the glut of Canadian labor. With such a small return on so much effort, many loggers can't even bother to make a claim. Thus the injury statistics decline.
In his BDN article, Sirois also tells of the sound forest practices that are taught during the four days of CLP training.
"When I took the course about two years ago," says Hafford, "most of the first three days were taken up by instructors who told us why we should vote against the Clearcutting Ban." Hafford says one of the speakers at the CLP seminar was a Maine Forest Service forester. The state forester told the loggers that if the Clearcutting Ban passed, they would all lose their jobs. Hafford described the CLP program while taking me on a tour of clearcuts that he said had been created by Certified loggers. We stopped beneath a 75 acre hillside that had been denuded of its trees. A few thin stalks were left within a landscape of scrub brush and broken tree parts that stretched over the crest of the hill.
Hafford looked out across the barren scene. "They say Certified loggers know how to practice sustainable forestry. And yet this is the kind of forest that's left behind after Certified loggers get done cutting." According to Hafford, Certified loggers are rapidly cutting the best wood in Northern Maine, cutting so fast that it'll be gone in less than 20 years. The wood, most of which goes to Canadian saw mills, is replaced by planted saplings that obviously will never produce a 200 year old tree in any current lifetime. Or the land is left to regenerate on its own. A recent BDN article about Maine's largest landowner, the Canadian giant J.D. Irving, confirmed that cutting continues around the clock. Hafford, who is unemployed despite the incessant harvesting, says "it doesn't look like a sustainable forest to me, and I drive through it every day of my life."
This is only a sample of Hafford's tales of the CLP program. His comments, coupled with the criticisms I've heard from his fellow Maine loggers, would fill this newspaper. Sirois says second, third and fourth generation loggers know the value of safe and sustainable forestry, and that the social license to harvest Maine's wood is dependent upon the Certified logger's level of professionalism. According to third generation Maine logger Hilton Hafford, the CLP program is not professionalism, but a con game.
Hilton Hafford, 40, of Allagash, is a logger in Maine's North Woods. He works with his two sons, Dustin and Billy, in a three-man operation with two skidders. He's having a hard time making a living these days, and says that Canadian contractors and Canadian woodsmen working in the Maine woods are to blame.
''We have been getting nowhere in our efforts for help from politicians and government people. This problem has been going on for 50 years and no one is doing anything about it,'' said a frustrated Hafford. "We've been losing those jobs anyway. We have to do something,''
Hafford said there are 668 Canadians in the Maine woods this year. He said he applied for nine positions advertised by contractors this summer. He did not get one response. All those contractors have bonded Canadians working for them, he said.
To bring attention to the issue, he and other loggers began a blockade of the Canadian border crossing at St.Pamphile, about 45 miles southwest of the village of Allagash on the Quebec border on October 19th.
Eleven Allagash and Fort Kent area woodsmen prevented about 30 Canadian lumbermen from crossing. Five American trucks, loaded with logs bound for some of the four Canadian lumber mills near the border crossing, were left on the private road on the American side of the border, unable to unload their cargo.
On October 22nd, the woodsmen expanded their blockade of Canadian ports of entry into Maine by blocking a woods road leading from St. Juste, into Big Ten Township in Somerset County. Daaquam, Maine was also blocked.
Under threat of arrest from the Maine State Police, loggers walked away from the border on October 26th. The woodsmen made it clear, however, that they were walking away for a period of two weeks to allow the federal Department of Labor time to conduct its investigation of hiring practices in the Maine lumber industry.
The blockade drew the attention of state officials, as well as Maine's congressional delegation. An official investigation found that the Maine Department of Labor and Maine logging companies were in compliance with federal laws and regulations in the certification process for the hiring of Canadian nationals to work in the Maine woods.
On November 22, Roy Uhalde, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, announced a $100,000 grant to the state DOL to look further into the loggers' plight, including the prevailing wage set by the state.
"Our main concern is and has always been that we want Canadian bonds [bonded workers] eliminated,'' said Hafford. "We are frustrated at this point because we feel that no one sees the adverse effect on the American work force,'' he said.