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Logging industry has changed, is suffering, experts say

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — An employee at J.M. Jones Lumber Company moves a stack of ash wood to be shipped Thursday morning at the J.M. Jones lumberyard.

NATCHEZ — More has been falling in the timber industry than towering pine trees as of late.

With a stagnant national economy and changes in industry standards, business for those who grow, cut and process trees into lumber is simply not what it used to be, area industry professionals agreed.

It’s a business that, according to fourth-generation logger Buck Beach, owner of Harvey Beach and Son Logging, is fading away.

“Most people don’t know what it takes to do what we do,” said Beach, who has been logging for 47 years. “Logging is rough, but in the last four to five years, it is as rough as I’ve ever seen it.”

J.M. Jones Lumber Company owner Lee Jones said business owners didn’t know how well they had it 15 years. J.M. Jones is a sawmill that processes wood and sells it nationally and internationally,

Jones said stricter environmental and truck regulations, and higher costs have forced many logging crews to disappear or cut back.

“Fifteen year ago, those were the good old days,” Jones said. “Now, there is less quality timber and truck drivers are harder to come by.”

Beach said he reduced the number of people and trucks in his fleet considerably in the past five years.

“The many different regulations and fuel prices have been a nightmare,” Beach said. “I can’t afford to add to the payroll or buy new equipment.

“One of the hardest things to do is to layoff guys that (you) have worked with 20 or 30 years because you couldn’t afford to keep paying them.”

But layoffs are a move Beach has been forced to take.

Jones said the increasing difficultly of cutting, hauling, processing and selling timber has forced him to also make difficult decisions.

“The business is horrible, and it’s tough on loggers and sawmills,” Jones said. “We have started taking in more lower-grade wood and less high-grade wood.”

Jones said higher-grade wood is used for houses, cabinets and furniture, while lower grade wood is developed into crossties and wood chips.

Matthew Netterville, of Fred Netterville Lumber Company in Woodville, said his company has also made adjustments to keep up with the changing market.

“There are constant battles,” Netterville said. “You’re always looking at the books, and the prices are where it’s hard to make money.

“We are like most other places, where we try to do more with less.”

Netterville said the amount of timber tracts being sold and the decreasing number of loggers are what is holding him back.

“It’s hard to find good loggers,” Netterville said. “If you were to start a new crew and buy the equipment needed, it would cost $1 million. For most, the risk is not worth the reward.”

But Jones sees hope for the market.

“After seven years of recession, there is optimism,” Jones said. “Mainly because the supply (is) falling.”

Jones explained the supply of higher-grade lumber had fallen and was beginning to match the demand not only in the U.S., but also in the international market.

“We sell to virtually anyone,” Jones said. “(This week) I’ve talked to buyers in Mexico, Turkey, Belgium, Egypt, China, Vietnam and Italy.”

Beach said being a part of the timber business is like being a survivalist.

“This business has taken its toll on me, but like most other people, we find a way to make it,” Beach said.