Logging as a career in NZ

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox


In his latest column, Patrick Cox talks about logging as a career in New Zealand and what it takes to be a good logger

It was with some trepidation that I tuned into Prime the other night to watch the programme on loggers in New Zealand. Some of you will probably remember a similar programme a couple of years ago on a logging crew in the United States.

Back then, I was a bit shocked to see what was being aired. It did little to promote the reputation of logging.

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Sensationalism by TV companies to sell programmes is sometimes a travesty and does not depict the true element of the industry that they are trying to portray.

In comparision, the Prime programme on the Willy Newton logging operation based in Rotorua was reasonably well balanced. Sadly, Willy passed away while the programme was still under production and his logging experience will be sorely missed. 

Fifty-three years in the bush is a long time. He would have seen changes from his early days in the industry, and to adapt to the modern-day logging is something few have been able to do.

There were a couple of points that stood out: one, Willy sent his son to complete a forestry degree. This in itself gives you an edge over forest owner employees who have a forestry degree but do not have the practical logging experience.

From my experience with forestry companies, I can recall them sending their fresh-faced university graduates onto my logging site for three months’ practical logging, but they fail to realise that you do not learn to be a logger in three months.

I also know of another logger who sent his son to do the same and he now works for a forestry company in a supervisor role.

Forest owners would be well-versed to employ more logger supervisors to work with the loggers who have a better understanding of the industry than someone who has no practical experience.

Unfortunately, the forest companies of the past got rid of all these hands-on loggers, especially the ones who were a little sympathetic to the loggers cause. Another point that came out loud and clear was Newton Logging resisting the push to go completely mechanised.

An excellent decision in my opinion. There are a few reasons why I think it is necessary to retain workers on chainsaws. There will always be a need for a person on a chainsaw. There is an acute shortage of chainsaw operators and crosscutters are thin on the ground and cost a lot to employ if you can find one.

The logging industry does not want to follow other industries like trucking where finding good drivers is getting harder every day, and the cost of obtaining a full truck drivers licence is already out of hand.

Newton Logging is providing an excellent service to the logging industry by continuing to train loggers on the ground. If we stop training loggers this way, I guarantee that in 20 years’ time, the industry will be in big trouble.

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Forest owners are good at marketing and growing forest but you have to ask what they know about logging. If they were logging experts, they would employ their own crews and log their forest themselves. When in days gone by, forest owners would ask for proposals from loggers on how to log a block, they were supplied with information on different practical and safe methods to log.

The Central North Island topography and pumice country still makes it practical and safe to process logs with skiddies. The benefits for the community are two-fold: creating jobs and bringing prestige and satisfaction to the loggers to earn good money and support their families and the community.

In the programme, there was an instance about the dangers of the logging industry. I would rather work in an industry I like than be in some mundane job not giving my best. If you want to work in the bush go for it. As the Newtons say, it gets in your blood. I don’t wake up every day worrying about my two sons who also run a logging operation.

It’s in their blood; they love it. They employ a sizeable workforce and they want all to get home safe every night. Logging contractors should have the ultimate say on how a block should be logged, what type of equipment should be used, and this would set the price that the forest owners paid.

It should not work in reverse where a forest owner has sold wood for a price and then tries to make it work by dictating the logging price and trying to make it fit into their cost model.

Logging is not for the faint-hearted. It requires good management skills, hard work, and tenacity to get established, and if you are a good logger, you will succeed.

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