Forestry commentary: The resilient logger

By: Pat Cox, Photography by: Pat Cox

Through the history of modern logging in NZ, there’s never been a time when logging just free-flows and resilience has been the key to survival


Logging is a tough industry and only the tough will survive the recent lockdown. It will have a huge impact on loggers. We shouldn’t forget that before the last lockdown in March 2020, logging contractors had already been on 80% production since December 2019.

They survived back then and have spent the last 18 months recovering lost earnings only to be locked down again. This must have a huge impact on cashflows especially those who in the intervening time looked at the future of their businesses and purchased new plant and equipment.

Recently, I was talking to a sales rep for a well-respected equipment brand who was working in the East Coast-Gisborne area. They stated sales were okay, but contractors were experiencing problems finding experienced people, as all the forests in the area were coming on stream.

Forestry has created its own problem by buying farms in the area that has had the effect of reducing the population and the amount of work available, so with no work, families have moved out of the area. Now there’s work coming out of their ears and no available staff.

Let’s get back to where I was going with this. Major forestry companies put proposals to government departments about putting in place a COVID WOF, should delta attack our shores again. They were turned down.


One of the reasons they were told was New Zealand would not go back into lockdown level four because the government had stringent policies in place to prevent this. Plus, the forestry industry was not considered an essential industry, even though it’s one of the top income earners for New Zealand.

Arguments put forward was forestry could operate under Level 4 because a huge part of its operation was automated, even down to the loader operator who sits in his cab all day on his own, gets in his ute at the end of the day, and goes straight home—all perfectly safe within their own bubble.

The same goes for logging companies that supply each crew member their own ute: they leave home, arrive in the forest, operate their machines all day, then drive home alone. Log truck drivers are the same. They get in the truck in the morning and get out at night. All dispatching is done online, so the day is contactless.

There are many modern mills around New Zealand that are well into automation and could successfully keep workers safe and isolated. It would make perfect sense to give them an opportunity to build stocks of much-needed timber to supply a housing market screaming out for product.

These latest lockdowns will place a massive demand for housing products once they are lifted, and sadly those waiting for houses will see their wait time increase by months, heaping further misery already on a section of the community bursting at the seams.

My concern is: will this increase the cases of stress, burnout, and depression? Major forestry companies also run the risk of losing overseas buyers through the lack of continuity of supply.

Forestry has one of the most stringent health and safety policies above any other industry because of the risk of danger to employees. In my mind, it would have taken little to tweak this policy to comply with a Level 4 lockdown. These plans could have been in place prior to a Level 4 lockdown happening.


In this modern day and age, GPS monitoring in work vehicles, machines, and trucks is commonplace. One person sitting in an office could monitor all vehicles, determine their whereabouts, and should they deviate off the given route, it could all be corrected immediately with one phone call.

As a private individual, I choose to leave my Google Maps activated on my phone. I can go into Google Maps at any time and tell you where I was exactly at any given time or day over the last two years.

We have the technology to keep people safe, and it should be applied to keep our forestry and keep our economy viable through any lockdown. This technology would not be a blanket cover for the general population, but for all those with a mobile phone who have a desire to be safe.

The NZ COVID Tracer app only covers the places you visit but Google Maps tells you everywhere you’ve been. Some might feel this is a violation of their freedom, and it’s your choice, but in today’s world and with all the technology we use, you can’t hide.

I was fortunate to take a call from a logging contractor through the second week of lockdown and get the contractors thoughts on the current situation. In the first Level 4 lockdown, payments were suspended.

The finance company offered only a three-month suspension, even if the contractor only asked for one. Finance companies still added interest, and this has had a roll-on effect of pushing out repayment plans.

With a new logging culture being developed in tandem with health and safety, it can take many years to build a reputable logging crew. With all four stages in the development of that culture being put in place, stability of employees is essential for this to work.

Contractors might only be able to sustain two weeks wages without incurring more debt and might find they lose staff. This would be tragic after spending years developing their logging operation.

Through the history of modern logging in New Zealand, there’s never been a time when logging just free-flows and resilience has been the key to survival. In the ’80s, contractors were affected by huge strikes at pulp mills with some being laid off for up to seven weeks with no support or financial assistance.

Then the change of ownership of forests and the fighting over stumpage saw many contractors out the back door. Just as well we breed them tough; otherwise, there would be no logging industry.

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