By Janet Thomkins
The formation of the Louisiana Logging Council (LLC) in 1995 can be likened to a clearcut—knocking down barriers between loggers in east and west, north and south Louisiana, giving clearer visibility to the aim of improving the lives of loggers everywhere.
The LLC will turn 25 in 2020 and many milestones have been reached in the years since.
“The Logging Council gave them a voice in developing forest policy,” said C.A. “Buck” Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association and the LLC. The LLC was formed under the umbrella of the LFA but with an independent board of directors.
Tony Lavespere remembers going to the first meeting of the American Loggers Council (ALC) with Derald Phillips before the Louisiana council was formed. They each owned independent logging businesses, but someone questioned whether they should sit at the table because they had no affiliation with a logging group in their state.
“Earl St. John, one of the founders of the ALC, had us all go around the room and identify our businesses. When we said we owned our logging business, he said, ‘That’s good enough for me.’ ”
But they and others knew that a logging council was what they needed in the state.
“All we wanted was to unite them as a group,” said Derald Phillips of Lena, the first president of the LLC.
“We had one goal,” said Lavespere, “uniting the loggers in Louisiana.”
“The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) was being launched, and that would involve new standards nationwide that directly affected loggers,” said Vandersteen. “It was advantageous for loggers to work together on these issues and standards so they were in harmony with SFI.”
Clyde Todd, who was the program director for the newly minted LLC, remembers the early years of safety training, board meetings, fundraisers for Log a Load for kids and important visits to the Legislature as exciting times.
“The loggers were not just sitting in the same room (as other forestry interests) but making decisions on their own,” Todd said.
At first, however, loggers and industry were skeptical of a council.
“We said this is not a union; it’s an association,” he said. “We had the SFI in front of us, and we all needed to make the improvements.”
The logging safety committee preceded the founding of the council. During that time, foresters and loggers went around the state on Saturdays for classes.
“The biggest issue was safety,” said Todd. First there were trucking safety classes and later a safety video was prepared.
After the SFI program launched, it required attendance for logging contractors and their foremen and for procurement foresters. Safety classes were just part of the agenda. Best Management Practices in the woods, business management, erosion control and forestry aesthetics were part of the agenda. LLC members were involved and often taught part of the classes.
Legislative issues were also important to the council, and they made their presence known in the year after the LLC was formed. That’s when they got a permit for a log truck parade around the State Capitol in Baton Rouge during the session to spotlight logging issues. The number of loggers willing to drive their log trucks into downtown Baton Rouge to make that statement was impressive.
“It threatened to get larger than the permit allowed,” remembered Vandersteen.
Todd said the LLC presented a united front to legislators about the needs of loggers and the forestry community. From the beginning, the group met with legislators and kept political issues before their members at their quarterly chapter meetings. They have done that throughout the years. Now one of their own — Jack McFarland from Winnfield — is a representative in the state Legislature. Others have served on police juries where road issues are so important to loggers and the whole forest industry.
Dennis Aucoin, logging contractor and another former LLC president, said a big accomplishment was the OSHA partnership.
“Everybody was a little hesitant about it, but it was very good for us,” Aucoin said.
Those council members who joined the partnership agreed to a courtesy inspection that would point out any infractions but without penalty. Not all would be inspected but a random number would be. In exchange, the members would share all reports of injuries on the job with LSU professor Dr. Niels deHoop each year. That way the primary causes of injuries could be highlighted in classes along with preventative measures.
“It brought OSHA (into the businesses) in a constructive, not punitive, way,” said Vandersteen.
Aucoin, Phillips and Lavespere agreed the Master Logger program and the OSHA partnership saved lives. Today that partnership extends to all those in the Master Logger Program whether or not they are members of the council.
Two of the purposes cited in the LLC founding were to improve and expand the use of professional logging and trucking practices, and to improve the public image of the profession. Those interviewed said both of those things were accomplished.
“I would put us up with the top 10 states (for loggers),” said Aucoin, who not only participates in the ALC but is also on the National Tree Farm Operating Committee.
“It was a new chapter in logging,” said Lavespere.
“We have more standing with the public and more awareness by the community,” said Phillips.
“They had a lot of influence throughout the South,” said now retired forester Dick Myers, who worked closely with the loggers and the SFI training program. “It brought a lot of benefits and a lot of pride.”
“The education and the safety were great,” said Mickey Hawkins, another former LLC president. “It was a step forward to do a better job.”
The Log a Load for Kids program with the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals was a big part of the LLC, especially during its first decade. More than a million dollars was raised to benefit children at the four CMN hospitals in the state. There were log auctions, raffles, golf tournaments and clay shoots arranged by loggers but participated in by all parts of the forest industry. Loggers continue to donate money to Log A Load with an extra line item on their annual dues statement.
The Louisiana Logger magazine, launched in September 1996, is a slick publication that shows loggers what others in their trade are doing. It also highlights political issues that affect their businesses. In the beginning the magazine featured columns by three LSU staffers. The late Dr. Mike Dunn wrote on business and economic issues, Dr. Don Reed, now retired, featured wildlife interests, and Dr. deHoop continues to write about safety.
Todd said he wanted that affiliation of professional loggers working with professionals in the LSU academic fields.
Although the Logger of the Year award predates the LLC it has become a focal point for the annual convention of the Louisiana Forestry Association.
“The Logger of the Year award has matured and is so meaningful,” said David Cupp, president of Walsh Timber Co. Many of the leaders of the Logging Council came from the ranks of those winners.
The LLC also approved a set of standards for loggers to get in-the-woods audits to receive a Smart Logging certification, part of a national program. That continuing voluntary certification program is just another way the logger profile has been highlighted in the public eye.
“There were a lot of visionary folks that put this together in Louisiana,” said Danny Dructor, American Loggers Council (ALC) executive director. “They became charter members of the ALC, put together the OSHA partnership and made other improvements which later on probably also led to the formation of the Southern Loggers Co-op.”
Todd Martin, executive director of the Southern Loggers Co-op, agrees.
“It would have been much more difficult if we didn’t have the LLC.”
The Southern Loggers Cooperative, a private agriculture and forestry cooperative dealing mainly in fuel, is headquartered in Pineville but has 38 fuel stations from Texas to Ohio. The formation of the co-op was eased through the help of contacts formed in the LLC and ALC, Todd said.
Heading into the 25th year, the Louisiana Logging Council work moves on. Before the sun rises, another log truck rolls out of the woods and the cycle continues. The loggers came out of the woods in 1995 to remind everyone — even other loggers — that without them, there is a forest but not an industry.
(Janet Tompkins was editor of the Louisiana Logger for 20 years. She retired in 2016.)