AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has co-sponsored a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in logging operations under parental supervision.

The Future Logging Career Act, which Poliquin introduced in partnership with Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, would allow family logging businesses to begin training their sons and daughters at an earlier age.

“Outdated regulations from Washington haven’t kept up, preventing young Mainers from pursuing careers in the trade in Maine, which largely consists of family-run businesses that have operated for generations in our state,” said Poliquin in a news release. “This important legislation [will] give young Mainers the opportunities to pursue a career path in logging, while also helping to maintain jobs in the industry in Maine for many more generations to come.”

Brian Souers, owner of Treeline Inc. in Lincoln, said Poliquin’s bill addresses a real problem for many family-owned operations. He said his own daughter, who is now 29 and involved in Treeline, started working in the woods with him at an early age.
“Probably, we broke the law at some point when she was younger, and I’m sure there are some other logging families who have broken the same laws,” he said.

Souers said exposing people to modern logging equipment while they’re still in high school is crucial to sustaining the industry. He wishes Poliquin’s proposal went beyond just family members. Current law says workers need to be 18 before they can handle most logging equipment.

“Very often, by the time people are 18 they’ve already made career choices about the direction they’re going,” he said. “It’s a real shame that so many kids want to stay and work in their local areas but they don’t have a good way to see if working in the woods with today’s modern equipment is for them. Certainly, [Poliquin’s bill] is one small step forward.”

Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said logging creates more than 7,000 Maine jobs and contributes some $880 million to the economy.

“The Future Logging Career Act will ensure that family-based businesses in the state of Maine can sustain themselves for the long term,” said Doran in a written statement.

Doran said almost all of the logging companies in Maine are family owned.

“These are high-risk businesses with low reward,” said Doran. “There are no big corporations running them.”

The bill has widespread support from the national logging industry, according to Poliquin. However, it could face stiff opposition because it would require a change in child labor laws involving mechanized equipment.

Souers said logging isn’t nearly as dangerous as it once was. According to data from 2006 to 2015 kept by the Maine Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of injuries in Maine’s logging industry is trending downward. Before 2012, there were around 100 injuries a year, but that number dropped to 90 in 2014 and 85 in 2015.

“Logging is very, very safe these days,” he said. “It’s sitting in a nice protected cab listening to your favorite radio station with the air conditioning on. The people with a future in the logging business are going to be the ones who are good at video games and running joysticks.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.