FAYETTE (WGME) – A group of Maine loggers got the chance to voice their concerns Tuesday to the U.S. Secretary of Labor and Congressman Jared Golden.
It was an eye-opening experience for the nation's labor secretary, former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
He was inside a computerized cutter and watched as it dropped tall trees and cut them into even lengths to send to Maine’s paper mills and lumber yards, with some of it even going for firewood.
"When you think about logging, I've probably thought about firewood and wood for homes, but there's so much more to it," Walsh said.
The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine says it needs 2,000 new loggers to keep their industry going.
Right now, Maine’s community college system only has the capacity to train 15 new loggers a year.
"We need more training, more opportunities for students, more pathway approaches for training from high schools through community colleges all the way out to the workforce," Dana Doran of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine said.
Doran says 20 Maine high schools used to train loggers. Now, only five do.
He's also asking that 16 and 17-year-olds be allowed to work in the logging industry, just as they do on the farm.
"Agriculture in the United States has gotten $30 billion of funding for CARES Act or any COVID-related situation,” Doran said. “Logging, for the first time in the nation's history, got $200 million."
Golden agrees that Maine's logging industry needs federal and state funding for apprenticeship programs to train young loggers.
"Myself and the entire federal delegation are trying to put more money into that. I've requested $1 million through our normal budget process," Golden said. "That would represent more space for more young Mainers to get the opportunity to get into that training program."
Walsh says he'll work with Congress to get loggers the funding they need.
"What we don't want to see is these family businesses going away," Walsh said.