Maine Logging Wages Trending Upward, Employment Down


Across the country – and across my home state of Maine – we’re looking at a growing challenge in maintaining and growing logging infrastructure. In many places, there simply aren’t enough people and equipment to harvest and transport timber from the woods to the mills. Even in places where there is enough logging infrastructure, a quick look at the demographics of that industry suggests that we need to be recruiting new people to the profession for the forest industry to thrive.

Of course, complicated challenges seldom have a single cause or a single solution. It’s easy, and tempting, to suggest “if we just did [insert your favorite simple solution here], there would be plenty of loggers.”  Tempting, and likely wrong. That noted, one place to look at the health of logging as a career is to look at the average annual wage, and – in Maine at least – it’s trending up.

For some work I am doing in Maine, I needed to look at the total number of loggers in the state, as well as total compensation. Logging employment data is notoriously challenging[i], but the trends are pretty telling. In Maine, we’ve gone from a little over 2,500 individuals employed as loggers (NAICS code 1133) in 2001 to about 1,800 in 2022[ii]. That tracks with markets – over the same time period, the state has seen the loss of several paper mills and biomass electric plants, as well as some smaller consumers.

The figures collected by the government also include total wages – if you have the total wages and the number of employees, it’s pretty easy to calculate the average wage. Of course –  the average is just that, with some people earning more and some less. The wage figures are reported in real-time numbers (e.g., 2004 wages are reported in 2004 dollars), so I converted all wage information to 2022 dollars[i] in order to make sure the comparison used accounted for inflation.

The good news is that Maine logging employee wages have been on a multi-decade upward trend. In 2001, the average logging employee was paid a little over $45,000 annually (2022 dollars); in 2022, this had risen to nearly $55,000 annually. 

That’s great news, and suggests that the market is reacting to an impending shortage of professional loggers. Importantly, this doesn’t mean that loggers are being paid “enough,” but it does show they are being paid more.

Building and maintaining logging infrastructure – people and equipment – has many challenges. Higher wages do not address the high cost of establishing a crew, the volatility of markets for wood products, the wages other industries pay, or the underlying demographics of rural America – all of which challenge the industry’s ability to retain and grow a logging workforce.  However, it is a move in the right direction and provides an indication that the market is valuing loggers more today than in the past. It’s a good start that needs to be built upon, and wages are certainly part of the solution to improving logging infrastructure.

[i] Many logging firms don’t have employees – e.g., sole proprietors or partnerships – so those individuals don’t show up in traditional employment data. This is an issue everywhere, but more prevalent in regions with a significant presence of loggers using chain saws and cable skidders, as opposed to more expensive mechanized equipment.

[ii] Maine Department of Labor. Quarterly and Annual Industry Employment and Wages. Accessed 1.21.2024.