How Trucking Regulations Impact Our Local Forest Resource
Some changes in Federal Regulations for the trucking industry have implications for our local forest resource. A while back, regulations as to hours of service (number of hours a driver can be behind the wheel) were enacted and last December electronic logging devices became mandatory. Prior to that, drives were required to keep a written log. Now their time is automatically tracked and subject to review by police or DOT. These rules apply to drivers whose route takes them more than 100 air miles from their home.
The hours-of-service regulations state that a driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty following ten straight hours off duty, and a 30-minute rest is mandatory after 8 hours of driving. Basically a trucker has 14 hours to do the scheduled loads and is required to stop when the time is up, even if only a few miles from home. Previously, a driver could schedule stops and naps as it suited the trip, like when waiting to load or unload. Now the clock is always running and taking a rest before the scheduled time or for more than 30 minutes doesn’t add to the 14 hours.
There are several very large pine sawmills in Maine that procure logs from all of New England, using highway tractor trailers for the longer distances. The routine has been for trucks from say, Berlin, to load up with products to be delivered to Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New Hampshire. Once the products are delivered, the truck then loads up logs from a prearranged logging site to take back to a mill in Maine. Pay rates are set and based on the trucker getting the back haul with logs to make the round trip worthwhile.
To make connections, often the trucks start at 3:00 – 4:00 a.m. after loading the day before, make a trip south, get unloaded, drive to a log job, get loaded, and drive home. Any delays including weather, can use up time and push the 14-hour limit, causing some to speed in order to get home on time. In some cases, drivers have had to choose whether to pick up logs or just head home empty to make it back in time. If a log job is not near major roads, drivers may not be inclined to pick up logs. If they are just a few miles from home when 14 hours comes they have to choose whether to stop for 10 straight hours and sleep in the truck, or continue home and have a violation show.
Due in large part to these new regulations, haul rates for logs have increased; however, delivered prices for logs have not as the regulation changes have also resulted in higher haul rates for longer-distance lumber deliveries further south along the east coast—a cost that negatively impacts Maine lumber mills.
Our location, 200 miles from the bigger Maine sawmills, puts Cheshire County in a fine-line kind of zone where limits imposed by the new regulations create tight time constraints—ones that potentially strain safe and sensible driving practices by forcing truckers to race with the clock.
These regulations also affect any product hauled by trucks, which could benefit the Buy Local movement. The cost to deliver produce from California will increase and other local businesses may welcome and benefit from the changes. However, there is no sawmill in Cheshire County, with the closest pine mill in NH being about 65 miles away. That mill, Durgin and Crowell, suffered a fire in December, losing their entire planning facility. Their production has been cut back significantly as they struggle to find alternate ways to make dry pine boards for the building trade. Their loss, combined with the hours-of-service regulations have impacted the marketability of pine logs in our area at least for the short term.
Written by: Peter Renzelman
CCCD Associate Board Member/Forester/Logger