Voices from the woods: Logging for a living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Logging and Michigan's Upper Peninsula go hand-in-hand, as it has been since the first European settlers arrived in God's Country. 

The industry continues today, with companies across the U.P. sending workers out -- no matter what the weather is like -- to make sure to keep up with the demand from those in need of lumber, pulp wood and everything in between. 

Second Wave's Tom Buchkoe stopped out to have a chat with the folks at Holli Forest Products and had a chance to meet owner Dave Holli and three of his employees recently. We had a few questions about working in the woods, and they were happy to answer them for us. 
 


Name: David Holli
Age: 77
Hometown: Ishpeming, Michigan
Position: President and owner of Holli Forest Products

Hear the full interview here:



What do you do as part of the logging industry?
My job is mainly management, working with the foresters that are here on the process and how we do things, to back them up on their field decisions if they have any issues.
 
When did you start working in the woods?
I started when I was very, very young; my grandfather was a small logging contractor. He came from Finland in 1904. I was brought up in the logging camps in the woods. We lived in town, but I'd go with my grandfather, and I'd spend nights at the logging camps. 
 
Why that job and not something else?
I was raised in the forest industry. It wasn't an option to go in the woods and work or not, you just went and did it. When I graduated from high school, I felt I had had enough of the forest industry. So I went to Northern and studied music education for a year and a half.

I had the opportunity to go to Houghton and stopped in their School of Forestry, and that just felt very, very natural to me, so I said, "No I should get back into the woods in college." So my third year then, I transferred to Michigan Tech and got a degree in forestry and started off doing forestry work for the federal forest service.
 
Does your family have a history working in the woods?
I started as a youngster working out in the field with my grandfather. My father worked Railway Express, but he'd maybe work in the woods on weekends with his father, who was my grandfather. Our roots basically from my grandfather coming forward are in the woods.
 
And any other family currently working in the industry?
A son and daughter.
 
Why is logging important to the U.P. and the rest of the country?
Logging's very important to the U.P. We can look at carbon sequestration, sedimentation, runoff and soil stabilization. So there are many things that forests are important for.

And of course, they are important economically. Here in Michigan, it's maybe a $12 billion business total. That money is not spent on products that come from China, or come from Europe; that money is spent here. I don't think people realize the full impact of that.



Name: Bryan DuMoulin
Age: 49
Hometown. Republic, Michigan
Position. Truck driver

Hear the full interview here


 
What do you do as part of the logging industry? Just load the truck and bring it to the mills and repeat.
 
When did you start working in the woods? 1986.
 
Why that job and not something else? I like to be outside. Freedom. Nobody watching over your back all the time.
 
Does your family have a history of working in the woods? My brother works in the woods too, for thirty-five years.
                                                
Why is logging important to the U.P. and the rest of the country? People need the stuff that comes from the woods; paper products, lumber from the logs for houses.



Name: Jay Bierlein
Age: 58                                         
Hometown: Ishpeming, Michigan
Position: Log sawyer, woodcutter

Hear the full interview here


 
What do you do as part of the logging industry? I fell timber and cut logs and cut pulpwood. My job here is to cut the trees that the processors and the big machines can't cut, that we do by hand,The machine can cut only so big of a tree. 
 
When did you start working in the woods? April of 1975, 40 years ago.
 
What was your first job? Why that job and not something else? I quit school in the 11th grade, the day I turned 18. I wanted to go cut pulpwood. So I went and started cutting pulpwood. They told me that I was stupid and I would regret it, but I've never regretted it, and I've never been without a job for the last 40 years.
 
Any family currently working in the industry? My son is now cutting too, for four years now.
                                                
Why is logging important to the U.P. and the rest of the country? It's a natural resource that is used, for the lumber and paper products and everything else. It's something that has to be done, and it's one of the big jobs here.



Name: Tom Kerkela
Age: 49
Hometown: Republic, Michigan
Position: Harvester operator

Hear the full interview here


 
What do you do as part of the logging industry?
Well, we go out, and we fell the trees, process them into different sort of lengths. It all depends on if it's logged timber or pulp or bolts. I process wood with a John Deere 753 processor.
 
When did you start working in the woods?
1988.
 
What was your first job? Running a cable skidder. I ran a cable skidder for quite a few years and other than that, I've been on a feller buncher, forwarders, processors, slashers, skidders. I can pretty much run anything now in the woods.
 
Why did you initially take that first job and not something else?
I love the woods.
 
Why is logging important to the U.P. and the rest of the country? Everybody needs paper, furniture. And land management. It creates jobs for a lot of people. 

Tom Buchkoe is a photographer based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

This story is a part of a statewide series on forestry in Michigan. Support for this series is provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

 
Signup for Email Alerts