Still, a glimmer of hope has arrived for forestry workers from, or all places, the cap-and-trade bill that is working its way through Congress.
The bill aims to cut carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020, with steeper cuts coming later. To do this, states and industries would have to find renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar.
This puts Alabama at a disadvantage, since it is not a good candidate for either form of energy. However, Alabama is second in the nation in renewable energy from biomass, and if it can turn its home-grown timber into wood pellets, the state can find a way to meet the law's requirements and help the timber industry at the same time.
This was what Larry Teeter, director of Auburn University's Forestry Policy Center, told the state's Forestry Study Committee last week in Montgomery.
Naturally, there are problems to overcome.
Converting over to a new form of energy will be expensive. Companies will be reluctant to pass these costs on to customers. And customers won't be happy, either.
If timber is diverted to this use, will there be enough to meet the needs of the pulp, paper, hardwood and lumber sectors of the forestry economy? Competition for timber will certainly help the producer, but what will be the impact on the consuming industry and the public in general?
Since the law's purpose is to promote energy independence as well as reduce carbon emissions, the national interest comes into play here. So it follows that Washington will have to help states and industries finance the switch.
Enter the federal government, and with its arrival comes the deeply rooted skepticism of conservative Alabamians. State Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, chairman of the Forestry Study Committee, reflected this when he said that while the bill in Congress might help state timber growers, he was concerned that "we're overstepping our boundaries as government," the Mobile Press-Register reported.
If that is the case, then the law, if passed, would (and should be) tested in the courts. Meanwhile, out-of-work pulpwood workers are less interested in the arguments over federal intrusion than they are in the jobs the legislation will produce.
Fincher needs to keep that in mind, as should Alabama's representatives in Washington who will vote on this bill.