December 2014
Outdoor Life

A Logger's Way of Life: Sustainable Forestry

  Forests provide a way of life for John McGowin, Alabama’s 2014 Outstanding Logger of the Year.

John McGowin, owner of McGowin Logging Co., Inc., was recently named by the Alabama Forestry Association and the Alabama Loggers Council as the 2014 Alabama Outstanding Logger of the Year.

Alabama grows green – timberland covers approximately 23 million acres of the state. Driving from the capitol of Montgomery down through the southern part of the state, trees grow along the roadside and all throughout the region. In the heart of this forested country, John McGowin makes his home. The forest provides a way of life for him in his profession as a logger. Alabama’s forests are where McGowin has lived, worked and played for 60 years. He believes it is important to properly care for the land so that it can continue to provide for future generations.

Becoming a logger was a natural fit for McGowin. As the grandson of a logger, McGowin grew up in the woods and as an adult worked for 15 years as a harvest operations manager for Union Camp. In his job with Union Camp, he managed timberland and oversaw 20 logging crews for the subsidiary Rocky Creek Logging Company. He spent those years learning the ins and outs of forestry. When Union Creek disbanded Rocky Creek Logging Company and did away with McGowin’s job, he saw the opportunity to switch gears and go into logging on his own.

Forest Management

McGowin was familiar with forestry as a renewable resource because of his background. When American Forest and Pulp Association initiated the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, training and education for loggers was a key component of the program. Still in the very early stages of his own logging career, McGowin realized the relevance of SFI. In 1994, he became one of Alabama’s first loggers to earn Alabama’s Professional Logging Manager status and has maintained its yearly requirements ever since.

While John and Sylvia McGowin grow a variety of trees, John is especially fond of the twin white oaks in their front yard.  

In his harvest operations, McGowin clearcuts or thins according to the needs/requests of the landowner. Although he does work directly with a few landowners, McGowin spends most of his operating time working with Resource Management Service, a private timberland investment firm. Since RMS owns former International Paper timberland, McGowin is now harvesting tracts he once managed for Union Camp years ago! On each tract he logs, he performs an analysis of the tract and closely follows the contract, whether with an individual landowner or with RMS. McGowin performs roadwork, entry and closing on jobs for individual landowners; RMS handles road closures on their tracts. He keeps a dozer onsite and at the ready. Through the years, McGowin has seen firsthand the importance of properly following forestry best management practices.


Safety proves an important feature in McGowin’s operations. Safety discussions occur in the woods with reminders coming at any time. The crew starts each day and ends each day together, all taking time off for a morning "cookie break" and lunchtime. These opportunities allow for safety discussions as well as anything else pertaining to the tract. On an annual basis, McGowin hosts a full day of safety, professionalism and educational opportunities. His insurance company discusses safety and updates on new regulations. Emergency and first aid training is provided by a field professional. A number of people in the forestry community attend McGowin’s annual meeting that typically qualifies for continuing education credits for loggers as well as foresters.

McGowin realizes that exposure for safety issues happens in all areas of the job, especially on the road with his trucks. He chose to install in-woods scales on all of his trucks to ensure that trailers carry a safe yet efficient load of fiber to the mills.

"We all get behind log trucks at times," McGowin explained. "I want my family safe on the road, too."

Business Management

All accounting, payroll, cost analysis and recordkeeping are handled within the McGowin Logging office. Bookkeeper Lisa Lowe works to assist McGowin with these responsibilities. Lowe also works for McGowin’s cousin and silent business partner Mason McGowin.

With 18 employees, McGowin realizes the importance of every person on the job. He also believes co-workers make a difference in whether someone wants to go to work. His crew members share similar beliefs, and many are close to the same age. They enjoy working together.

"I am proud of my crew," McGowin said.

McGowin also shared that it is important to "come out here and work hard, go home and say our prayers, and come back out here tomorrow and do it again."

McGowin hires experienced and dedicated equipment operators and truck drivers, who all understand the objective of the harvest or thinning and will respond to requests to get the job done.

Beyond the Job

Through the years, McGowin has been an active member of the Alabama Loggers Council and the Alabama Forestry Association. His knowledge of the area and the forest business brings credibility and years’ worth of experience to any timber discussion. He actively participates in area Log-A-Load events benefiting Alabama’s Children’s Hospitals.

McGowin spends many hours on the job with McGowin Logging, but realizes the need to take time away from work as well. In the spring, he likes to get into the woods to call turkeys. He and his wife Sylvia enjoy time spent together, at home or traveling. One of their favorite pastimes is working in their yard, tending to and nurturing the variety of trees growing there. White oak, live oak, post oak and red oak thrive. Other trees benefitting from the couple’s green thumbs include hickory, bald cypress, pine, magnolia and even red mulberry.

"I have about 100 trees behind the house that have been pruned and fertilized," McGowin shared. "Eventually, I will get back there and take out some of the understory so that those trees can grow without competition."

As he talks about his trees, it is evident that this man enjoys Alabama’s forests, forests that truly provide a place for him to live, work and play.

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.