Forest industry – new ideas or old dogmas?
By Peter Ewart
More and more logs are going to be shipped out of Timber Supply Areas in the Interior of BC as more and more mills are shut down. That was the message communicated last week by Dave Peterson, Assistant Deputy Minister, from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
Peterson was speaking on a panel at the annual Conference of Association of BC Forest Professionals in Prince George which included representatives from the largest forest companies in the province, Michael Armstrong of COFI and Rick Jeffrey of the Coast Forest Products Association.
Essentially, all three panelists are saying the same thing. Nothing can be done about the large forest companies continuing to hold on to timber rights even after they shut down mills. Workers, First Nations, small and medium businesses, and communities will just have to live with the situation of logs being shipped out. Optimizing and maintaining the supply chain for the big forest companies is paramount.
But Interior communities such as Fort Nelson and Merritt think quite differently. In recent years, both have had mills shut down while logs are shipped out. And they have spoken out strongly against this practice.
For example, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality issued a statement at the end of last year about how the Municipality is “experiencing the downside of BC’s forest tenure system.” The statement explains how “changes to the BC Forest Act in 2003 … removed ‘mill appurtenancy’ provisions that required Forest License holders to process wood in the area where it was harvested.” Specifically, this change has rendered “collateral damage” on many small communities in the province and “threatens their economic sustainability” (1).
In a resolution last year submitted to the BC Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce asked the question: “Should companies holding forest tenures be allowed to simply walk away from the facilities they operate in communities and forest districts where tenures are held? Given the high number of mill closures, the continued export of unprocessed logs (whether out of the country or out of community) and declines in value-added manufacturing, a review of forest policy in British Columbia is inarguably justified” (2).
And then there is the issue of forest companies like Canfor, West Fraser and Interfor setting up dozens of mill operations in the Southern US while closing mills in BC. Again the message from government and the big companies is that nothing can be done about this practice. But why is that so? Shouldn’t the added value created from BC forests and BC workers be put back into BC industry and communities as first priority rather than exported to some foreign jurisdiction?
It is a similar situation with the export of raw logs from BC. For example, 26 million cubic metres of raw logs were exported from BC since 2013. As Ben Parfitt, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out, “no previous B.C. government has sanctioned such a high level of raw-log exports on its watch or been so mute about the consequences” (3).
The world is changing. Globalized corporations increasingly dominate the forest industry and other industries in Canada and around the world. But broad sections of people, including workers, Indigenous nations, small and medium businesses, contractors and resource-based communities as a whole, are being left out in the cold. This is happening not only in Canada but also in wide regions of the US as was evidenced by some of the issues that rose to the fore in the US presidential election regarding trade agreements, loss of manufacturing jobs, and other related issues.
However, the highest levels of government and big corporations in the province claim that nothing can be done. But is this true? Or is it another example of dogma and ossified thinking? Are there other alternatives?
As the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality points out, “mill appurtenancy” used to play an important role in economic sustainability for Interior communities. Indeed, requiring companies to process logs in or near the communities where they were harvested was important for province building in the 20th century. Should the BC government have thrown out that policy completely as it did back in 2003?
Why not engage communities in discussion about how a new form of appurtenancy could be brought into being that takes into account the changed conditions of today in terms of timber supply and other factors? Or to put it another way: why not institute new policies that would have the same effect as appurtenancy and ensure that communities, forests and the forest industry itself are sustainable? And the same applies to other issues. Why not communities having more control over forest tenure? Why not more value added industries?
Science, technology and research today are opening up the potentiality of wood to create literally thousands of new products from fabrics and pharmaceuticals to fuels, plastics, and new structural materials – all of these from a wonderful renewable resource. It is both bizarre and ironic that, while this multitude of possibilities is opening up for wood, the possibilities for BC forests (some of the richest and most diverse in the world) appear to be shrinking and narrowing. Unfortunately, dogma and ossified thinking tend to bring that about.
In this globalized world, we need new ways of thinking and new ways of empowering communities. Not old dogmas.
Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: email@example.com
- Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. “Change and innovation to BC’s forest tenure system.” Fort Nelson, BC. November 15, 2016. http://www.northernrockies.ca/assets/Home/Press~Releases/Forest%20Tenure%20News%20Release.pdf
- British Columbia Chamber of Commerce. “Proposed resolutions manual – 2016.” http://www.bcchamber.org/sites/default/files/2016%20Proposed%20Resolutions%20Manual.pdf
- Parfitt, Ben. “Raw logs and lost jobs: How the BC government has sacrificed forest communities.” The Tyee. February 27, 2017. https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2017/02/27/Raw-Logs-Lost-Jobs/
I drove to MacKenzie on Monday. I was stopped at the railway crossing on the MacKenzie highway for a train that was hauling 28 fully loaded railcars headed OUT of town and away from the two local Canfor and Conifex mills. South of the airport there is a large log yard built specifically to load railcars with logs all headed south.
This is criminal imo. Mackenzie has gone through hard times and really is a shadow of the community it once was. I can’t help but wonder how many jobs are represented by 28 railcars loaded with logs. Could that be 10 jobs? 50? A hundred? Even 50 more well paying mill jobs would benefit MacKenzie immensely. 50 more families with brighter futures….
Now I realise that those logs are probably destined for other mill towns in the interior but it’s quite possible that Quesnel, Williams Lake, and even 100 Mile House are seeing logs, jobs, and dollars being trucked and hauled out of their communities in order to prop up failing mills elsewhere. Or, worse yet, being shipped overseas to support foreign countries and jobs for them. Such tragedy and we elected the morons who put these policies in place.
It was a political decision to remove appurtenancey from the forest regulations and it will be a political desicion to put it back. Should the people we entrust with the fiduciary duty to manage our province’s assets for the benefit of the entire spectrum of BC’s citizens decide to reintroduce appurtenancy again, the problems of phase in or drop it in can be dealt with.
Reading this article by Peter Ewert makes me think that the current BC Liberal government is just not standing up to big business. Who is in charge here? It is supposed to be our elected leaders but it sounds like the big forest companies are actually pulling the strings. There is so much corruption here with Jimmy Pattison being a HUGE donor to the Liberal party and at the same time, owning a large ownership in West Fraser Timber and I heard, Canfor as well. Smells really bad to me.
Peter Ewert’s article goes to the heart of the economic depression BC is facing outside the lower mainland. How much do I agree with Peter’s take on what is happening with BB’s Forest Industry? Here is a re-post of a previous comment I made on this site:
“That’s really the fundamental thing for us, the way things are right now, the forest based communities and the people who live there, have little say, little control over what happens.”
I am all for Communities, Regional Districts, and First Nations, having more say and control over forest management, timber allocation, and forest renewal, initiatives in their local and regional areas! I have repeatedly posted my concerns about the large Forest Companies / Corporations, being in bed with the Christy Clark Government, and being given too much control over our main industry.
It’s been said many times before, but it should be repeated that BC doesn’t have a monopoly on trees. When other countries can process our logs for a fraction of the cost, shutting down the borders and telling the world that they must buy our ‘value added’ product or nothing, other countries will simply go elsewhere.
If someone had a viable idea how to make it work, they would be putting their hard earned money into it.
To say that we will just have to live with the situation of log exports is short sighted, and would only be made by someone who’s lively hood is not effected by log exports.
BC competes with Russia and the USA when it comes to exporting logs. We are actually quite a way down the list. The US is the biggest exporter of logs to China.
We are presently faced with the situation where we are exporting logs, closing lumber mills, reducing the annual allowable cut, and facing a duty on softwood lumber exports to the USA. The is the perfect storm to shut down more mills, and put more people out of work.
We should keep in mind that an exported log gives us nothing other than the export dollar, where a log processed in BC gives us wood chips for pulp mills, sawdust for pellet plants, mill ends for finger joint mills, hog fuel for co-generation plants, and of course lumber for export and domestic use.
So lots of good reasons to process logs in BC . If we reduce capacity and continue to export logs the end result will be more mills closures, and more lost jobs.
The pellet plant South of Quesnel shut down last year because of a shortage of fibre, and no doubt there are moe closures in the future.
So to say that we will just have to live with the situation in unacceptable.
Vladimur Putin put a 25% duty on export logs to China with the intent to force mills to process the logs in Russia. This worked to some extent however they still export a lot of logs, but they have increased the amount of lumber they export.
To say we can do nothing is not true. We could put a 30% duty on log exports and force the big corporations to either pay the export duty, mill the logs in BC, or sell the logs to local (smaller) mills for processing into lumber.
While I am sure glad Peter keeps this issue in the forefront through the years. I really don’t believe we have a forest policy in BC. Its just a free for all with the multinational monopoly capitalists calling all the shots. They don’t even replant in a timely manor if at all after they cut.
I think all logs should go through a crown agency that conducts the auction of the logs through a market based auction tied to appurtenancy within the region. Separate the forest processing firms from the actual logging of the raw resource, but ensure they can have access to log lots through open bids. Thus enabling a more free enterprise meritocracy that will ease the entry into the forest sector for small business.
I think at the end of the day the Trump import tax is the kind of policy that will fix this situation.
The Trump border adjustment tax will force currency adjustments in the LCD trading nations messing up their arbitrage from cheep labor and environmental subsidies. It will give POTUS control over currency manipulation regimes that was previously only the preview of the US Fed and the self serving monetary policy of countries like China… and thus deal a body blow to the US Fed and banksters running globalism for the benefit of banksters at the expense of national economics. This will benefit Canada as much as it benefits the American economy and will make it uneconomical to ship raw logs for processing in another country only to be sold back into the North American market.
Time Will Tell
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