Forests minister launches boost for timber industry at Victoria convention
In a bid to spur timber harvesting on the coast, the provincial government announced it will look at new technology for scaling logs, fast-track the auction of an additional 500,000 cubic metre of timber and make improvements to the log-export system.
The initiatives were unveiled by Forests Minister Steve Thomson at the Truck Loggers Association’s convention and is designed to stimulate economic activity in the woods as timber markets are rebounding.
“Our focus and goal is to increase jobs, economic activity and opportunity for coastal communities and First Nations,” Thomson told reporters following his speech. He noted the increase in volumes of wood sold by B.C. Timber Sales and the changes in log-export policy are designed to increase harvesting activity on the coast.
The accelerated auction of 500,000 cubic metres between now and June will address a shortage in short-term log supply.
The new scanner technology uses lasers to determine the volume of a log and could be a more efficient and less expensive way of scaling. The ministry is also exploring ways to ensure the entire timber profile available on the coast is harvested more consistently.
The changes to log-export policy, long a contentious issue on the coast, is unlikely to settle the debate over the practice.
The revisions announced Thursday include a change to the fee structure for exporting some logs.
Actual export fees charged will be based on the difference between the domestic and export price of log. With a current average price difference between the domestic and export price, that would be a 20 per cent increase in fees charged for exporting logs from the coast.
Thomson also introduced a change to fees charged on logs from high-cost harvesting areas like the mid-coast timber supply area. The fee on low- and mid-grade logs will be reduced to a minimum of $1 per cubic metre for a two-year trial period.
The province contends the high cost of logging and low value of timber in the remote area has resulted in lessened economic activity, and the hope is a reduced fee will increase harvesting activity while at the same time “dampening” the export activity.
“The goal is to make more wood available for the domestic industry,” said Thomson. “It’s all about finding a measured, balanced approach ... recognizing the ability to export logs is a key component to the coastal forest industry and needs to be allowed for the economic profile to be harvested.”
Ric Slaco, vice-president of forest giant Interfor, said the government seems to have found that balance with the fee increase for export logs and reducing fees for logs harvested in challenging regions.
“The consequence of that is some of those logs will end up in domestic mills and, as a domestic manufacturer, we say that’s balanced,” Slaco said. “It takes an emotionally charged issue like log exports and puts it in perspective that makes sense. We’re not dismissing the needs of domestic users like ourselves and, at the same time, not ignoring the fact that if you don’t have an export opportunity you won’t have logs harvested in certain areas of the province.”
Rick Jeffery, CEO of the Coast Forest Products Association, said it also narrows the gap between actual harvest and the annual allowable cut (AAC) companies can take from Crown land each year.
“We haven’t cut the AAC since 2004,” Jeffery said. “What the minister has done is put some brakes on the export piece but has also balanced that off.”
Jeffery said for every log exported, two head to domestic mills. The new initiatives to stimulate harvesting could result in an additional 1.4 million cubic metres harvested this year.
Bill Markvoort, president of the Truck Loggers Association, said while companies don’t like additional costs, the organization understands “the balance required between domestic manufacturers and the international marketplace.”
However, he said the 20 per cent increase announced in fees charged for exporting logs from the coast has the potential to negatively impact TLA members’ ability to harvest the coastal annual allowable cut.
“Our inability to economically harvest the full annual allowable cut stymies job creation,” he said.
According to the TLA, since 2000 almost 58 million cubic metres of the annual allowable cut has remained uncu. During the same period, just over 41 million cubic metres was exported.
The TLA estimates the undercut represents 4,100 jobs lost per year and more than $2 billion in lost revenue to the province.
Some response by Anthony Britneff:
Forests Minister Steve Thomson failed to address a fundamental problem of the coastal forest industry driving log exports — the lack of investment in retooling existing mills and in building new milling capacity for second-growth timber.
With competing economic value being placed on the ecological services that old-growth forests provide, such as purifying water, cleaning air (carbon) and conserving soil, any future increase in the number of jobs will be greatly leveraged upward by adding value in the manufacturing sector to the smaller volumes of timber being felled. By continuing to stimulate log exports, the provincial government is doing the opposite.
In theory, raw logs can be exported only if they meet the test of being surplus to the needs of domestic mills. By increasing the amount of public timber available for harvesting, the government will ensure that log exporters meet that surplus test even more easily than they have done during a decade of mill closures.
All the government will achieve is the maintenance of existing harvesting jobs propped up by increasing log exports and a continuation of a self-fulfilling death spiral of manufacturing jobs.