Forest industry leaders are gathering in Vancouver this week to hear from the B.C. government how it will move ahead on the province’s log export policies, after years of NDP demands while in opposition to reduce log exports in an effort to keep local sawmills going.
B.C. cabinet orders allowing logging contractors on the Central and North Coast to export up to 20 per cent of their unprocessed logs are due to expire at the end of January. It was reduced from 35 per cent by the previous B.C. Liberal government in 2013, with a portion retained to keep logging companies working in remote regions where there are few viable options for trucking to sawmills.
B.C. Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson are expected to address the annual convention of the Truck Loggers Association, which has argued for many years that premium log export revenues are vital to keep loggers in business so they can also harvest lower-grade timber to bring to B.C. mills.
Contractors are also waiting to hear recommendations from former NDP premier Dan Miller, hired by the current government last summer to find ways to help struggling logging contractors stay in business. They face high equipment costs, skilled labour shortages and movement into more remote timber cutting areas.
B.C. Interior loggers are facing sharply reduced timber harvest levels in the wake of widespread pine beetle infestations, aggravated by two straight record years for forest fire area. The combination of Interior log supply reduction and a slump in U.S. lumber prices has led to multiple sawmill closures and shift reductions in recent months.
The coastal industry, meanwhile, faces a steady stream of environmental attacks on logging of old-growth trees. This is despite the increase in protected areas that has led to a one-third drop in annual allowable cut in coastal forests since 1985.
TLA executive director Dave Elstone has been outspoken in response to urban media reports based on claims by groups such as Sierra Club B.C., which recently compared the province to Brazil in its threat to rainforest preservation.
“Through existing conservation efforts, we are never going to run out of old growth on Vancouver Island,” Elstone wrote in response to a Vancouver newspaper’s promotion of Sierra Club claims.
“In fact, it is the law in B.C. to replant and reforest with natural, indigenous species for all areas harvest on Crown land; 200 million trees are planted annually in B.C., or about three seedlings for every tree that is harvested.”
Statistics Canada reported this week that while B.C. pulp and newsprint exports rose more than 20 per cent in 2018, lumber exports dipped slightly between January and November compared to the same period in 2017.
With wood products demand slowing in China, log exports fell much more, 8.9 per cent, in the same period. Value-added wood product exports were also down 3.5 per cent, and cedar shake and shingle shipments fell by more than 21 per cent.