If the amount of logs exported by B.C. forest companies in 2016 were milled into lumber, it would have been enough to build 134,000 single-family homes, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The centre threw that statistic into a report to illustrate their argument about the impact of log exports, a hot-button political issue for B.C.’s coastal communities that have suffered the decline of lumber manufacturing over the last decade-and-a-half while exports of unprocessed timber has soared.
“The troubling reality is that since 2003, the door has been wide open for companies to close mills and export logs instead,” said Ben Parfitt, the researcher who compiled the report, which was backed by major forest-sector unions and environmental groups.
It is a long-standing complaint that runs against the industry’s argument that allowing exports is key to maintaining a flow of timber to remaining mills and that putting on more restrictions would wind up costing jobs for loggers.
Parfitt said his research of B.C.’s export statistics showed that exports have broken the typical pattern exports followed more than a decade ago, which saw most come off of privately owned timberland.
Now, that pattern has been “flipped on its head,” with the majority of exports coming out of Crown forests, Parfitt said, which means the province can act to encourage logging companies to reinvest in manufacturing on the coast.
Banning the export of old-growth logs should be the first step, Parfitt said, then taxes on the export of second-growth logs should be raised to the point that it would be more worthwhile for the timber licenses to reinvest in mills in B.C.
Finally, Parfitt said the report’s advocates, Unifor, the Public and Private Workers of Canada, the Sierra Club, Wilderness Committee and Ancient Forest Alliance, want to see government adopt policy incentives to encourage the manufacture of a wider range of products from those trees.
Parfitt calculated that B.C. exported some 6.3 million cubic metres of logs in 2016, which he estimates could have employed 3,650 people if they were milled in the province.
Parfitt argued that is an important consideration for rural communities where forestry remains a bedrock industry.
Forest Minister Steve Thomson said the report is “misguided” for not recognizing the role that exports play in maintaining timber flows and employment in logging communities.
Thomson said that companies still have to put logs up for auction domestically before they are allowed to export, and exports represent just seven per cent of B.C.’s overall timber harvest.
“Obviously, we’d like to see as large a percentage of logs manufactured here in B.C. as possible,” Thomson said, adding that the province is co-operating with the industry on a strategy to keep the sector competitive.