BY BILL PHILLIPS
It’s been more than 20 years since there has been a rigorous examination of forest policy in B.C., says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives resource analyst Ben Parfitt.
It’s time for another look, he told a crowd of about 60 people at a Stand Up For the North Committee public meeting on the future of the forest industry Monday.
“In much of the ensuing 20-plus years, there has been a great drift that is making it much more difficult and challenging for regions to be able to respond to the very, very significant challenges that are confronting this province around forest management and the future of forestry,” he said.
It’s no secret that cut levels are going to decrease in the province, particularly in the North. It’s already happening in places like Merritt, which is facing closure of one of its two mills. Parfitt says forestry in British Columbia has to learn how to do more with less.
Doing more with less, he said, means restoring the province’s forests to a healthy status, capturing more value from the wood that is logged, reducing the “shockingly high” amount of wood that is wasted in the forests, and introducing a value-added strategy.
Parfitt offered up 10 ideas for discussion that he feels can help.
“There is need for a graphic, comprehensive review of logging rates across British Columbia and re-setting of those rates to sustainable levels across British Columbia,” he said. “Every day that we perpetuate logging rates that, our own government knows are unsustainable, deepens the hurt that’s going to be felt in communities across British Columbia.”
Another suggestion from Parfitt is a comprehensive review of where wood fibre is moving from and moving to.
“Whenever we have logs being cut in one region of the province and being moved vast distances to another region, it is a form of log exports,” he said. “We need to have a conversation around who benefits and who loses from the movement of those logs.”
Parfitt’s third recommendation is to give communities more direct say in forestry decisions. He talked about using regional boards that help determine how logging rates are calculated.
“We have to look (at forests) well beyond their value as a source of fibre,” he said. “We need to be thinking about the value of forests in protecting our water supplies. Communities need to be more empowered around watershed protection.”
Those communities include First Nations.
If we start to look at diversifying the forest industry, Parfitt said we also need to look at the value the province gets from the wood that is harvested.
“I am disturbed by the fact that in 2016, roughly one-in-three trees that was logged in British Columbia generated the lowest possible stumpage rate … 25 cents,” he said. “I think we need to think through how we price our timber in this province.”
He said there should also be a province-wide competition review.
“Currently the top 10 companies in British Columbia control 68 per cent of everything that is logged,” he said. “In the interior, if we look at sawmilling capacity, three companies control 65 per cent of the cut. It would be a benefit to us all to have a review of corporate concentration.”
Parfitt called for an immediate phase-out raw log exports from the province.
“There is a significant and growing volume of wood from the interior that is going out as raw log exports,” he said. “That will likely grow in the face of mill closures.”
He suggested an immediate ban on export of raw logs from old growth forests and a tax on exports from secondary growth forests.
Parfitt also suggested a network of regional log markets around the province as a way to increase competition for logs.
He added it’s also time to examine the social contract for companies to operate … what should be required of them in exchange for being able to harvest the province’s resource.
“We have to look at the idea that there is a social contract; that companies that are given long term rights of access to resources that you and I own, have some obligation to be milling that products in local regions and communities,” he said.
Another piece of the puzzle is adding value to the wood that is harvested. Rather than simply pushing out two-by-fours and two-by-sixes, there should be more opportunities for value-added producers.
“Some of the value-added companies we had in business in the province years ago were in business because the province awarded timber to them specifically in exchange for them adding value to the wood,” he said. “I see no reason why we shouldn’t have a conversation to see how we get back there again.”