First Nation, environmental and former union leaders say the B.C. government must immediately disclose how many millions more old-growth trees are being logged thanks to provincial subsidies that reward logging companies with bonus trees to fall.
The demand comes after new research by the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows how a 16-year-old government subsidy program known as “crediting” has rewarded logging companies that deliver lower quality logs to wood pellet and pulp mills by not counting those trees in the tallies used by government to limit what companies log.
Information on the credits is scant and confined mostly to paper documents, says Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, adding the government either cannot or will not disclose figures on the subsidy program’s overall impacts. Those seeking the information must launch a time-consuming, costly Freedom of Information process.
“This government is actively encouraging more old-growth logging through subsidies that most of us have never heard of. And it’s rural First Nation communities and their non-Indigenous neighbours that are on the front lines and paying the price. We all deserve answers,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, in a news release.
The bonus logging easily stretches into the millions of trees, says Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the CCPA who did the research.
“The government’s secrecy on this subsidy scheme is deeply disturbing,” he said. “Government knows that a ‘timber supply crisis’ is upon us and that many forests are dangerously depleted. Yet, it continues to incentivize increased logging that is wiping out plant and animal life and that has caused 41,000 people to lose their jobs in the forest industry in just 20 years.”
The research finds that in addition to the crediting scheme, the Forest Enhancement Society, a creation of the provincial government, turned over at least $37 million in taxpayer funds to pellet and pulp mills to offset their purchase costs of “lower quality” wood fibre.
“Wood pellet companies churn through massive amounts of primary and old-growth trees, effectively destroying some of the most carbon-rich forests on earth to generate dirty energy abroad,” said Tegan Hansen, a forest campaigner for Stand.earth.
“B.C. simply cannot continue to give subsidy after subsidy to this industry, especially when critical ecosystems like the interior rainforest are at the brink of collapse and half of remaining unprotected old- growth forest is at imminent risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.”
CCPA research shows that since the subsidies began, B.C.’s pellet industry has grown from eight to 13 mills. The CCPA estimates that it takes up to 24 times more wood fibre to generate one full-time job in the pellet industry than the forest industry average.
“Subsidies that undermine forest health and forest jobs are in no one’s interest. If we want to avoid calamities like Mackenzie, where hundreds of mill workers have lost their jobs, we need to heed the harsh lesson that taking more and more from our forests isn’t working,” said Arnold Bercov, former president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, one of three unions representing forest industry workers.
“We simply must log less while dramatically increasing the range and value of products made in our solid wood and pulp mills. Premier John Horgan says he intends to make that happen. Well, it’s time he did before it’s too late.”
Parfitt says the government must take three steps to address public concerns including:
- Set a firm deadline for ending the subsidies.
- Disclose how many millions of trees have been extracted under the credit scheme, and which old-growth forests and First Nation territories have been most affected.
- Ban any new wood pellet mills in B.C. until an independent professional with no ties to government or the pellet industry completes and publicly releases an analysis of how many whole logs are consumed in pellet mills.