Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Raw Deal: BC Timber Giants Shutter Mills While Keeping Public Forest Tenure

Forest industry – new ideas or old dogmas?

by Peter Ewart - 250 News

March 1, 2017

More and more logs are going to be shipped out of Timber Supply Areas in the Interior of BC as more and more mills are shut down. That was the message communicated last week by Dave Peterson, Assistant Deputy Minister, from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.

Peterson was speaking on a panel at the annual Conference of Association of BC Forest Professionals in Prince George which included representatives from the largest forest companies in the province, Michael Armstrong of COFI and Rick Jeffrey of the Coast Forest Products Association.

Essentially, all three panelists are saying the same thing. Nothing can be done about the large forest companies continuing to hold on to timber rights even after they shut down mills. Workers, First Nations, small and medium businesses, and communities will just have to live with the situation of logs being shipped out. Optimizing and maintaining the supply chain for the big forest companies is paramount.

But Interior communities such as Fort Nelson and Merritt think quite differently. In recent years, both have had mills shut down while logs are shipped out. And they have spoken out strongly against this practice.

For example, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality issued a statement at the end of last year about how the Municipality is “experiencing the downside of BC’s forest tenure system.” The statement explains how “changes to the BC Forest Act in 2003 … removed ‘mill appurtenancy’ provisions that required Forest License holders to process wood in the area where it was harvested.” Specifically, this change has rendered “collateral damage” on many small communities in the province and “threatens their economic sustainability”1.

In a resolution last year submitted to the BC Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce asked the question:

“Should companies holding forest tenures be allowed to simply walk away from the facilities they operate in communities and forest districts where tenures are held? Given the high number of mill closures, the continued export of unprocessed logs (whether out of the country or out of community) and declines in value-added manufacturing, a review of forest policy in British Columbia is inarguably justified”2.

And then there is the issue of forest companies like Canfor, West Fraser and Interfor setting up dozens of mill operations in the Southern US while closing mills in BC. Again the message from government and the big companies is that nothing can be done about this practice. But why is that so? Shouldn’t the added value created from BC forests and BC workers be put back into BC industry and communities as first priority rather than exported to some foreign jurisdiction?

It is a similar situation with the export of raw logs from BC. For example, 26 million cubic metres of raw logs were exported from BC since 2013. As Ben Parfitt, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out, “no previous B.C. government has sanctioned such a high level of raw-log exports on its watch or been so mute about the consequences”3.

The world is changing. Globalized corporations increasingly dominate the forest industry and other industries in Canada and around the world. But broad sections of people, including workers, Indigenous nations, small and medium businesses, contractors and resource-based communities as a whole, are being left out in the cold. This is happening not only in Canada but also in wide regions of the US as was evidenced by some of the issues that rose to the fore in the US presidential election regarding trade agreements, loss of manufacturing jobs, and other related issues.

However, the highest levels of government and big corporations in the province claim that nothing can be done. But is this true? Or is it another example of dogma and ossified thinking? Are there other alternatives?

As the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality points out, “mill appurtenancy” used to play an important role in economic sustainability for Interior communities. Indeed, requiring companies to process logs in or near the communities where they were harvested was important for province building in the 20th century. Should the BC government have thrown out that policy completely as it did back in 2003?

Why not engage communities in discussion about how a new form of appurtenancy could be brought into being that takes into account the changed conditions of today in terms of timber supply and other factors? Or to put it another way: why not institute new policies that would have the same effect as appurtenancy and ensure that communities, forests and the forest industry itself are sustainable? And the same applies to other issues. Why not communities having more control over forest tenure? Why not more value added industries?

Science, technology and research today are opening up the potentiality of wood to create literally thousands of new products from fabrics and pharmaceuticals to fuels, plastics, and new structural materials – all of these from a wonderful renewable resource. It is both bizarre and ironic that, while this multitude of possibilities is opening up for wood, the possibilities for BC forests (some of the richest and most diverse in the world) appear to be shrinking and narrowing. Unfortunately, dogma and ossified thinking tend to bring that about.

In this globalized world, we need new ways of thinking and new ways of empowering communities. Not old dogmas.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

1. Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. “Change and innovation to BC’s forest tenure system.” Fort Nelson, BC. November 15, 2016.
2. British Columbia Chamber of Commerce. “Proposed resolutions manual – 2016.”
3. Parfitt, Ben. “Raw logs and lost jobs: How the BC government has sacrificed forest communities.” The Tyee. February 27, 2017.

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