Raw logs. BC’s practice of allowing their export elicits outrage amongst most people.
Against that background, NDP leader John Horgan’s recent forestry policy plank didn’t seem strong enough. In fact he really pulled his punches. He said his government would make sure that “a surplus test is a real test,” referring to any log supplies that BC mills don’t have the capacity to process. How about encouraging more capacity? “Every time a log leaves, that’s a job,” Horgan said, before mentioning the December closure of Tolko Industries’ Merritt sawmill, an irrelevant example. The mill closed because BC dramatically reduced the allowable cut in the region back to sustainable harvest levels after the mountain pine beetle salvage was completed. Other stories
Once, forest companies in BC had an obligation. The social contract was clear: if you harvest our resources on public land, you build or supply local mills and give our people jobs. The clause was known as an appurtenance. But lack of upgrading on older inefficient mills, consolidation and foreign ownership of major companies threw us back to the “hewers of wood” stage. Yet when public resources contribute to corporate profits, the bottom line should maximize the social and environmental benefits as well as profits. Meanwhile, private forest lands are being rapidly eroded for the lucrative real estate market.
Of course, the modern forestry sector is a complex and integrated field. Although he doesn’t like the concept of raw logs exported, Cowichan Woodwork Ltd. owner Gordon Smith said he understands it in a global manufacturing world. He buys 75 per cent of his wood panel products (such as plywood and veneer) from Oregon, and occasionally from Quebec and Ontario. But we need a new mindset, he says, “that understands the value of the resource we are giving away.”
Perhaps one way to manage the forestry file is to let the communities decide, and the Cowichan Valley could be a great test case. About 25 per cent of the North Cowichan rural municipality is a municipal forest, operating as one of the few privately-owned forests in North America. The working forest generates about 10 jobs a year and contributes to the community through scholarship funds, donated firewood, and woodworking contests for high school students. Two per cent of the forest is cut annually and the logs are sold on the open market.
According to the North Cowichan website, the program “established a rainy-day fund for the Forestry Program to draw upon during periods when the log market is poor.” This fund allows the municipality to maintain the MFR lands without harvesting more to compensate for low timber prices. The fund currently sits at over $1 million, of which half is designated for new land acquisition.
Why not earmark the wood for local mills and local value-added industry and develop a Cowichan wood brand as distinctive as a Cowichan sweater? If the province created tax credits or other incentives to support this, the local benefits would be considerable.
Our forests are too precious to be exploited without a solid social and environmental return. In our diverse economy, where tourism and technology are some of the rapidly growing sectors that provide far more jobs than forestry, our landscapes attract people from all over the world. Working forests are part of the economy, too, but let’s process the wood here.