B.C. government risking dimming the lights on forest industry

By Jim Stirling

The natural rhythms of the mature forest are often comfortably familiar. Every year, for example, wild flowers reappear on the forest floor in the same places they always have.

But new plans influencing how B.C. forests are managed and harvested have the potential for long lasting and widely spread changes to familiar patterns. The wild flowers might have to take their chances.

This musing is prompted by the British Columbia government’s recent decision to not make a decision surrounding the issue of harvesting ‘old growth’ forests. Instead, the provincial government opted to foment uncertainty by deferring for at least two years any harvesting decisions on about 2.6 million hectares of B.C. Crown-owned forest land. The area joins at least a further 10 million hectares of Crown forest land already protected for other uses.

Some old growth forests contain unique ecosystems worthy of preservation. Others do not. But trying to define what constitutes an old growth forest is the first challenge. Pitch the question to a diverse group of forest industry workers and observers and stand by for a lively discussion.

The provincial government gives a definition a shot. It reckons a coastal B.C. forest would have to contain trees at least 250 years old to qualify as ‘old growth’. In the Interior, the government’s yardstick is at least 140 years.

‘Old growth’ is also apparently sub-dividable. The government says ‘old growth’ includes categories like big tree old growth; rare old growth and ancient old growth. If all the present ‘old growth’ deferrals were to be made permanent, B.C. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy has estimated 4,500 jobs would be affected. For affected, read lost.

When there are issues surrounding the definition of ‘old growth’, it follows there are questions about how much of it remains. Wildfires, for example, have taken their toll on all B.C.’s forests in the last five years. The provincial government hasn’t committed sufficient funds to comprehensively update basic forest classifications and inventories. The information is critical to developing management strategies.

Those 4,500 potential lost jobs Forests Minister Conroy alluded to couldn’t cloud the industry’s horizon at a worse time. The provincial forest industry is already reeling. The cycle started when the warming climate exacerbated the impacts of the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the B.C. Interior. Rising wood prices resulted, triggering a chain reaction. Sawmills closed, production was curtailed, jobs were lost and the economic clamps were tightened in communities around B.C.

Now there’s the additional uncertainties about old growth harvesting hovering over the industry.

“The government has set in motion an unprecedented level of uncertainty and concern among the thousands of hard working men and women who face the prospect of losing their jobs without any information about training or support programs,” pointed out Bob Brash in a recent Letter to the Editor. Brash is Executive Director of the Truck Loggers Association of B.C.

Other elephants are squeezing into the B.C. forest industry’s living room. At the time of writing this, rumours were rampant about what specifically the provincial government has in mind when it comes to re-distributing timber harvesting rights in the province. The provincial allowable annual cut is on a downward spiral with the mountain pine beetle epidemic, accentuated by recent wildfire losses. Recent government reviews have indicated that the big five companies’ share of the provincial cut is too large. The government wants to give more access to fibre to First Nations and encourage the establishment of more value-added plants. The government proposes taking the fibre required from the largest licencees.

Canfor Corp is comfortably the largest tenure holder in B.C., supporting nine sawmills, four pulp and paper mills, three pellet plants and employs 4,000 people. Canfor is followed in terms of cubic metres of tenure held by West Fraser Timber Co and Western Forest Products. Interfor Corp and Tolko Industries round out the top five. Collectively, the five companies hold about 27 million cubic metres of the province’s 48 million cubic metres of harvestable timber.

Don Kayne, Canfor’s President and CEO, succinctly stated the company’s position. He said the manufacture of lumber in sawmills is the backbone of B.C.’s forestry sector.

“Without a solid primary industry in British Columbia that has got the hosting conditions to invest ... then we have no pulp and paper industry, we have no pellet industry, we have no secondary manufacturing industry, we have no (cross laminated timber) plants—we have none of that,” declared Kayne. “We need to figure out how to have a sustainable, globally competitive primary industry here in British Columbia to support all the rest of our ambitions.”

Right now, that’s not happening. Kayne and Canfor are presenting their shareholders’ interests. But they make a valid point that should be turning on a light within a provincial government charged with directing the provincial forest industry’s future. The risk is continued government inaction could permanently dim more lights in communities across the province.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

January/February 2022

On the Cover:
The payback in doing your due diligence on mobile equipment purchases can be rewarding in a number of ways, everything from more efficient operations to operator satisfaction—and the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. is seeing that in spades these days, with their new Sennebogen 850E machine, the largest Sennebogen log loader operating in Western Canada (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).

Log haul convoys being lined up …
Semi-autonomous log haul convoys—that could help address driver shortages—may be in the cards for northern Ontario, with a pilot project having been completed this past summer.

Conference coming up in April
Attendees to the Council of Forest Industries of B.C.’s (COFI) annual convention will have plenty to talk about at the first in-person convention to be held in three years, being held in Vancouver April 27 to 29.

Brothers in forestry...and sawmilling
Two brothers—both foresters—have built a hardwood sawmill chain that works out of the forests of Ontario’s well-known Cottage Country, north of Toronto.

Doing your due diligence on equipment purchases
The folks at a Weyerhaeuser sawmill in B.C. did their due diligence with their new log loader—and that homework is now paying off with a very productive new Sennebogen machine.

Turnkey timber technology
Georgia-Pacific Lumber has brought another new high-tech sawmill on stream, provided on a turnkey basis by B.C.-based sawmill equipment supplier, BID Group.

B.C. salvage project delivers solid results
A few different log harvesting and wood grinding outfits were involved in a recent wildfire salvage project—that delivered solid results—in the Clinton Community Forest in the B.C. Interior.

Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, is a story from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).

Tech Update: 
We take a look at the new features in log grapples.

The Last Word
The B.C. government is risking dimming the lights in the province’s forest industry with its recent decisions, including deferring harvesting of 2.6 million hectares of Crown-owned old growth forests.


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