Why Myths About BC Forests Won’t Create Jobs (of any Colour)

Ben Parfitt’s article How to Create Green Jobs in BC’s Forests appeared in the August 15, 2011 online edition of the Tyee (link to full article).

In a nutshell, Mr. Parfitt criticizes the BC forest industry for exporting raw logs to China. He argues that diversifying markets and value-added products are the vehicles we need to move this province, its forests and its communities forward to a better place.

We’re just as interested in improving the situation for BC forests and communities. In fact, we strive for the same worthy objectives as Mr. Parfitt: a sustainable forest industry and healthy sustainable forests.

To that end, we’ve taken the time to address some flawed logic, bad comparisons and misinformation Mr. Parfitt stumbled over on the way to a better place.

“We’re Shipping Primarily Non-processed Commodities to China” and Here’s Why

Economic realities dictate how markets work. The products Chinese markets want are logs and lumber. That’s why BC (and our competitors like the US, New Zealand and Australia) sell logs and lumber to China.

Fibre costs and fibre availability are not the limiting factors for value-adding in BC. Conversion costs are. Western Canada has some of the lowest log prices on planet earth. It also has the highest sawmill wages and the highest conversion costs on planet earth.

This is the same reason BC doesn’t export mobile phones and children’s toys to China. A high-cost jurisdiction cannot compete on value-added forest products into the Chinese market, or any market where the costs to manufacture goods are considerably cheaper.

Moving up the Value Chain: Why Comparing BC to Ontario and Quebec Doesn’t Work

Comparing Ontario and Quebec to BC is a bit like comparing an ocean to a lake. Sure, they’re both water, but they’re fundamentally different and exist in distinct environments.

BC’s eastern counterpartes operate with a different species mix (a greater proportion of whitewoods and temperate hardwoods) and a different product mix (newsprint, fine papers, value-added hardwood products).

Interestingly, eastern Canadian provinces are often net importers of logs from the U.S. In Quebec and Ontario there are no log export restrictions on private forest lands. This means, logs flow to the mills on either side of the border that add the most value, and can therefore offer the highest log prices.

This is the opposite of what’s going on in BC. Here, log export restrictions create artificially low log prices – the lowest on the planet. When domestic log prices are competitive there is no incentive to export logs.

Open competition for fibre compels innovation, efficiency, investment, improved utilisation, and ultimatley, increases the economic return to the forest.

“You can’t make forest products if you don’t have healthy numbers of healthy trees.”

BC has loads of healthy trees. Let us say it one more time for emphasis. There is no shortage of healthy trees in BC.

Yes, the harvest of lodgepole pine was accelerated to capture residual value in millions of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. However, 100 million cubic meters of timber still went uncut.

That’s right, of the province’s annual allowable cut 100 million cubic metres of timber didn’t get harvested. That’s a lot of trees.

Currently, BC’s coastal timber harvest exceeds its annual coastal timber processing capacity by 8 million cubic metres.

We repeat: there are plently of healthy trees in BC. Trees that were planted and grown for the purpose of harvesting.

Some Raw Facts of Our Own:

• The current market price for lumber destined to China is $248 per thousand board feet. The price for logs (TO THE SAME MARKET) is $630 per thousand board feet.

• The cost of log production on the BC coast is between $400 and $630 per thousand board feet. You do the math.

• Banning log exports and limiting competition for fibre is the opposite of diversification.

• If a forest product is used in a manner that substitutes a high-carbon product like coal, oil, gas, steel, concrete, plastic or aluminum, the outcome is carbon-friendly.

• People don’t burn money. They don’t burn usable logs either. People burn logs to manage forests because current market conditions don’t make it economically viable to use them other ways.

What do you think? We look forward to your comments and suggestions.

BC’s Log Export Policy: Under Review

BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is in the process of reviewing log export policy.

The PFLA is engaged in this process and welcomes your questions and suggestions.

Here’s some information we thought you might find useful.

At the Log Export Policy Meeting, held July 20th in Richmond BC, Tom Niemann gave a presentation summarizing the log export situation in BC.

The presentation included:

  • a brief history of log export legislation.
  • a synopsis of the review of BC log export policy in 2006.
  • an assessment of what’s changed in BC’s forest sector since 2006

You can click on the arrows below to view the complete presentation:

Some links to additional information about BC log exports, provided by Tom Niemann after the meeting:
  • A report on log exports that BC Stats published just before the July 20th meeting is found here.

As mentioned at the meeting, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is happy to receive written submissions, suggestions, and input.

Please send your comments, by Aug. 8th, 2011, to: Forests.CompetitivenessBranch@gov.bc.ca

If you have any other questions, or want more information, leave us a comment below—we’ll get back to you.

Highlights from the 2011 Private Forestry Forum

Another success! PFLA organizers were delighted by the turnout and participation at the 2011 Private Forestry Forum.

Held June 16th, 2011, at the Prestige Conference Centre in beautiful Sooke, BC, a series of engaging presentations sparked interesting debates, encouraged thoughtful questions, and provided an opportunity to connect with forest landowners (large and small, coastal and interior); government representatives; industry experts; communication specialists; and international presenters.

For those of you who missed it, here are some of the highlights:

Tom Niemann, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations: Wood Market Update & Outlook presentation.

Highlight: Amazingly detailed, colourful and comprehensive graphs and charts depicting the forest sector’s business cycle over the past 10 years.

Key point: This is not a regular business cycle – both the product mix and the markets have changed. Tom advises policy makers, foresters, and landowners to think creatively about adjusting product mixes to match market demands.

Matt Walsh, New Zealand Carbon Farming: International developments in forest carbon trading.

Highlight: An international demand for carbon credits (created by voters and consumers pressuring governments and corporations to off-set negative environmental impacts) means “sinking” a forest, and selling carbon credits rather than logs, may prove as, if not more, lucrative.

Key point: International examples from New Zealand and California indicate the carbon credit industry is developing quickly. By 2012, we’ll see open trading in carbon credits in order for companies to meet their Kyoto Protocols. The Darkwoods carbon pilot project (June 2011) marks the first carbon sink deal in BC  (Using the Trees to Save the Forest).

Mike Brooks: Detailed scan of B.C.’s political landscape.

Highlight: Continued political uncertainty puts two of PFLA’s key issues – maintaining policy distinction for private managed forestlands and positive change on log export policy – at risk.

Key point: There’s hope. We’re harvesting well under the average allowable cut, each year, in this province. This is a new concept for citizens. Undercutting public lands reframes the debate about log exports in a new light. It’s important to find a way to communicate this new message to the public.

Laura Coward, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, spoke briefly about recent shifts in government ministries. Laura reaffirmed the government’s commitment to work with the PFLA to ensure that government remains alert to the perspective of private managed forest owners.

Ron Davis, Private Managed Forest Land Council also provided a brief update on the council’s activities over the past year.

Did we miss anything? Want to know more? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

Regulating Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs) in BC

The BC provincial government is in the process of regulating off-road vehicles (ORVs). Vera Vukelich gave a detailed presentation of the ORV Management Framework at the PFLA’s 2011 Private Forestry Forum.

Under the ORV Management Framework, vehicle registration is mandatory for ORVs operated on crown land: this applies to current and new owners, and includes safety regulations. A compliance and enforcement strategy is in the works, and the implementation process is expected to take about 2 years – this gives ICBC the time necessary to upgrade their systems.

In her presentation, Vera Vukelich was sincerely sensitive to the unique position of private forest landowners. The province is prepared to include or exclude private managed forestlands, from the legislation, based on input from the PFLA. One way or the other, ORV legislation will affect private forest landowners.

The question before the PFLA is how to respond? This is an opportunity for managed forest owners to influence policy development. The best course of action is for the PFLA to respond to government by the end of August with a solid PFLA position – a clear statement on whether we welcome the regulation of ORVs on private managed forestlands, or whether we oppose it. What do you think?

First Stop on the PFLA Field Tour: Tugwell Creek Honey Farm

The renowned PFLA field tour took place on June 15th, 2011. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are a few highlights to whet your appetite for next year.

Imagine a forestry charter bus, an immensely diverse group of occupants, and a rural winding road on the west coast of Vancouver Island. First stop: Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery.

Owner, Bob Liptrot, is a self-proclaimed lover of cut blocks. It’s true. Where others see cut trees, Bob sees a perfect habitat for bees.

A beekeeper for close to 50 years, Bob shared loads of information about bees, honey, mead and what makes for good beekeeping.

He’s excited about the possibility of beekeepers and forest landowners working together for mutual benefit: the beekeepers get access to choice conditions for excellent beekeeping, and the landowners get another pair of attentive eyes on their property – a win-win.

Informative and inspiring, this leg of the tour also proved tantalizing – co-owner Dana Comte offered up samples of honey, mead and wine in the tasting room (it was 5:00 p.m. somewhere).

Thanks Bob and Dana!

Want to know more about Vancouver Island bees?
Check out the video link below:

Talking About the Bees: The PFLA Visits Tugwell Creek Honey Farm

Let us know what you think!

Next Stop on the PFLA Field Tour: Van Isle Tree Farm

Our second stop on the PFLA 2011 forest field tour: Van Isle Tree Farm where we were graciously received by the Robertson family.

With over 110 hectares of forestland, there was a lot to see.

An impressive diversity of species: copper beech planted in 1996, giant sequoia planted in 1997, redwoods, oak, arbutus, and tales of eucalyptus (over 25 varieties) attempted, but in the end, lost to father winter.


Strolling through the forest, there was plenty of time to glean knowledge as the Robertsons shared stories of land management and reforestation. Spirited conversations emerged about wild life, paint ball, burning, harvesting, firewood, trespassing, and of course, the deer – what to do about the deer?

Wrapping up this leg of the tour, Ken Robertson was presented with an award for outstanding commitment to, and demonstration of, private forest stewardship in British Columbia.

Along with a plaque, the PFLA was pleased to present Mr. Robertson with the only meaningful gift to give a guy who has over 100 hectares of land, an excavator and a passion for planting trees – 45 gallons of diesel and some hydraulic fluid.

Congratulations Ken!

Thanks again to the Robertsons – Ken, his wife Dorothy, and their two sons, Blair and Warren – for your hospitality.

Check out this video of Ken Robertson doing what he loves best: