In spite of two political party leadership contests in British Columbia, the Truck Loggers Association has worked hard to maintain its longstanding policy of taking a non-partisan approach to politics. More than 400 companies with some 8,000 employees with diverse viewpoints rely on us, so we think our impartial approach has earned us some measure of credibility when we speak about issues that are politically charged.
Recently, newly minted B.C. New Democrat leader Adrian Dix promised that if he were elected premier he would “take direct action” against log exports. Not only is this a tired piece of partisan rhetoric, but it would damage our coastal forest industry, its workforce and ultimately forest management. For those reasons we cannot let his position go unchallenged.
B.C.’s forest industry largely built our province and it continues to support tens of thousands of families today. While its economic importance may have fallen in relation to some other sectors, its environmental significance alone guarantees that it retains its longstanding title as “B.C.’s most important resource industry.” Our forests not only provide the world with the most managed, sustainable, affordable and globally accepted building material, they are also globally significant in terms of addressing climate change issues. B.C. voters need to be aware of forest management issues and they should encourage their politicians to support sensible policies.
A lot has been written about China’s hunger for raw materials and building products. While China’s appetite seems insatiable, the reality is that without a thriving United States housing market, there is more global lumber supply than demand. As long as supply exceeds demand the price of our lumber will remain at today’s historic lows. Low lumber prices mean that the amount of our forest that can be harvested economically is constrained. If foreign buyers will pay $100 for lumber and it costs $50 to manufacture that lumber, local mills will only operate if they can get timber that costs $50 or less.
Since 1992 more and more of our sustainably harvestable timber has been left standing purely due to economics. Some will say that it is okay to leave the uneconomic timber standing. But we must then be prepared to accept consequences such as increased fire risk, beetle infestations and decaying timber stands. If we wish to manage our forests actively and sustain an industry that provides 25 per cent of our GDP, we have to find ways to make our “uneconomic” timber more economically viable.
Basic economics suggests we either cut costs or increase the value of our forests if we want to have a more economic forest sector. The Softwood Lumber Agreement with the U.S. prevents governments from stepping in to subsidize or to reduce costs to the industry artificially. So, over the past 12 years, efficiency has been a major focus of industry and there is no doubt that will continue.
The Truck Loggers Association strongly encourages policies that maximize the amount of timber that can be harvested and forests that can be managed sustainably. We need to use every means available to increase the value of our forests in order to promote sensible forest management. The key to log exports within this context is balance. We should allow enough export to maximize economic activity and encourage good forest management practices. We should not support policies that reduce the amount of timber that is harvested and managed well, nor should we look solely to maximize harvesting profits at the expense of local mills.
For the last decade the public has demanded less logging waste, higher employment, greater government spending and better forest management. Exporting a portion of our uneconomic timber to accomplish these ends seems reasonable to me. Dix has made it clear that he is more interested in playing partisan politics with our forests and the coastal forest industry than in finding this balance. That’s why we look forward to working with Premier Christy Clark and her government as we seek to move past the tired, old rhetoric and towards sensible solutions.
Dave Lewis is executive director