"Mix ideological agenda and dubious accounting"

Many British Columbians of my generation were involved directly with the forest industry. As a kid, I lived beside a log dump and, to mother’s futile distress, played regularly on log booms. As Hans Peter Meyer said in his Tyee article, Working in the Woods, almost every adult male in my life was in the forest industry. As a 10 year-old, I volunteered to refuel camp vehicles then drove every one around private logging roads to ensure the fuelling was successful. My first paying job was cutting slash on coastal logging roads, although Jack the road boss called my teenage partner and me the laziest S.O.B.s he’d ever encountered.

At 16, I flew in a Piper Super Cub to the head of Powell Lake, landed on a meadow, and spent days in camp with no change of clothing, lugging diesel fuel uphill, five gallons at a time, to the excavator constructing road into old growth timber that would yield flawless Douglas Fir logs 35 feet in circumference. At 17, I worked the summer on those hills as Chief Engineer in Charge of Electrical Communications, or as old guys in camp called me, the whistlepunk. In the days before radio communications, rigging crews used voice and hand signals to a signalman who was attached with 1,200 feet of wire to a horn on the yarding machine. It was primitive and a signalling mistake could mean death for chokermen.

In that camp, where we spent 11 days out of each 14, I gained new respect for forest workers. These guys had a work ethic that is rare today and everything happened at rapid pace. Maximum production was the goal and, sadly, sometimes safety was ignored. After those months in the bush, I worked summers at the Powell River pulp and paper mill until my schooling was complete. That involved stints in the sawmill, the grinder room, maintenance shops, yard crew and paper machines.

Those early experiences left me a life-long respect for the industry that was the foundation of modern British Columbia. Today, I’m saddened at the ignorance of political leaders who establish forest policies to satisfy their financial sponsors who want high returns for little investment and care nothing about job creation. As a result, trucks drive to tidewater past idle sawmills so ships bound for Asia can be loaded with prime saw logs. An earlier article on the subject of exports and lost value-added forest enterprise drew a comment from Scotty on Denman. He’s both thoughtful and knowledgeable so I repeat his contribution here:

The Forest Act mandates the “liquidation” of old-growth, and the regeneration of fast-growing “second-growth”; the evolution includes a “fall-down effect”— the sustained yield of subsequent harvests is substantially less than the initial OG volume from the same area. Jobs, public revenues, product mix are affected by this transition, but biometric and market givens shouldn’t be confused with the BC Liberals’ dys-management of forestry which is equal parts imposed ideological agenda and dubious accounting method, both interacting to obscure, rationalize and conceal the fact that these policies diminish the public interest in its own resource.

Political authority potently obscures diminishment of public benefit from its own resource. Biometric inventory is complex, yet BC Liberal obscurantism is rather blunt: simply ignore keeping a proper forest inventory; the public isn’t much inclined nor able to discern its veracity.

Long term Crown forest licence-holders cooperate with the government to shed capital-heavy processing by unionized workers, and to focus increasingly on logging and trucking by independent, non-union contractors for the raw-log-export market. Forest licensees have contributed generously to the BC Liberal party in return for the favourable policies permitting increases in raw-log export.

The BC Liberals also take advantage of the mountain pine beetle outbreak which, obviously, did a real number on inventory, and gifted the neo-right agenda with a valuable opportunity to obscure and confuse losses due to the beetle with those due to BC Liberal policy. Most absurdly, neo-right shills have availed the chance to blame the NDP for the outbreak—absurd because management policies contributing to it predate any NDP government. Nevertheless, the beetle-kill conveniently absolves forest companies from harvesting what they didn’t much want anyway. The government has tried to use the supposed “loss” of this low-valued species to rationalize “compensating” loggers with higher-valued species in parks and other protected areas. It’s blamed the beetle for everything from mill closers, to mill fires, to toxic but unconfessed aspects of neo-right public policy. This fact remains: the beetles ate themselves out business, the outbreak is over and the killed timber has degraded to useless. Yet the species nobody wanted forms a substantial part of BC Liberal bullshit when it comes to forest policy.

The BC Liberals have taken advantage of notions fostered originally environmentalists that coastal rainforests need urgent protection from immanent eradication by clearcut harvesting which obscures both the facts that vast tracts of coastal bush remain for both sustainable harvest and preservation, and that the high value of the OG makes it a prime candidate for value-adding processing here in BC, compared to second-growth which offers less in this regard, and has little competitive advantage over second-growth from other jurisdictions. OG forest are far from being liquidated yet, but BC Liberal forest policies of raw-log export, which includes both OG and second-growth, do nothing to compel local value-adding of our most competitively advantaged timber type, and, further, erode stock in protected areas, aided and abetted by neglected inventory and pine-beetle mythologizing.

The BC Liberals can make forestry matters as inaccessibly complicated as they want—and it serves their neo-right agenda well. The better policy, however, is simple: raw-log export needs to be reduced, ideally to zero. The only real way to do this is to get rid of the BC Liberal government. Until then, Norm does a sterling job in regularly reminding us of some of the fundamental facts about raw-log export that, properly analyzed, demand Crown forest resources be returned to benefit to its owners and not skewed unfairly and imprudently toward profiteering.

Thank you once again, Norm. We’ll get there yet.

3 replies »

  1. The forests are being raped!.
    Water sheds within the private lands , here on Vancouver Island, are at risk through over active logging.
    At the end of the day we all pay( taxpayers that is) in having to provide water treatment plants to clean & make potable the water that once was cleaned by the forest itself.
    Nanaimo is spending(capital not running cost) $65million for a water treatment plant that likely was not required until the watershed was over logged.
    Port Alberni is about to face the same dilemma as are other communities.
    At the same time jobs are being lost as the logs are exported.
    I say all of this as an entrepreneur whose livelihood has depended upon a vibrant forest industry.
    Fifteen years ago I would travel from, to solicit business, Nanaimo to Port Hardy to see my customers.
    It would take a day to see all of them on the left of the road on the way up Island & a day to see those on the other side on the way down.
    Nowadays I can see everyone within a days drive.
    Of Governments.
    Under Dave Barrett s NDP & the following Bennett Socreds we tried to diversify our economy and add value to out natural resources.
    Under the present “Liberals' ( in name only) we have denigrated to third world easy pickings , rape pillage & leave, economy.
    We are being governed by people with absolutely no long term economic capability nor a moral compass.


  2. Interesting, Norm, how your early life parallels mine; raised in logging camps and forest-dependent communities until post-secondary years. Love to have a coffee sometime and swap stories.

    The standard line from the log exporters is that they can't sell the logs in BC for the same prices they can get in the export market. However, depending on the price differential, there are huge benefits to processing the material right here. Kind of like getting your ferries built in Europe because they are cheaper. Another generation or two of this type of wisdom and we will have forgotten how to build anything.

    Then we will surely be at the mercy of foreign manufacturers.

    One other comment on the forest industry. Most growth/yield projections are aimed at maximizing tree growth per hectare per year. Another economic model might be to maximize $ per hectare per year.

    We still have the formula for creating old growth forests in BC: plant a tree and sit back and wait. We might wait longer to harvest a crop of trees, but there is a good chance that the return per cubic metre will be higher. Waiting longer to harvest will result in reduced allowable annual cut, but the grade/cutout of the older trees will be higher. And if we had the political will to manufacture the logs at home, there is a large potential uplift in total value of the forest.

    And lastly, I remind the readers that Western, Interfor, West Fraser, Canfor et al. do NOT own the bulk of the forest resources of British Columbia. You, the taxpayers of BC own the resource and up until now we have trusted the BC Forest Service to manage the resource for us, theoretically in our best interest.

    Some, including me, would say our best interests have not been well served.


  3. Norm; persey; that there are at least three of us who recognize the term “whistle punk” is refreshing.

    My great grandparents hand logged Powell River long before there was a MacMillan Bloedel. I was born in Englewood in the early days of railroad logging. To a person my ancestors would be disgusted at the lack of respect for our forests and the people who built this province around that resource.

    Today, a family member is a city “forester,” complete with degree, whose job it is to make sure little orange fences protect tree bark from backhoes and believes BC is a leader in forest management. A drive to Sooke where there is a tall stand of trees along the road to hide the scorched earth is something our BCIT/UBC Forestry grads should be made to see. A mandatory weekend in Prince Rupert, or any of the coastal raw log export facilities, should be a greater part of the curriculum than the Seymour Demonstration Forest.


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