Myths plague raw log export dilemma

In their ongoing effort to differentiate Premier Christy Clark, the jobs diva, from NDP leader Adrian Dix, the jobs killer...

In their ongoing effort to differentiate Premier Christy Clark, the jobs diva, from NDP leader Adrian Dix, the jobs killer, the Liberals have primed the pump for a renewed coastal resource battle over raw log exports.

The launch pad for this made-for-elections gambit was this month’s Truck Loggers Association bun toss where Forests Minister Steve Thomson announced increased harvesting activity on the coast through the auction of an additional 500,000 cubic metres by BC Timber Sales.

Always keen to straddle the fence with both ears on the ground and aware that most coastal voters are upset with the level of raw log exports, the government also announced a 20-per-cent fee increase for raw logs based on the difference between the domestic and export prices of timber.

The Liberals launched the review of the province’s log export policies in July 2011. In the previous year more logs had been shipped to China from B.C. than in all of the preceding two decades. However, when you burrow down into this complex issue it becomes apparent that Thomson’s pre-election fixes barely rise to the level of tinkering.

Like many coastal residents, I have fallen prey to the myth that there is a direct correlation between the volume of logs exported and sawmill jobs lost. This is a myth abetted by the New Democrats, who will significantly curtail log exports if elected, and by their union brothers and sisters and their ENGO partners (environmental non-governmental organizations).

As complex as this issue is, I have seen glimmers of clarity in a 2006 government study conducted by former Forestry Deputy Minister Don Wright and Cobble Hill-based forester Bill Dumont. For reasons that do not escape me this report had been archived while the Liberals embarked on the new review that set the stage for this month’s cosmetics. Simply put, the Wright/Dumont report calls for bold sectoral reforms that challenge the appetite of the Liberals — and the NDP for that matter — to embrace arduous policy reform.

In the study “Generating More Wealth from British Columbia’s Timber: A Review of British Columbia’s Log Export Policies” the two experts stated: “Log exports are primarily a symptom, not a cause, of the economic problems facing the coast industry. The pressure to export logs and the level of log exports, have historically risen and fallen with the fortunes of the coast forest industry.

“The distinction between log exports as a symptom rather than a cause is an important one. A mistaken diagnosis of log exports as the cause of the industry’s problems would lead to prescriptions that are unhelpful, if not outright damaging.”

The key issue in the Coast Forest Region is the economics of processing hemlock and balsam. A very large share of that inventory is uneconomic to harvest under current conditions, the experts said. “Unless some way is found to make the hemlock and balsam resource more valuable, it is inevitable that the Annual Allowable Cut will be reduced significantly and harvesting activity in large parts of the coast and northern transition zone will cease.”

Wright and Dumont called for the re-establishment of a globally competitive coast manufacturing sector that includes establishing a level playing field with competitors in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Had the government embarked on such an ambitious strategy in December 2006 when the study was submitted, we might not be having such an acrimonious and flawed debate today about raw logs.

Who am I kidding? M

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