Wide gulf of opinion runs through coastal forestry debate

Industry faces collapse from dwindling supply of old-growth timber, Sierra Club says
B.C.’s coastal forestry industry will run out of old-growth trees for logging if no new protections are placed on forest land, says Sierra Club spokesman Jens Wieting | Ralf Herschbach/Shutterstock

The coastal forest industry is facing economic and environmental constraints, while the municipalities most affected by the industry are unsure how to balance the two.

“It’s positive to maintain natural green spaces and protected areas,” said Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams. “It’s also positive that there have been identified areas where there is continued allowable cut so that the industry can remain viable as well. It’s all about maintaining that balance.”

The Truck Loggers Association (TLA) conducted two surveys of community leaders’ views of changes to coastal forestry between 2004 to 2015. The survey gauged support by community representatives, including mayors, for both the coastal forest industry as well as public parks and protected land.

“We’re trying to benchmark concerns,” David Elstone, TLA executive director, said in an interview. “We wanted to take this as an opportunity to get feedback from the mayors and community influencers on an industry that affects them.”

Weighing industry needs against environmental concerns is difficult in climate-conscious British Columbia. The coastal forest industry is projecting 4,700 new job openings within the industry by 2020, and, according to Coast Forest Products Association, one in 16 jobs in B.C. is connected to the forest industry.

At the same time, mayors and constituents are concerned about the environmental effects of coastal forestry. The B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks considers the Douglas fir to be at risk. The Sierra Club B.C. says Douglas fir trees, characteristic of many old-growth forests, have decreased to 1% of their former numbers on Vancouver Island.

Elstone said the province is doing what is necessary to conserve old-growth forests on Canada’s Pacific coast. Although Elstone said he recognizes the economic importance of the coastal forest industry, he also believes that balancing industry with environmental concerns is needed.

“A large percentage of our province is protected as park lands; we have huge amounts of land set aside for species and ecosystem preservation, so it’s all a question of how you determine what that balance is.”

However, according to Jens Wieting, a forest and climate campaigner for the Sierra Club B.C., “this balance does not exist.”

Coastal forestry isn’t the only industry that is dependent on British Columbia’s forests.  Port Renfrew has advocated for forest preservation based on tourism industry concerns. Ecotourism brings tens of thousands of people from around the world to Vancouver Island to see trees that are hundreds of years old. This puts coastal forestry in competition with Vancouver Island tourism.

The issue of raw log exports has also continued to provoke debate in the province. The majority of raw log exports come from coastal forestry, specifically from privately owned forests on Vancouver Island. According to the Private Forest Landowners Association (PFLA), 25% of the available timber from coastal forests is used for raw log exports. According to BC Stats, the amount of raw log exports in 2014 was 6.5 million cubic metres, up from 2.5 million cubic metres in 2009.

The TLA’s survey found that 62% of community leaders have a “guarded support” for log exports, up from 60% when the TLA did their survey in 2004.

The concerns around exporting raw logs have to do with outsourcing and the belief that trees cut in Canada should also be milled in Canada. Although jobs are lost from outsourcing the milling of Canadian logs to other countries, some argue that raw log exports are saving the Canadian forest industry. The PFLA, which has a vested interest in raw log exports, says exports are responsible for subsidizing Canadian mills by providing low-price logs.

They argue the ability to sell logs at a premium internationally is what makes domestic log production viable.

“If it wasn’t for the exports of raw logs we wouldn’t have a domestic industry because it subsidizes the local log supply, in a big way,” said PFLA executive director Rod Bealing.

Raw log exports aren’t the only things affecting the viability and sustainability of the coastal forest industry. According to the Sierra Club, old-growth forests are a non-renewable resource; Wieting said he believes that the destruction of the coastal forest industry is imminent.

“It is crystal clear that we are running out of old growth trees for logging,” Wieting said. “Even if there was no additional protection of the remaining old growth, no one can argue that this will not come to an end. … We are concerned about both losing the remaining old growth and still ending with a collapse of the coastal forestry industry when the last old growth tree is cut.”

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