President & CEO, Coast Forest Products Association
An Elephant Never Forgets – But It’s Time to Renew Our Understanding of Coastal Forestry
Coast Forest is in Asia right now on a trade mission working to expand overseas markets for coastal lumber and pulp and paper. There have been a number of similar missions over the years led by our Premier, ministers and others from the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada and CEOs from the forest industry.
The efforts on the missions are extensive, and they have yielded successful outcomes. They include: demonstration projects, market and product development, elimination of non-tariff barriers, country-specific training, and technology and knowledge transfer. Because of this continued focus and persistence, BC forestry now has a solid customer base in China, Japan, Korea and emerging opportunities in India.
However, the elephant in the room remains. For over 100 years, BC forestry’s “elephant” has been that even though we export significantly more lumber and pulp and paper, a small amount of logs are also sold overseas. Less than 11 per cent of all exported BC forest products are logs however, whenever exporting logs is mentioned in the public forum, it is inevitably greeted by the claims, “Exporting logs causes mill closures” and the ever-traditional, “The export of logs is the export of jobs.” The world is not that linear.
The clincher is that these cookie-cutter statements are now ingrained in our public vernacular – easy to rattle off and hard to forget. Repeated year in and year out for decades, they are outdated and grossly misrepresent the reality of our modern industry.
The truth is that we have an innovative and high-tech industry that survived the recession because of overseas customers buying lumber, pulp and paper, logs and other forest products. BC coastal forestry and the thousands it employs would not be here today if it weren’t for women and men harvesting logs and working in competitive, modern mills. Similar to the way a grocery store would not stay in business if it only sold milk, forestry companies need to sell an array of products to meet their customers’ changing needs and stay in business. There are 38,000 people in BC whose livelihoods depend on coastal forestry who benefit from this approach.
Also true is that sometimes mills close, but not because of log exports. For example, coastal companies are making high-tech investments more than ever before in order to modernize their operations. This is necessary for the industry to stay competitive, current and meet the needs of the global marketplace while providing long-term, stable and sustainable jobs for British Columbians. In some cases, this process involves mill consolidation. One recent example of this is Western Forest Products. WFP focused their investment in several of their mills to increase the type and quantity of the lumber produced. Impressively, as part of their process, they offered their workers employment in their newly-upgraded mills.
Also part of the reality is that some mills close because there is not enough fibre supply, but, again, this is not due to log exports. In the past 20 years, our access has drastically decreased with the annual allowable cut (AAC) dropping by an estimated 40 per cent. Forestry companies on the coast – big, medium and small, primary and value-added alike, struggle because of the declining AAC. This has been a central issue for some time and we are collaborating with the provincial government to find a solution. As we continue to look for ways to modernize coastal forestry, we will need to rely on research, pilot studies and adoption of new technologies and approaches to secure fibre for our companies and their mills.
It’s time to replace the century old, outdated phrases. We invite those concerned about the future of BC coastal forests and forestry to discard the old stereotypes and replace them with a new appreciation of the relatively small but important role that log exports has in our modern coastal forest economy.