Red ink and red flags for BC forestry

The Indigenous Resource Network will soon release a two-part documentary that focuses on forestry, a sector hurt by new regulations and economic difficulties.


Now on our must-watch list, two special videos coming from the Indigenous Resource Network (IRN) — “a 2-part documentary focused on the unique stories of Indigenous forestry workers.”

Part One is to come out on the IRN’s YouTube channel on Thursday May 9.

Part One takes place in Squamish BC where forestry has played a major role in building the town of Squamish. Follow the stories of Roger Lewis from Squamish Nation and hear about how the forestry industry has had a unique impact on his family.”

The IRN promises: “Roger’s passion for land stewardship and responsible development shines through his interview.”

Lewis, a logger for 25 years, is superintendent of special projects at Nch'Kay' Development Corporation, the economic arm of the Squamish Nation. Of it, he says: “We’re hoping to expand and eventually . . . upgrade more equipment, more training, more experienced workers . . . and be able to perform everything in-house.”

The BC government has committed to a policy of encouraging and enabling greater First Nations participation and more Indigenous partnerships in the industry. That we applaud, and there has been some progress. 

We hope the IRN video tells us more. 

Because, sadly, the policy has become yet one more factor in the uncertainties affecting the sector.

And at this point, the outlook of BC’s forest sector is a full of red ink and red flags. 

Teal Jones, the largest privately held forest company on the West Coast, employing around 1,000 people, is battling bankruptcy and has filed for creditor protection.

It cites low lumber prices, inflationary pressures, and rapidly escalating interest rates. Others have also noted increases in government “stumpage” fees on their logs.

Teal Jones further noted that “a costly protracted demonstration at the logging site of one of its forest licences" cost the company $40 million. 

As Business in Vancouver reports: “The reference is likely to the Fairy Creek anti-logging protests on Vancouver IsIand between 2020 and 2022. Teal Jones’ Tree Farm Licence 46 was one of the areas targeted by protesters.”

Did the protesters ever think about their potential impact on forest-company employees and their families? (And as Squamish Nation citizen Roger Lewis said in an earlier video: “Activists do not speak for First Nations.”) 

At the same time, another report found BC lumber production was “down by a whopping 26.5 per cent” for the better part of 2023, with demand shrinking as higher interest rates cut demand for new housing. 

The Council of Forest Industries of BC, issued a report in April showing how “forestry is foundational to British Columbia.” 

Key findings:

  • Approximately 100,000 total jobs spread throughout the province, with over one quarter (26,000) of the jobs located in the Lower Mainland and Southwest Region.
  • $17.4 billion in value-added activity (i.e., gross domestic product or GDP) with $5.5 billion derived from forestry, logging, and support activities; $8.3 billion from wood products manufacturing; and $3.6 billion from pulp and paper manufacturing. 
  • Approximately $9.1 billion in labour income, which includes wages and salaries as well as social contributions from employers such as contributions to pension plans. 
  • $6.6 billion in government revenue with $4.0 billion going to the provincial government, $2.3 billion to the federal government and $325 million to municipal governments. 
  • In addition, between 2013 and 2022, approximately $15.8 billion was invested in BC by the forest sector in capital expenditures, repair, and maintenance.

But the industry also points to how “key indicators in forestry are flashing red, foremost among them the current critical shortage of timber for BC mills.”

“In the last five years, harvesting on public forest lands dropped by almost half, from about 60 million cubic metres in 2018 to 35 million cubic metres in 2023. The actual harvest in 2023 was 42 per cent below the allowable annual cut and 18 per cent below the actual harvest in 2022.

“This steep trajectory has ignited a wave of curtailments and closures that have shuttered local sawmills along with the pulp and paper and value-added plants that rely on their outputs and residuals, resulting in the loss of an estimated 4,500 direct jobs in the last two years.”

BC has been implementing bans on, or deferrals of, much old-growth logging, with consequent impact on the industry. And the province has been pushing for more “value-added forestry” — more “high-value product lines that make the best use of every tree harvested.” 

But that will be, at best, a painfully slow advancement. And if there is less wood cut, does that not mean more challenge for value-added forestry? 

BC has also been pushing for more use of mass timber products, and has recently put $70.3 million into 50 projects “that create more sustainable jobs for every tree harvested.” 

And Premier David Eby told the industry’s annual convention in April that the province is committed to supporting the forest industry, and acknowledged that will require a stable policy environment moving forward.

COFI president Linda Coady, though, noted earlier that “current delays in regulatory decision-making processes can add two years or more to development and approval of sustainable harvesting.”

And that’s only one area where government can improve its work, and help establish that stable policy environment moving forward.

The current policy environment has been anything but stable and anything but clear.

Over to you, Premier Eby and Forests Minister Bruce Ralston. Those 100,000 jobs are at stake. 

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